For those of you just joining us, this is another chapter in a series of photographs from my three week father/daughter trip to Portugal back in December 2022 – January 2023 (and yes, I know we’re in November now but we’re finally nearing the end). In my last post, we paid a visit to the charming city of Guimarães, “The Birthplace of Portugal”.
After spending a few days in what was, at the time, my favorite city in Portugal so far, we took what was our longest drive (about 2.5 hours south) to the Central Region of Portugal to visit the The Dominican Monastery of Batalha, one of Portugal’s masterpieces of Gothic art.
The Mosteiro da Batalha (Monastery of Batalha) is a Dominican convent in the municipality of Batalha, in the Central Region of Portugal. Originally, and officially, known as the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory (Portuguese: Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória), it was erected to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of King John I of Portugal.
The monastery, one of the masterpieces of Gothic art, took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, spanning the reign of seven kings as well as the efforts of fifteen architects(!)
Work began in 1386 by the Portuguese architect Afonso Domingues, who continued until 1402. He was succeeded by English architect Master Huguet from 1402 to 1438. Huguet introduced the Flamboyant Gothic style.
During the reign of Afonso V of Portugal, the Portuguese architect Fernão de Évora continued the construction between 1448 and 1477. He was succeeded by the architect Mateus Fernandes the Elder, a master of the Manueline style, together with influential architect and engineer Diogo de Boitaca, in the period 1480–1515.
Work on the convent continued into the reign of John III of Portugal with several additions by notable Iberian architect João de Castilho. The construction came to a halt, however, when the king decided to put all his efforts in the construction of the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.
The monastery suffered some damage from the earthquake of 1755 but much greater damage was inflicted by the Napoleonic troops of French military commander André Masséna, who sacked and burned the complex in 1810 and 1811. When the Dominicans were expelled from the complex in 1834, the church and convent were abandoned and left to fall into ruin.
In 1840, king Ferdinand II of Portugal started a restoration program of the abandoned and ruined convent. The restoration would last till the early years of the 20th century. One of the last architects was master stonemason Jose Patrocinio de Sousa, responsible for rebuilding the monastery. It was declared a National Monument in 1907. In 1980 the monastery was turned into a museum.
The Batalha convent was added in 1983 by UNESCO to its list of World Heritage sites.
The square Founder’s Chapel (Portuguese: Capela do Fundador) was built between 1426 and 1434 by the architect Huguet on orders of King John I to become the first royal pantheon in Portugal.
The joint tomb of King John I of Portugal (d. 1433) and his wife Philippa of Lancaster (d. 1415) stands under the star vault of the octagon. Their statues lie in full regalia, with clasped hands (expressing the good relations between Portugal and England) and heads resting on a pillow, under elaborately ornamented baldachins.
At the south wall stand a row of recessed arches with the tombs of the four younger sons of John I, together with their spouses.
The three tombs on the west wall are copies of the original tombs of King Afonso V (r. 1438–1481), John II (r. 1481–1495) (empty because André Masséna’s soldiers threw away the bones) and his son and heir, Prince Afonso (who died in an accident at the age of seventeen, predeceasing his father).
The monastery houses the most important nucleus of Portuguese medieval stained glass windows, which can be admired throughout the Chapel.
The Monastery of Batalha is a must-see attraction should you ever find yourself in Portugal (and you really, really should find yourself there one day!). It’s also less than a half hour drive from another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Alcobaça Monastery (and the tragic love story of Inês de Castro and Peter I of Portugal). You can easily see them both in one day (either monastery is about a two hour drive north from Lisbon).
So, after our visit to the monastery, we walked over to the nearby Hotel Lis Batalha & Restaurante for a bite to eat before heading to our next city, Tomar. We ordered the Arroz de Peixe & Camarão (which, like a paella, serves two) and let me just say it might have been the best damn meal we ate in our three weeks in Portugal. So make sure you stop in there after your visit to the monastery – you won’t be sorry.