Jeronimos Monastery – Designed to Charm
Renowned to be the symbol of Portuguese art at its finest, Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), never fails to captivate visitors from near and far. Its rich history and even more treasured architecture, namely the Manueline style with the distinct maritime motifs, serve as a sculptural reflection of Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery.
After gaining permission from the Pope, King Manuel I commissioned the monastery design and building, in the beginning of the 16th century, as a form of thanksgiving to Virgin Mary for the fruitful voyage to India.
The construction was financed by the bountiful taxes earned from the country’s monopoly of the spice trade with the African and South Asian regions. Completed nearly a century later, this magnificent monument remains a stunning specimen of the Manueline architecture intertwined with Baroque and Renaissance elements.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was originally cared by the Hieronymites, of the Order of St Jerome, as invited by the enlightened king. Thus, it is also known as the Hieronymites Monastery. They were tasked to conduct daily mass to pray for the souls of the kings and his ancestors while carrying out the usual duties of providing guidance to the believers. Inspired by the famous Vasco da Gama’s successful discoveries of lucrative trade routes, which filled the country’s coffers, this commemorative shrine is also home to his tomb as well as those of King Manuel I and his wife, poets Luis Vaz de Camoes and Fernando Pessoa.
The expansive length of the jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos) is an indicative preview of the grandiose interior awaiting the visitors. Before entering the church and the cloisters through the entrance at the west portal, it is more than worthwhile to study the South Portal which is also the main entrance. The exuberant display of intricately carved images is tribute to the esteemed figures sculpted on this ornate entrance. While the statue of the pioneer for European explorations, Henry the Navigator stands atop a pedestal between the two massive wooden doors, half-relief images of St Jerome are depicted above the double doors’ decorated wall. Statues of Madonna of Belem and Archangel Michael share the limelight with other great Portuguese kings. The portal designer, Joao de Castilho shows his stroke of ingenuity, with the seamless grouping of the religious figures and the secular rulers, resulting in a mesmerizing adornment that almost threatens to overshadow the portal’s geometrical architecture.
In Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), visitors may regain sense of normalcy after viewing the elaborate South Portal as they walk through the entrance, where several other sculptures seem to invite them to explore more of the immense beauty within. The refectory walls are beautified with the 18th century “azulejos”, which are ceramic painted tile-work. As one passes through the open courtyard, the glimpse of the attractive cloisters may just get the heart to beat faster. They can look delicately pretty from afar and when viewed closer, their impressive carvings and details will make any visitor to stay longer than expected to admire the skilled handiwork.
The cloisters are an amazing study of how gargoyles, carved sea monsters and stoic faces are merged to form the seemingly delicate designs and present such a pleasant sight to the eyes. The rope carved pillars add a touch of strength to these dainty looking cloisters.
One magnificent sight after another awaits through Jeronimos Monastery Lisbon area (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), its historical significance reiterated by the maritime motifs. The high ceilings with vaulted networks, intricately carved pillars and columns, stained-glass tall window forbid any inch of the grand monument to look plain or undecorated.