My flight back to England loomed as my parents and I headed to Lisbon on the train. We left the house early as I really wanted to visit the tomb of Catherine of Braganza (wife of Charles II of England) before I went home, and caught the train to Lisbon. Once off the train we headed towards the Monastery, through the winding streets of the city. And let me tell you…I fell in love with the place.
When we found the Monastery we went inside the Church for a quick look, thinking that the entrance to the museum would be in there. Whilst there was no entrance, the church was gorgeous.
Unsure of where the entrance was, we went for a little wander around the streets of Lisbon. Normally in big cities, it’s so easy to feel unsafe. But Lisbon just felt different. The winding back streets made me feel as if I’d stepped back in time – they were quiet and peaceful and honestly? I could have stayed there forever. The best part though had to be seeing a tram with the face of Spongebob.
It turned out that the entrance to the museum was at the side of the church. Heading inside, we immediately found ourselves in a wonderful monastic house that just seemed to seep history. Just like everywhere I’d been whilst in Portugal, it was so easy to just stop and feel the history, to imagine what it would have been like.
The original Monastery of São Vicente de Fora was founded in 1147 by King Alfonso Henriques and quickly became one of the most important religious houses in Portugal. Dedicated to the patron Saint of Lisbon, Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the monastery houses relics of the Saint. The buildings that you see today though are from a rebuilding project ordered by King Phillip II of Spain in 1580 – the Church was built between 1582 and 1629.
The main reason for my wanting to visit was to the see the tomb of Catherine of Braganza. The Stuart dynasty has long been an interest of mine – even before I fell in love with the Borgias – and I’ve always had a soft spot for poor Queen Catherine. She certainly didn’t have an easy time of it as Queen Consort of England, putting up with her husband begetting a number of illegitimate children whilst she herself remained unable to have children. Her tomb is housed within the Royal Pantheon of the Braganza Dynasty in the old rectory – it is chock full of tombs, many of which are incredibly plain, just boxes of marble with the names of the deceased on the side. I must admit, I had expected Queen Catherine to have something a little more ornate, and the moment I stepped into the room I thought she would be in one of the tombs in the middle of the room. However, she has a simple grey tomb with her name etched on the side. I was slightly disappointed to see this and really do feel like she deserves more – I felt exactly the same when I saw Charles II’s burial place in Westminster Abbey. He doesn’t even have a proper tomb, simply a worn stone plaque on the floor of the abbey.
The rest of the monastery was simply stunning. It houses the largest collection of tile work in Portugal (perhaps even the world) and the roof also offers some of the most stunning views of Lisbon. Dad and I climbed up to the roof whilst mum stayed below, not wanting to climb all the way up there. The steps are a little steep but it’s certainly worth doing!
I would highly recommend a visit to this monastery, a gem tucked away in the back streets of Lisbon. Not only is it exceptionally peaceful and beautiful, but the staff are really really nice as well. 10/10 will visit again.
Once we had finished looking around, there was just enough time for a quick beer and cake stop before catching the train back to the airport. And that was that, my visit to Portugal was done with. I really did have an amazing few days there and cannot wait to get back – next time I’ll certainly be visiting more Templar places, particularly relating to one Templar in particular.