Convent of Christ, Tomar, Portugal

The Convent of Christ (Portuguese: Convento de Cristo/Mosteiro de Cristo) is a former Roman Catholic convent in Tomar, Portugal. Originally a 12th-century Templar stronghold, when the order was dissolved in the 14th century the Portuguese branch was turned into the Knights of the Order of Christ, that later supported Portugal’s maritime discoveries of the 15th century. The convent and castle complex is a historic and cultural monument and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

Convent of Christ is denomination that generally identifies an important architectonic set that includes the Templar Castle of Tomar, the Templar Charola and adjacent Manueline church, the Renaissance convent of the Order of Christ, the conventual fence (or Wood of the Seven Mountains), the Hermitage of Nossa Senhora da Conceição and the convent aqueduct (Aqueduto dos Pegões). Its construction began in the twelfth century and continued until the end of the seventeenth century, involving a vast commitment of resources, material and human, over successive generations. Today it is a cultural, tourist and devotional space.

12th-18th centuries
The castle was founded by Gualdim Pais in the reign of D. Afonso Henriques (in 1160) and still preserves memories of the time of these monks knights engaged in the reconquest; it included the walled village, the terreiro, and the military house between the Mestre’s house, the Alcazaba, and the oratory of the knights (the Rotunda or Charola). In 1357, forty-five years after the extinction of the Order of the Templars, the castle became the seat of the Order of Christ, created in its place still in the reign of King Dinis.

In 1420 the Infante D. Henrique was appointed governor and administrator of the Order of Christ and, from there, the exercise of the governance of the Order will be handed over to the royal family. The Order is reconfigured without distorting its original spirit, cavalry and crusade, but directing it towards a new goal, that of maritime expansion, which the Order itself will finance (it is with the Infant that the Knights become navigators and that many navigators become knights of the Order of Christ). During his regency the branch of contemplative religious is introduced into the Order, coexisting with that of the freire-knights; the castle’s military house is transformed into a convent, two cloisters are built and the Alcazaba is adapted to the Infante’s stately home.

Between 1495 and 1521 D. Manuel is king of Portugal, assuming the position of governor and regedor of the Order, that in his reign will have a deep involvement in the company of the Discoveries, being held of immense power scattered throughout the Portuguese empire. The convent will be the stage of important works of expansion and improvement, which are intertwined with the spirit that presides over the reign of this monarch. It expanded the Templar Rotunda westward, with the extramural construction of an imposing church / choir and sacristy (initiated by Diogo de Arruda and terminated by João de Castilho), which is put in place an invigorating decorative language (Manueline style) that ” celebrates the Portuguese maritime discoveries, the mystique of the Order of Christ and the Crown in a great manifestation of power and faith. ”

Even more than D. Manuel, D. João III will focus on taking many of his initiatives, in keeping with the desire to make this city a sort of “spiritual capital” of the kingdom, where he would wish to be buried (some historians admit to having been this is the reason for the construction of the small Mausoleum Church of Our Lady of Conception). From 1529 he ordered a profound reform of the Order of Christ and the construction of a new convent space. The process is led by Frei António de Lisboa, a remarkable humanist who implements a global change in the institution, transforming the Order into a strict order of closure (inspired by the Rule of Saint Benedict) and promoting the construction of a large convent. It will be João de Castilho, the most reputed architect / master of the works of the time, to assume responsibility for the work (c.1532-1552), followed by Diogo de Torralva (after 1554). The new buildings will rise to the west of the castle and Nave Manueline, according to a sober classicist style that contrasts with the hyper-decorative character of the Manueline.

It is in the churchyard of the Convent of Christ that the Cortes de Tomar of 1581 takes place, in which D. Filipe I (Philip II of Spain) is acclaimed King of Portugal. Heir to the Portuguese throne, Filipe I also becomes master of the Order of Christ. The construction of the convent will extend during its governance and that of its successors, with the conclusion of the Cloister of D. João III, the construction of Sacristy Nova and, to the south, the Aqueduct (by Philip Terzi). Also the northern flank undergoes significant changes, with the construction of the New Portaria and the New Dormitory in the Cloister of the Inn and, in the late seventeenth century, the great Infirmary and the new Botica, the last major works carried out in the convent, at a later date to the Restoration of Independence.

19th-21st century
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries represent a time of turmoil and profound change for the Convent of Christ. In 1811 the French troops occupy the convent, leading to the destruction of the remarkable choir stall. In 1834, the extinction of religious orders suddenly put an end to the monastic life in this male monastery (by the will of D. Maria II, the Order of Christ will nevertheless survive in the form of an Honorific Order; present, the President of the Portuguese Republic); important part of your stuffing is stolen, including books on parchment with illuminations, paintings and other artistic specimens. The following year many of the conventual goods (such as the Conventual Fence, the enclosure of the old village in the castle and the buildings of the south-west angle of the convent), are sold by public auction to a private, future Count of Tomar, west wing of the crow’s cloister in a nineteenth century mansion where he and his family will reside for several generations.

In 1845 D. Maria II, accompanied by D. Fernando, settled in the convent; seven years later D. Fernando ordered the demolition of the upper floor of the Cloister of Santa Barbara and the first and second floors of the south wing of the Cloister of the Inn to allow a better visualization of the façades of the 16th century church, namely the Manueline window to the west, which had been obstructed by the Renaissance buildings.

At the end of the 19th century, several dependencies were delivered to the military – such as the old infirmaries, the hospital, the Knights’ Hall, the Botica and the cloister of Micha – for occupation by the Regional Military Hospital; in 1917 the whole assembly, except for the church, is now occupied by the Ministry of War. In 1939 the estates of the heirs of the count of Tomar are reacquired by the State. The disempowerment of the spaces handed over to the military sphere was to take place later, in the last decades of the twentieth century, and the state had resumed its full possession of the convent now with its cultural and tourist functions.

Over the years there were many actions of recovery of the Convent of Christ; they are due to the survival of the historical set that we can admire today. Among the most recent, the long process of tray restoration (begun in the late 1980’s and ending in 2013 ) was a highlight, revealing a long-hidden treasure: paintings in trompe l ‘ oeil of the Manueline period, ” whose vision makes the reading of the interior space of the tray remarkably “.

Due to its remarkable patrimonial value, the Convent of Christ is classified as National Monument (1910) and World Heritage (1983) [ note 2 ]. UNESCO’s classification as a World Heritage site was based on two criteria: first, the Convent of Christ represents an exceptional artistic achievement in regard to the primitive temple and the 16th-century buildings; on the other hand, is associated with ideas and events of universal significance, having been conceived in its origin as a symbolic monument of the reconquest and becoming, in the Manueline period, an inverse symbol, that of Portugal’s opening to external civilizations.

Architectural characterization
The complex was built between the XII and XVII centuries and has undergone successive adaptations that reflected the different types of use it has received and the stylistic characteristics of the architecture of the different historical moments, sharing Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, Mannerist and so-called floor style.

In a very simplified balance, of the initial constructions of the XII and XIII centuries that survived the Castle and the Templar Charola stand out (in Romanesque and Gothic styles); of the interventions of the time of the Infante D. Henriquein the fifteenth century, the gothic cloisters, north-west of the Charola, and the ruins of the Paço do Infante, were marked; the initial fifteenth intervention (1510-1515) left us the Manueline chorus / church, the wide appreciation of the interior of the Charola, the southern portal and an unfinished Chapter Hall, dominated by the Manueline style; the following works, initiated c. 1532, corresponded to the construction of the vast convent in Renaissance style (being Mannerist the Cloister of D. João III), which externally involved the Manueline church and occupied an extensive area to the west (including several cloisters, dormitories, refectory, kitchen and other spaces destined to the monastic life); the last stages of construction took place during the Philippine Dynasty and in the period after the Restoration, corresponding to the building, among others, of the long block, in the floor style, which delimits the convent complex to the north / northeast (which housed the New Portaria or Philippine Ordinance, the Infirmary and Botica) and the Aqueduct to the south.

Castle, Charola, Gothic Cloisters
The Castle of Tomar was constituted by a waist of walls and was divided in three spaces. In the south part was the precincts of the village (where today is the orange grove). At the top of the hill to the north was the military house of the Templars, flanked by the house of the Master (the Alcazaba, in ruins), with its keep and, in the west, the oratory of the knights (the Charola). It separated these two enclosures the vast terreiro of the castle, today a garden space.

The Charola of the Convent of Christ was the private oratory (with probable sepulchral functions) of the Knights inside the fortress. Taking the paleocristan basilica of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem as its model, it is one of the rare and emblematic roundabout temples of medieval Europe. According to Paulo Pereira, its construction was carried out in two stages: the initial one took place in the second half of the twelfth century (1160-1190), at a time dominated by the Romanesque period (it would be interrupted due to serious skirmishes with Almohades); the second, the completion of the temple, about four decades later (1230-1250 BC), already in the phase of full affirmation of Gothic language in Portugal. The result is a work that crosses elements of both styles (Romanesque and Gothic). The plant of the Charola develops around a central octagonal space, which unfolds in sixteen faces in the outer wall of the ambulatory. The interior of the central drum is covered by a dome based on cross veins, of great verticality, and the ambulatory by cannon vault.

The building would be the object of adaptations over time, especially in terms of access, which was initially located at the source and would pass, in the reign of D. Manuel I, to take place to the west, through a triumphal arch João de Castilho) of communication with the new Manueline church, in a formal and functional alteration that transformed the Charola into the main chapel of the new temple. The liturgical valorization was then accomplished through a comprehensive and multifaceted intervention that included programs of carving and parietal painting and integration of important pieces of sculpture and painting, such as those of Jorge Afonso, Olivier de Gand, Fernão Muñoz, Fernão by Anes, Gregório Lopesand Simao de Abreu (particularly significant was the discovery of fifteenth-century paintings of the ambulatory’s vault, finally revealed in a recent restoration).

From the remodeling and expansion of the monastery begun during the period of the Infante’s administration, among other initiatives, the construction of two cloisters, in Gothic style, that have structure of broken arcades on groups columns. Adjacent to the Charola, the Cemetery’s Cloister is due to Fernão Gonçalves’s moth and dates back to around 1420; the name is due to the fact that it was destined to the burial of the freires and high dignitaries of the Order of Christ. The Cloister of the Washings, of two floors, originally made the articulation between the Cloister of the Cemetery and the Paço do Infante.

Church Manueline and Portal South
Between 1510 and 1513 the works of construction of the church take place under the direction of Diogo de Arruda. The new building was literally set against the western face of the ancient Templar tray and took advantage of uneven terrain in that area to create a unified volume of great magnificence (the outside impact would however be seriously affected by the subsequent construction of adjacent Renaissance cloisters), and to create, inwardly, the overlapping spaces of the sacristy and the choir-high (where a remarkable stall of Olivier de Gand was installed, which would not survive the patrimonial devastation that occurred during the French Invasions). The whole, particularly the western façade, presents a decorative profusion endowed with a profound mythographic symbolism that crosses the symbolsChristological and Marian with those of royal heraldry. The famous window of the western façade in particular, conceived as an “inflamed stone poem”, forms part of a vast facade (girded with bustlers and animated with sculptures of the four “kings of arms” of the kingdom), revealing the ornament program of fauna and flora and echoes of the adventure of the Emblematic Discoveries of the Manueline style.

The work would be finished in 1515, in a second undertaking in which the new official, João de Castilho, was in charge of attending to several issues that had remained unresolved in the previous work, among them the construction of the vault of the new Manueline church / choir, the link between it and the tray and the creation of a new and monumental portal to the temple. The one-way, ribbed vault that covers the church, gives unity to space and enhances interior illumination from four windows (two south and two north), and a circular oculus on the west façade. The vault is divided in three cloths, leaning on eight corbels with vegetal and figurative decoration. Between the church / choir and the tray was opened a wide broken arch that ensures an effective connection between the two spaces. Lastly,Jeronimos Monastery.

The south portal Tomar takes advantage of the thickness of the church wall to create an architectural canopy on top and protects the sculptural set in which were included several symbolic figures of prophets, mitred clergy, Doctors of the Church, which stands at the center, the image of the Virgin Queen of Heaven, with the cross of Christ surpassing. From a stylistic point of view, a fusion between the Manueline and the Gothic influenced by the decorative lexicon of the Renaissance takes place here, through a type of ornamentation that was very widespread in Spain, the Plateresque. In the work of 1515 also began the construction of the Hall of the Chapter, which would remain unfinished.

Renascentistas cloisters
The overall disposition of the renewal and Renaissance expansion of João de Castilho obeyed a rational (and functional) concept. Two long cross corridors articulate four main cloisters, which together delimit a huge quadrilateral; they are the Great Cloister (or D. João III), the Cloister of the Inn, the Cloister of the Crows and the Cloister of Micha. A fifth cloister, of more modest dimensions, was leaning against the western facade of the Manueline church, seriously affecting its visibility. From a functional point of view this cloister – Cloister of Santa Bárbara -, came to occupy a key place, of transition between old and new buildings. It will have been the first one to be built (c. 1531-1532) and its stylistic features reveal a radical cut with the hyper-decorative density of the Manueline and the option for a new classicist language. The first floor of this cloister was demolished in the mid-nineteenth century with the aim of restoring visibility to the facade of the Manueline church, in particular the famous Manueline window. Finally, note the small Necessaria Cloister (a protruding block on the west façade of the convent), exclusively for sanitation.

The Cloister of the Inn was intended to welcome visitors to the convent and therefore has a noble appearance. It preserves identical features to what should have been the initial Cloister Grande, Castilian, allowing to imagine in general traces what would have been this lost construction. Buttresses of quadrangular section, throughout the height of the cloister, rhythm their elevations. Covered by vaults of ribs, the galleries of the ground floor are constituted by four sections, with double arcade of perfect return set in columns with ample capitals; the first floor is covered by wooden bracketing with coffered ceilings, consisting of an architrave set in the center on an Ionic column; the west side of the cloister has an additional floor, solved identically to the first floor. The formal equilibrium of this cloister was seriously disturbed by the subsequent demolition of the first floor gallery (for reasons similar to the amputation of the Cloister of Santa Barbara) to the south, and by the north building of the inelegant body of the so-called Portaria Nova, which distorts the balance of this facade. The Cloisters of Crows and Micha are organized in a manner basically similar to that of the Inn, although they have a less wide scale and a simpler level of finishing, since they are different functional areas, destined for the novitiate and the assistance.

Cloister of D. João III
The original Great Cloister – or Cloister of D. João III – was almost completely dismantled after the death of João de Castilho, for reasons that remain unclear in their entirety. It was replaced by the remarkable Mannerist version of Diogo de Torralva, considered a masterpiece of this architect and European mannerism. Construction work was to be extended by Francisco Lopes after Torralva’s death (1566), with the final finishes (by Filipe Terzi) and the central fountain (by Pedro Fernandes de Torres) completed already in time of Philippine domination. As a summit in European architecture of the sixteenth century, this cloister translates the early assimilation of the most learned Mannerist values.

The Cloister of D. João III de Torralva reveals an absolute domain of classical language, influenced by Sebastiano Serlio’s Books III and IV, and probably of inspiring works such as the Villa Imperial de Pesaro (c.1530), adapting them to the program. The work interprets a same classic phrase, but now informed by the experience of the High Renaissance. Monumentality and scale play a decisive role here through the careful proportion of spans and supporting elements. ” The result is a body of galleries of transparent transparency “, of a soft luminosity, reverberated by the soft stone of warm color; “The values of light and shadow are accentuated by the chromatic play of surfaces, which mostly employ yellow limestone, in contrast to the black marble of the reentrant planes. ”

Dorms and Cruise, Canteen, Novitiate
The long corridors of the upper storey of the dormitories are covered by extensive crib vaults with typically classic oak wood carvings; in the place where they cross form the Cruzeiro proper, an interesting architectural piece designed by Castilho with the assistance of Pedro Algorreta that has adjacent a chapel with the image of the Sitting Christ or Lord of the Green Cane, 1654 (terracotta sculpture of Inacia da Incarnation). Decorated in relief (garlands, putti…) and covered by a lantern with a dome in “clergyman’s cap”, the cruise marks the intersection of corridors and alters the clear and stripped architecture of the ensemble. The dining room is covered by a cannon vault, resting on a continuous cornice and with enclosures delimited by stonework ribbing, square section and classic configuration.

On the first floor of the west facade of the cloister of Micha stand the three rooms of the novitiate. Each one of them tries to somehow emulate the hypostyle room of Vitruvius; the first two (intended for the novices ‘ dormitory), have an architraved space, covered in wood, supported by four central columns with Ionic capitals; in the third, square – the Novitiate Chapel or Dos Reis Magos -, ” the architect built one of the Portuguese renaissance masterpieces.”The covering of this room, which finishes the floor, is formed by the crossing of two canopy vaults in wood (with cofferdams), supported by architraves based on Corinthian columns with composite capitals, the four central ones being perfectly highlighted and the remaining twelve attached to the border walls.

Aqueduct, New Ordinance and Monastic Infirmary
Built in the era of Philip II of Spain, the Pegões Aqueduct was designed by Philippe Terzi. It is a large-scale hydraulic engineering project with about 6 kilometers of extension, with a total of 180 arches for the aerial passages of the conduit. The section on the Pegões valley, made up of 58 arches back in full, in the deepest part of the valley lies on 16 broken arches, in turn erected on imposing masses of masonry. The aqueduct ends with a row of large arches attached to the southern façade of the convent.

On the opposite side, to the north of the convent complex, is the ” long and monotonous ” body of the so-called New Ordinance. Erected in the seventeenth century, in the style of the floor, ” without any stylistic mockery “, integrates the infirmary and Botica. With entrance to the north, the Portaria Nova includes a staircase in 3 hauls, with blue and white tiles of standard pattern, being preceded by a small vestibule (in the open sky), finishing in the Hall of the Kings, a quadrangular space with identical tiles to the staircase and painted wood paneled ceiling.

Hermitage of Our Lady of the Conception
Located next to the Convent of Christ, the Hermitage of Our Lady of the Conception will have been (according to the proposal of the historian Rafael Moreira), conceived as a mausoleum church for D. João III and his relatives (this testamentary desire of the king would not be in the fulfilled by its successors). Of quadrangular cut, this small chapel was one of the last works of João de Castilho; its interior configuration is in all identical to that of the Novitiate Chapel, although in this case totally in stone. It would be finished by Diogo de Torralva (whose stylistic mark is detected in particular abroad) after the death of Castilho.

” The beautiful exterior is far surpassed by the interior “, not very spacious, where it hangs a reflection of the first Italian renaissance; this is three naves covered by cradle vaults on exquisite corinthian columns, the transept being identically covered by a cradle vault. ” The hermitage can be considered, rightly, one of the jewels of European renaissance. Its intriguing perfection, especially in the interior, [de Castilho] of a unique harmony in Portuguese architecture and peninsular, makes it a true example of Renaissance language in architecture. ”