Medieval Portugal VI: Mosterio da Batalha and Mosterio da Santa Ana

K. Lau

Webitor’s Note: In this final installment of Medieval Portugal, we take a look at two of Portugual’s monasteries which date back to the 1100s.

Mosteiro de Batalha, Leiria


In 1385, Joao I, facing the stronger Spanish forces in the battle of Aljubarrota, made a vow to build a superb church in honour of the Virgin if she was to grant him victory. The Portuguese won the battle, and Joao I became King.  Three years later work on the abbey began.

The monastery is a masterpiece of Portuguese Gothic and Manueline art. The exterior, in accordance with the Dominican rule, has no belfry, but possesses innumerable pinnacles, buttresses, and openwork balustrades above Gothic and Flamboyant windows. The building is in fine-textured limestone, which has taken on a lovely ochre colour with time.

In the beautiful Claustro Real (Royal Cloisters), The Manueline detail blends well with the simplicity of the original Gothic design.

In the Capela do Fundador (Founder’s Chapel) are the tombs of King Joao I and his queen, Philippa of Lancaster, situated in the center. Around them, lining the walls, are the tombs of their four younger sons, including Prince Henry the Navigator.

Joao I’s eldest son, Dom Duarte, commissioned a vast mausoleum for himself and his descendents. This is the Capelas Imperfeitas (Unfinished Chapels) at the back of the Abbey. Dom Duarte and his queen alone lie buried in the unfinished building open to the sky. It is a vast transitional Gothic Renaissance structure designed by the master architect Huguet, later continued by Mateus Fernandos who added the monumental entrance door in 1509.  The upper balcony, in Renaissance style, was added by Joao de Castilhos in 1335 before work was finally abandoned on the Chapel.

Mosteiro de Santa Maria, Alcobaça


The city of Alcobaça got its name because it is where the river Rio Alcoa and Rio Baça join together. The Mosteiro de Santa Maria was founded by King Afonso Henriques in 1153, to give thanks for the victory over the Moors at Santarém. In the same year Afonso brought in the Cistercians in a repopulation move to defend Alcobaça and its surrounding areas. The Cistercians were of Burgundian origin, and worked the land, devoting themselves to agriculture. Building of the monastery began in 1178, and was completed in 1223. It is one of the most powerful abbeys of the Cistercian order.

The Church is unique for Portugal in that the clean lines and soaring columns of the central nave create a simple, harmonious and tranquil feel, unlike many of the other churches which drip with rich ornamental detail. The focal point for most visitors are the tombs of King Dom Pedro and Ines de Castro, facing one another across the aisle.

There were additions and replacements over the years. The peaceful Claustro de Silencio was added by Dom Dinis in the 14th century, while the upper storey of the cloister was added by Diogo and Joao Castilho in the 16th century. The Monks’ Dormitory, a vast Gothic hall, was built in the 13th century. The Kitchens, once famed for the extravagance of their banquets, with huge conical chimneys, and water flowing directly from the River Alcoa, were enlarged in the 18th century. The Sala dos Reis(King’s Hall), with statues of Portuguese kings carved by the monks and azulejo tile walls telling the story of the monastery, was a 18th century addition as well. So was the Baroque style façade of the monastery.