Batalha - in memory of a battle

A journey through architecture and sculpture

By Batalha Monastery

Tomb of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster - Founder's Chapel (1415/1434) by Unidentified artistBatalha Monastery

A statement of independence

Batalha Monastery is a celebration of the Portuguese victory over Castile in the so-called Battle of Aljubarrota held nearby  on 14th August 1385. The recently acclaimed King João I made a vow to the Virgin Mary on the eve of this battle that he would order the building of a monastery in case Portugal came out victorious, thus remaining independent. This circumstance allowed for an unprecedented flourishing of architecture, sculpture and stained glass during the forthcoming 130 years when Batalha became a centre of international artistic convergence.

Coronation of the Virgin - west portal of the church (1420/1440) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

The monastery is dedicated to Our Lady of the Victory on account of the vow made by King João I on the eve of the Assumption Feast. Here the Virgin Mary is crowned by Christ as Queen of Heaven.

Church higher vaults (1420/1440) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

Once the church took long to be achieved (around 50 years) its construction was lead by two different masters: first the Portuguese Afonso Domingues and then Huguet who was certainly French.

South transept portal of the church (1388/1406) by Afonso DominguesBatalha Monastery

Monumental as no other before in Portugal this portal follows however a national tradition going back to the 13th century: geometrically decorated archivolts are topped by a triangular gable.

West portal of the church (1420/1440) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

The west portal was one of the latest parts of the church to be finished and witnesses for the earlier education of the architect in France. The tympanum however relies on an Iberian tradition.

Archivolts of the west portal of the church (1420/1440) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

Founder's Chapel - interior (1415/1434) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

When the church was nearing conclusion, King João I decided to have his family mausoleum built next to it. This is one of the very first flamboyant gothic buildings in the Iberian Peninsula.

‏‏‎ Tomb of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster (1415/1434) by Unidentified artistBatalha Monastery

The tomb of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster, in the centre of the chapel, displays their effigies, hand in hand, the most crucial matrimonial gesture.

Founder's Chapel - central vault (1415/1434) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

Star-shaped vaults with three rib sprouts per angle and nine keystones are a clear sign of the stay of Huguet in the Crown of Aragon and Kingdom of Navarra before reaching Batalha.

Chapter house - interior (1388/1477) by Afonso DominguesBatalha Monastery

The chapter house was started in the reign of João I and finished only in the time of his grandson, Afonso V. A legend tells that the vault fell twice with great detriment to workers.

Royal Cloister - northern gallery (1406/1515) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

The Royal Cloister was started by Afonso Domingues and finished by Huguet who essentially respected the first master's plans. Exuberant window tracery was later introduced by Mateus Fernandes.

Window tracery and its columns (detail) - Royal Cloister (1495/1515) by Mateus FernandesBatalha Monastery

During the reign of King Manuel I the Royal Cloister was nobilitated with exquisite carvings that fill the upper third of the windows. They are among the earliest so-called manueline art works.

Wash hand basin pavilion - Royal Cloister (1406/1515) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

The wash-hand basin is situated near the refectory and still uses the primitive water supply. Hand washing before meals was an important ritual but this place also served the friars' personal hygiene.

Cloister of King Afonso V (1448/1477) by Fernão de ÉvoraBatalha Monastery

A new cloister was added to the monastery in the reign of Afonso V. It was built in a sober style that is shared by other royal and princely buildings of the period in Portugal.

Cloister of King Afonso V - upper storey (1448/1477) by Fernão de ÉvoraBatalha Monastery

Upstairs were installed the friars and novices' cells as well as the library and archives. Groundfloor rooms included a larder, a firewood stock, the olive oil deposit, a wine press and workshops.

Unfinished Chapels - exterior (1437/1533) by HuguetBatalha Monastery

King Duarte, the monastery founder's son, ordered his own funerary chapel but died soon after. The building was erected by his successors with many interruptions and eventually left unfinished in 1533.

Portal of the Unfinished Chapels (1495/1515) by Mateus FernandesBatalha Monastery

The portal of the Unfinished Chapels is one of Mateus Fernandes' major achievements for the merging of complex geometric and natural shapes into a so to say sole monumental sculpture.

General view from northwest (1388/1477) by Afonso DominguesBatalha Monastery

In the age of maturity

In Batalha converge both the locally available ability to implement and manage big sophisticated building works and international architectural innovation brought by artists from other European kingdoms. These could have been called in or simply seeked Batalha in search of a qualified post as usual at the time. Mateus Fernandes was dismissed from Batalha in 1480 and away until 1490. During this period he certainly had to look for work as a qualified master in another big centre. His later work in Batalha shows that he should have taken part in the works of the Constables' Chapel in Burgos Cathedral (Spain) under the orders of Simon of Cologne.

Credits: Story

Photographs: Luís Pavão, José Paulo Ruas
Text: Pedro Redol

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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