‘Jeronimos Monastery’ in Lisbon is the ultimate symbol of ‘Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline’ style of architecture. The architectural & the artistic wealth of this stupendous monument is priceless & its beauty is beyond verbal description. The Monastery is considered as an exemplary reflection of the ‘Golden Age of Discovery’ of Portugal & stands as the pride of the nation.
The monastery, which is also known as ‘Mosterio dos Jeronimos’, is located in the Belem District of ‘Lisbon’ & was founded by ‘King Manuel I’ in the year 1501 as a form of ‘thanksgiving’ to ‘Virgin Mary’ for Vasco da Gama’s efficacious expedition to ‘India’. This massive project was funded through the treasures garnered from the expeditions in ‘Africa’, ‘Asia’ & ‘South America’ as well as by imposing hefty taxes on the Portugese-controlled ‘spice trade’ with Africa & South Asia.
The ‘Jeronimos Monastery’, which exudes the greatest achievement of the ‘Portugese Gothic Manueline’ architecture, was included by UNESCO in the list of ‘World Heritage Sites’, along with the neighboring ‘Tower of Belem’, in the year 1983.
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The background story of this startling monument begins from the year 1496 when King Manuel I (1469-1521) asked the Pope for permission to construct the great monastery to acknowledge the grace of Virgin Mary for the success in the voyage to India! The construction began on ‘January 6, 1501’ upon getting the permission. The ‘King Manuel’ commissioned French architect Diogo de Boitaca (1460-1528)to start with the construction, succeeded by ‘Joao de Castilho’, ‘Diogo de Torralva’ & ‘Jeronimo de Ruao’. The monastery stands on the banks of the ‘River Tagus’, at the location where a small chapel dedicated to ‘St. Mary of Belem’ was existed.
The project was completed 100 years later & it served as the burial place for royal pantheon which includes the crypts of King Manuel I & his successors.
‘King Manuel I’ invited the ‘Order of St. Jerome’ (also known as Hieronymites or dos Jeronimos) to occupy the monastery, who were expected to pray for the King’s soul & to provide the counsel to the navigators & seamen who would embark their missions from Belem. The monks of Hieronymite continued their work until 1833, when the monastery was sacked & the religious Orders were dissolved.
The monument surprisingly survived with the minor damages in the deadly earthquake of 1755. However, the insurgence of 1833 that saw the fall of the religious orders’ which left the building in the miserable condition. An extensive renovation project was carried out to restore the old glory of the monastery & the project was executed so perfectly that it raised the aesthetics of the building to the next level. The building became inhabitant once again & was resumed functioning as a college for the Casa Pia of Lisbon until around 1940.
The monastery exhibits the brilliance of Manueline architecture that incorporates wealthy elements of Gothic, Moorish & Renaissance styles of architecture. The architectural style depicts complex sculptural themes based on maritime motifs & an elaborate use of intricate carvings in limestone. The capacious length of this architectural extravaganza gives glimpse of the mesmerizing interior of this highly ornate monument.
South Portal: The decorated entrance, located in the southern part of the monastery, was designed by ‘Joao de Castilho’. The portal flaunts an extraordinary artwork & is adorned with a rich use of gables & pinnacles with myriad carved figures standing in carved niches. A statue of ‘Henry the Navigator’ is located on a pedestal between the two doors, whereas, two half-relics located above the double door depicts the scenes from the life of ‘St. Jerome’. This shrine-like portal stands 32-meter high & 12 meter wide & extends over two stories.
The Cloisters: The cloister bears even more imposing artwork than the church. The extensive use of Manueline artwork adorns literally every surface of the arcades. Two leveled cloisters were designed by ‘Joao de Castilho’ with the lower level being adorned with the most stunning artwork.
The Mausoleums: The monastery contains the crypts of many important Portuguese royalty & myriad phenomenal leaders in their history. Crypts of ‘King Manuel I’ & the greatest voyager in the Portuguese history- ‘Vasco da Gama’, are among the most famous personalities who are resting in their crypts inside the monastery.
Chapel of St. Jerome: The freestanding chapel of ‘St. Jerome’ was constructed in 1514. The chapel is ornamented using the unique single-span ribbed vault studded with bosses that looks exquisite while, ornately decorated slender pilasters, which support the stupendous roof, complete the decoration. The ‘Hall Church’ layout is composed of nave & aisles of the same heights. The transepts are covered by the transversal vault that lacks the support of piers & columns, giving an impression of the vault floating in the air.
Tower of Belem: Although not the part of the main building, the ‘Tower of Belem’ is included in the list of ‘World Heritage Sites’, along with the monastery. The tower was erected in 1515 in order to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India. The five-story tower was initially built as a fort. The tower was basically constructed in the middle of the River Tagus, but since the river changed its path in the course of time, the tower now stands on the riverbanks.
The enormous ‘Jeronimos Monastery’, thus stands as the silent witness of the golden era that saw successful maritime explorations & the wealth that flooded thereafter in Portugal. It is the greatest symbol of the Portuguese’ prowess & the most vivid testimony of the beginning of the new era of the modern world!