A brief visit to the monastery at Alcobaça, Portugal.

Alcobaca.mosteiro.westfront.partA couple of weeks ago I found myself in Portugal, visiting my parents for my Mum’s birthday and whilst we were there we ended up in the beautiful little town of Alcobaça. The main square of the town has the usual little cafe’s and bars (where we of course stopped for a glass or two of Portuguese beer) which overlook the most beautiful church and monastery. Whilst on this visit we didn’t have time to view the whole thing, we did have a look around the cathedral.

Founded in 1153 by the first Portuguese King, the Cistercian monastery has had close links with royalty all throughout history – it even holds the tomb of King Pedro I and his mistress, the story of whom is both interesting and heartbreaking.


The relationship between Pedro and his mistress Inês de Castro, a Galician noblewoman (born 1325) was forbidden by Pedro’s father King Alfonso and although Alfonso tried desperately to keep the lovers apart, he failed miserably. Pedro and Ines had many thriving children together, whereas Pedro and his wife at the time had frail children – when Pedro’s wife, Constance of Castille, died in 1345 Pedro refused to take any other wife than Ines who was not deemed eligible to be Queen. When Alfonso couldn’t keep the lovers apart, he ordered Ines to be assassinated. She was detained in the monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha in Coimbra where she was decapitated. In 1361, Pedro publically executed two of the men who had captured and killed Ines by ripping out their hearts, stating that they had no heart having destroyed his own by killing Ines. Pedro then had Ines exhumed from her grave and buried in a beautiful tomb within Alcobaça monastery – he himself was buried opposite her so that when they rise at the last Judgement, they can be together once more. It’s such a heartbreaking story and one that always has me getting somewhat tearful. As can be seen from the photo above that I took upon my visit there, the tombs of Ines and Pedro are beautifully carved – I can only imagine the hours it took to put into them. Sadly, Ines’ tomb is somewhat damaged but you can still see some of the beautiful carvings that reflect both her and Pedro’s lives. In 1810, Napoleon’s soldiers destroyed the bodies of both Pedro and Ines and caused the damage that can be seen upon the tomb’s today.

The beautiful front facade of the cathedral is not actually the original as that has been long since lost. The one seen today was completed in 1725 to Friar Joao Turriano’s plans and follow’s the Baroque model typical of the time.

The monastery itself is still a working monastery, with Cistercian monks living and working within. There are many areas closed off for that purpose and it always amazes me to think that there are still men that live within this beautiful place. As I said before, we didn’t actually have a chance to look around the monastery itself which saddened me somewhat as I would have loved to go back – sadly we were short of time and knowing me, I would have spent hours and hours looking at everything.

The place is just awe-inspiring and I’ll definitely go back to look around properly next time I’m in Portugal. And if you ever have the chance to go, I definitely recommend it. It’s a jewel of a place worthy of spending a good few hours poking around in.


When you sit in a cafe opposite this, it’s just the most breathtaking view.



It may be plain for a Roman Catholic church and monastery, but it has to be one of the most beautiful Church interiors I have ever seen.


Consecration cross upon one of the pillars. This would have been placed there when that section of the building was completed, so that worship could happen whilst the next section of the building was worked on.


Ines’ tomb – the beautiful circle carving shows the Final Judgement.


Isn’t this creepy? It’s a seventeenth century carving, badly damaged by French soldiers in the nineteenth century and subsequently restored but the faces on this…if you look closely they could be something out of a horror film. Very creepy.

Recommended Reading

The Monastery of Alcobaca (Offical Guide) – Jorge Rodrigues

Abbey of Santa Maria, Alcobaca – Paulo Pereira

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