Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

Jeronimos is a former monastery of the Order of St Jerome, and stands in the vicinity of the Tagus river, close to Belem Tower and the epic Monument of the Discoveries. An earlier 14th century church once stood on this site prior to the construction of the monastery. This church was dedicated to Santa Maria de Belem, and the monks of military-religious Order of Christ from the Hermitage of Restelo operated there in support of seafarers and explorers. At the time of the original church’s existence it would have stood thirty metres closer to the Tagus and the important harbour of Praia do Restelo. In 1495 Manuel I proposed the construction of the larger monastery to serve as a support to the explorers and also as a final resting place for his dynasty, the House of Aviz. King Manual received permission to rebuild the crumbling buildings in the last years of the 15th century, they had served the Portuguese well, in 1497 Vasco da Gama and his men spent the last night before their expedition to the Orient praying in the church.

The building of the beautiful Late Gothic Manueline monastery and church began in 1501 and was not fully completed until 100 years later. Manuel I selected the Hieronymite monks as its occupants, their role being to pray for the King’s soul and to provide assistance to the navigators and sailors on their way to Africa and Asia. The monastery was funded by taxes on imports and a huge amount of manpower and skilled artisans were required to undertake this monumental build. The construction stalled on the death of King Manuel I in 1521, building restarted again between 1550 and 1580 before the Union of Spain and Portugal drained away its funding.

From 1604 onward further work was undertaken under the stewardship of Philip of Spain, and much of the ornamentation around the monastery exterior is from this time. The church became the burial place for the Royals around 1625 which inevitably led to an influx of capital and further adornment. The monastery was almost continuously decorated until the 1755 Lisbon earthquake which was catastrophic to the city but the monastery’s unusual design meant it fared significantly better than most buildings. It was restored in the later part of the 18th century but at this stage the monks had discontinued their duties and the order had dissolved in 1833, instead it now served as a church and a burial place for the greats of Portugal, the aforementioned Vasco de Gama is interred in the chapel.

I’ve visited Jeronimos twice and each time was in awe of the ceiling of the Church of Santa Maria, almost resembling a spider web. This church is completely unique in its construction, only having one nave held up by six beautiful columns. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit, unfortunately I missed the cloisters but I do hope to return.

GPS: 38.69789, -9.2067

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