The request sent by Manuel I to the Holy See for authorisation to build a large monastery on the banks of the Tagus, just outside Lisbon, dates from 1496. One of Manuel's motives for building it almost certainly has to do with his desire to have a pantheon for the Avis-Beja dynasty, of which he was the first monarch. The monastery's dedication to the Virgin of Belém - Belém also being the Portuguese for Bethlehem - was another factor for his decision.
The Jerónimos Monastery as it is commonly known replaced the church that had existed on the same site. It was dedicated to Santa Maria De Belém and in it the monks of the Order of Christ provided spiritual guidance to Seafarers. The construction work commenced in 1501 and it was completed roughly one century later.
The Church presents a Latin cross layout made up of three naves of the same height (a hall church) united by a single polinervada vaulted ceiling supported by six pillars with a circular base.
On entering the Church one encounters the tombs of Vasco da Gama (under-choir, left) and Luís de Camões (under-choir, right), both from the 19th century by the sculptor Costa Mota (uncle)
Moving in the direction of the north wall one can appreciate the confessionals and, on the south side, the large stained-glass Windows designed by Abel Manta and executed by R. Leone (in the 20th century).
The nave's vaulted ceiling spans a width of 30 metres. It is the "most accomplished realisation of the late Mediaeval ambition of covering the greatest possible span with the lowest number of supports" (Kubler). In this open space, which abounds in regal symbolism, the profusion of ornamentation reaches its zenith.
This high altar was ordered by Queen Catherine of Austria in 1571, designed by Jerónimo de Ruão in a Mannerist style. It contrasts the Manueline body of the Church.
With open arches, between pairs of lateral columns, and held by marble elephants are the tombs of Manuel I and his Queen Maria, on the left side; and João III and Queen Catarina on the right. Behind the high altar, is a retable with the Passion of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi paintings.
In the North wing of the lower cloister is the tomb of Fernando Pessoa, one of Portugal's most significant poets, created by Lagoa Henriques in 1985.
The refectory was built in 1517/18 by Leonardo Vaz and his team of master builders. With its multi-ribbed, low vaulted ceiling it is a clear example of Manueline style. Below the thick stone ropes, the walls are covered with azulejo tile panels dating from 1780-1785. The panels depict the Miracle of the Bread and Fish in the New Testament and scenes from the life of Joseph in Egypt from the Old Testament.
On the north side is a 17th century painting representing St. Jerome, which is attributed to the court painter Avelar Rebelo.
At the southern end over the heating chimney one can see a mural, Adoration of the Shepherds, attributed to António Campelo, late 16th century was restored in 1992.
There are 12 old confessional boxes: two of them now, however, covered by the chapel of our lord of the stations of the Cross. The confessor entered into the confessional from the cloister, while the penitent entered from the church side. They were separated by 9 grids. The monks of the Hironymite order undertook to hear the confessions of sailors and pilgrims in Belém.
The High Choir predates the year 1551, when it was transferred the remains of Manuel I to the Monastery. It served for fundamental activities of the monks of the Hieronymites Order until the Chapter Room was completed.
The rows of chairs, which occupy almost of the High Choir, were designed by Diogo de Torralva and executed by Diogo de Çarça in 1548-1550. The Hieronymite monks, who followed the rules of St. Augustine, spent 7 hours a day here, every day.
Above the balustrade hangs a Christ crucified sculpture resplendent in silver, the work of Philippe de Vries.
The walls are adorned by a number of paintings representing the Apostles (ten only, as two paintings were lost in 1755) and a painting of St. Jerome and one of St. Augustine, all by an unknown artist.
The balcony, which collapsed in the earthquake of 1755, was later rebuilt in 1883.
Isabel Cruz de Almeida (Director, Jerónimos Monastery)Texts:
Bert Kaufmann (under license CC BY-NC 2.0)
English - William Tapp (Google Arts & Culture)
Portuguese - Luis Ramos Pinto (Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage, Portugal)Digital Production:
Karolina Chaja (Google Arts & Culture)