Batalha Monastery, Portugal
Batalha Monastery is not just a monastery; it is a lot more than this. It is a monument to the unity of Portugal, a union between Portugal and England, an expression of the power of Aviz dynasty and, above all, a wonderful monument of architecture and art.
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Portugal is not Castile!
When the Iberian Peninsula was taken over by Christian states in the 11th - 15th centuries, the most powerful among them was Castile.
Castilian kings strived to conquer everything around them - not just Islamic lands but also their Christian neighbors. Portugal was not an exception to this; the country was threatened by an invasion of Castilians at the end of the 14th century.
On 15th August 1385, the decisive battle took place between the Portuguese and the Castilians: the Battle of Aljubarrota. Portugal won, under the leadership of King John I (Dom João I), thereby preserving its independence from Castile. This battle also marked the beginning of the "golden times" in the history of Portugal, when this small country had a disproportionately large importance in the global politics of the time.
A Turning Point
The Battle of Aljubarrota (Castile vs Portugal, 1385) (from the British Library)
A Celebration of Victory
Victory in the Battle of Aljubarrota was attributed to the assistance of the Virgin Mary.
In order to commemorate this historic event and to promote the unity of Portugal, King John I (the first king in the Aviz dynasty) ordered the building of a church and monastery of unseen beauty and scale, to be devoted to the Virgin Mary.
Construction of this grand building took more than a century and there were fifteen main architects. Although the Monastery of Batalha (the Monastery of the Battle) drained both the manpower and the financial resources of Portugal, it also helped spur the development of arts, architecture and structural engineering in the nation.
One feature of Portuguese history is its long-standing alliance with England.
England and Portugal frequently supported each other militarily, but there was also cooperation over trade and a profound connection in the exchange of art and science.
English influence is seen also in the architecture and art of Batalha Monastery: the Portuguese masters designed it in the style of Perpendicular Gothic, a uniquely English architectural style.
Batalha Monastery is not just a monastery; it is a lot more than this.
It is a monument to the unity of a nation, a union with England, an expression of the power of Aviz dynasty and, above all, a wonderful monument of architecture and art.
History of Construction
Construction of the monastery was started in 1386, the year after the battle.
The first architect was Alfonso Domingues who led the works until his death in 1402. Domingues planned the layout of the present day structures, and used mainly the Rayonnant Gothic style, with some influence of English Perpendicular.
The arrival of a new architect in 1402 heralded a change to the Flamboyant Gothic architectural style. The new architect, an Englishman named Huguet, set an ambitious goal in the construction of the church: the height of the nave was raised to 32.46 m.
Inside The Monastery
In the second half of the 15th century, the architectural style changed to the ornate Manueline style, with Fernão de Évora taking the lead in 1448 - 1477,
and Mateus Fernandes the Elder from 1480 to 1515. The last work on the monastery took place in 1532.
The Monastery of Batalha was not fully completed when, in the 16th century, the attention of Portuguese rulers turned to the building of another great structure, the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.
This gorgeous structure did not suffer too much during the big 1755 Lisbon earthquake, but it suffered from abuse and neglect by people.
During the Napoleonic war, the Monastery was burned and looted in 1810 and 1811. Shortly after, in 1834, the Dominicans were expelled from the monastery. Now the ornate structure was standing empty.
Happily this did not last for too long. In 1840, King Ferdinand II initiated a restoration effort. This work lasted until the beginning of the 20th century and in 1907 Batalha Monastery was declared a national monument.
Since 1980 it has been a museum, and Batalha Monastery is considered to be one of most impressive Gothic and Manueline structures in this part of Europe.
The Monastery of Batalha forms a single structure, with most buildings constructed from Porto de Mós limestone. Today, this stone is yellow ochre in color.
By far the most impressive part of monastery is church which was built in 1386 - 1416.
As is frequent in Gothic architecture, the sumptuous exterior contrasts directly with its simple interior. Inside it is 22 m wide - but it seems to be narrow, because the nave is 32.4 m high.
The church is adorned with stained glass, requiring the creation of the first stained-glass workshop in Portugal. The oldest stained glass here is from the late 1430s, but most of the windows were made in 1520 - 1530.
Inside the church are tombs of many notable people, including the architect Mateus Fernandes.
Lights from the stained glass in the church of Batalha Monastery
The Founders' Chapel (Capela do Fundador) is a square-formed extension which was built in 1426-1434 as a royal pantheon, the first such solemn structure in Portugal.
The interior of this chapel is simple but the exterior is a splendid example of Flamboyant Gothic and English Perpendicular styles.
In a way this structure mirrors alliance of Portugal and England, by combining these two popular styles.
Next to Founders' Chapel stands an octagonal structure - the so-called “Imperfect” or “Unfinished” Chapels (Capelas Imperfeitas). This is another royal mausoleum. Its construction was started by King Edward of Portugal in 1437 as a Gothic structure but later, during its construction was redesigned as a very ornate structure in the new Manueline style. Construction continued until the middle of 16th century but the chapel was left unfinished.
The tombs of King John I and his wife, Philippa of Lancaster, are located here.
Impressive stone lattice in the unfinished chapels
Chapterhouse (Sala de Capitulo) has a structural peculiarity: a 19 m wide star vault without any vertical support.
This was an outstanding achievement for its time, but in the process of construction it collapsed twice. As a result, construction workers feared to work here; condemned prisoners were used instead.
Nevertheless works were completed and, according to some tales, architect Huguet slept under the vault to prove that it was safe.