When in Lisbon the monastery of St-Jerome is a must. Located in the neighbourhood of Belem on the Tagus River, it is a marvel of architecture and an important historical site in the history of the Empire of Portugal and its many navigators.
The site of the church/Monastery has always had close ties with Portugal’s great explorers. The original Ermida do Restelo hermitage was created by Prince Henry the Navigator in 1450 and was a site in decline when Vasco da Gama spent his last night on land before leaving to find a sea route to India (1497). The church of Mosteiro dos Jeronimos was originally constructed to commemorate the safe return of Vasco da Gama and his men. The ground work of the church started during the reign of King Manuel I (1515-1520) and it was he who gave it to the Order of monks of St-Jerome.
When the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos was original built it was situated on the banks of the River Tagus and overlooked the docks of Belem. Today the waters edge is 300m further south than it was 500 years ago and provides space for the beautiful Praça do Imperio gardens.
Since the area was the Port of Lisbon, all sailors who left for a sea voyage considered to be dangerous at the time, spent his last night at the Monastery praying, attending mass and performing a last confession as if he would never return, life at sea was that uncertain then. The Monastery could accommodate crews of sailors and their captains.
Sailors of the era were notoriously superstitious and the significance of the church swelled as sailors prayed with the monks in the hope that they would return safely. When gold and riches started to flow into the city on the back of the spice trade money was channeled into funding the extravagant building works of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.
The architect Joao de Castilho, given the generous budget for the construction, was able to design an extravagant building. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is the only monastery of the era to be constructed around a two tier cloister.The ornately carved grand entrance of Mosteiro dos Jeronimos rivals any of the great cathedrals, the stone is intricately carved with the images of saints and riotous patterns of fruits and flowers from the New World with the statue of Vasco da Gama atop of the central door way.
The two tiered cloister, you can see how large the area is by looking at the people who are dwarfed by the architecture. The elaborate stone carvings on the walls inside and out.
Across the street from the Monastery is large gardens and the Torre de Belem and the Monument to Prince Henry the Navigator. The entire area can easily be visited in one day, there are restaurants and direct public transport to downtown Lisbon.
The perspective here you can see how far the monastery extend. The street today was the river then and the ships docked here. The river Tagus is now 300 meters further.
Here is a view inside the Church and Monastery
The main Altar and Royal tombs to king Manuel I and his family on the side walls.
The Sacristy with wall paintings on the life of St-Jerome. This central pillar reminded me of a similar pillar in the great Hall of Parliament in Ottawa, similar design in the ceiling.
This was the dining Hall of the monastery, the walls are decorated with painted tiles telling the story of the Joseph and his amazing multicoloured coat. When the Monks still occupied this complex meals were taken in complete silence, only one monk seated in the middle of the room read aloud for the congregation passages from the Bible, it was their entertainment.
Tomb of Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa, (1888-1935) commonly known as Fernando Pessoa, was a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language.
Tomb of Luís Vaz de Camões (1524-1580) is considered Portugal’s and the Portuguese language’s greatest poet. His mastery of verse has been compared to that of Shakespeare, Vondel, Homer, Virgil and Dante. He wrote a considerable amount of lyrical poetry and drama but is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas, telling the story of the Portuguese people and their great explorers.
Tomb of Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira, (1460-1524) was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and therefore, the West and the Orient. He died in India but his body was brought back to Lisbon for burial.
Torre de Belem, built 1514, the ceremonial entrance to the City of Lisbon on the Tagus river, the Atlantic ocean is just off in the distance. It is simply a beautiful symbolic monument, nothing to see inside at all.
The monument to Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) is in front of the Monastery and next to the Torre of Belem. The bridge in the distance was built in the late 1960’s and was named after the dictator of Portugal at the time António de Oliveira Salazar who served as Prime Minister of Portugal from 1932 to 1968, he died in 1974. The Red Carnation revolution of 1975 gave the bridge its current name 25 April.
The bridge connects Lisbon to Almada across the Tagus River.
After all this walking by the seashore and visiting all the monuments we were hungry and had lunch in this typical Portuguese restaurant just steps away from the Monastery on Rua da Belem. We had the best lamb stew ever, it was so tender, just like butter in a beautiful sauce. We also had big grilled sardines, they are the size of a small trout. Good wine list, very nice service.