The Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

The Monastery of Batalha

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Day three in Portugal involved a visit to one of my favourite places – Batalha. It’s also a place where I have previously managed to embarrass myself hugely by tripping over whilst wearing a dress and flashing my knickers to everyone. True story. But that, dear readers, is a different story for a different day. Besides, the beautiful Monastery that graces the little town is a far better subject of conversation.

The Mosteiro da Batalha is an imposing edifice that greets you as you walk into the centre of the small town and literally means “The Monastery of the Battle” – it was built to commemorate the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota and to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians. It truly is a masterpiece of architectural engineering – something which I seem to say a lot about the historical buildings in Portugal – but it really gives you a sense of importance as you approach it. You can tell it was built for a higher purpose and, whilst I myself am not religious in the slightest, I can understand why the Portuguese people thought the Virgin Mary had a hand in their victory and why they would want to build such a beautiful place to honour her name, and her part, in what had happened. Such was the importance of the place that it would serve as the burial ground of the Portuguese royalty of the fifteenth century – with one of its claims to fame being that it holds the tomb of Henry the Navigator.

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Everywhere you look your senses are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and beauty of the place. It is covered in incredibly intricate carvings – from the gargoyles on the outside of the monastery to the little faces dotted around inside. It’s no wonder that this place took over a century to build! If you look closely enough as well, you can see masons marks on some of the stonework.

The monastery is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers – this is manned by members of the Portuguese military 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they make quite a show of their changing of the guard ceremony. It’s truly a sight to behold and each change really does attract a crowd. You can see my video below:

 

As mentioned the tomb holds the bodies of two soldiers. They both fell in the First World War (Portugal did not take part in World War 2) – one on the fields of Flanders and one from one of the Portuguese colonies in Africa. They were brought to Batalha and buried in 1921.

We finished off the day with a trip to the Aqueduct of Pegões, just outside of Tomar. Now this, this was bloody brilliant. Scary but bloody brilliant. Built in the Seventeenth Century, it stretches for around 6km and is made up of 180 arches, connecting the village of Pegões and its natural springs to the Convento de Cristo. And what is so amazing about this monument is that you can walk along it – you get some absolutely fantastic views over the countryside from that high up!

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