If you plan to visit the magnificent Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça give yourself plenty of time – a place of such national and international historic importance, since its beginnings almost nine hundred years ago, deserves that time and respect. Not only is this hugely impressive gothic monument the final resting place of Dom Pedro of Portugal and his murdered mistress, Ines de Castro (Portugal’s own Romeo and Juliet couple), the monastery is also one of the finest examples of a mediaeval Cistercian monument anywhere in Europe.
With its history dating back 1153, and the Portuguese victory over the Moors at the battle of Santarém, King Alfonso Henriques granted the lands and monastery to the Cistercian order in the knowledge that their works would ensure the cultural, spiritual and pastoral richness of the surrounding lands.
Alcobaça Monastery in Centro de Portugal
The monastery possesses a long and proud history, added to and enhanced over the centuries – until its conquest and partial destruction by Napoleon’s troops in 1811 – but nobody is more proud of every aspect of the monument and its Cistercian importance than its present director, the effusive Ana Pagará. Standing in the nave of what was once the third-longest church in the Cistercian world, the director speaks passionately about the role of the Cistercian order, both then and now. “It is our job to promote the Alcobaça Monastery as one of the most important, well preserved Cistercian monasteries in all of Europe. The values of the Cistercians are more important now than ever before. From the end of the 12th century, the Cistercians’ goal was to unify all of Europe, to this day they still believe in that idea of unification.”
The Cistercian order, founded by Bernard of Clairvaux, rested on the principles that its churches and places of community should avoid superfluous decoration,and are highly regarded as forward-thinking architects and engineers of eminent importance to this day. Employing the use of ‘hydraulic’ construction practices, to their own universally accepted scale of practice, the legacy left behind by the Cistercians throughout the centuries have led to five of the most revered monasteries being listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites: Fontenay in France; Fountains in England; Poblet in Spain; Maulbronn in Germany, and of course Portugal’s own contribution to this who’s who of architecture, Alcobaça.
Along with being the most well-preserved, and most complete (mediaeval plan) Cistercian monastery, Alcobaça every year offers up its delights – and secrets, such as the truly amazing Sacristy and Reliquary Chapel (which has survived earthquakes and plunder, and should not be missed if possible) to over 350,000 visitors. The monastery was designed to accommodate a maximum of 100 monks, a figure which was never achieved, you will be astonished by the sheer scale of the undertaking and the strict Cistercian values to which it was planned.
Alcobaça truly is a gem amongst the historic and cultural treasures of Centro de Portugal, and beyond, and in the words of the profusely enthusiastic director; “I feel this charge of responsibility, every day, to preserve and promote the work of the Cistercian Order.” She sweeps her arm around the main body of the church where tourists wander in throngs, she smiles deeply, “All nationalities, fulfilling the mission… The Cistercian Monasteries really represent a united Europe and a united world.” Whether this is fact or a beautiful desire, Ms. Pagará’s wish is one of which all visitors will aspire having visited one of the world’s great treasures, founded on a dream and desire of similar and noble aspirations.
This Alcobaça Monastery in Centro de Portugal post is a part of a series of 9 posts I wrote based on my journey to the Oeste Region in July 2016. Please find the links o the other articles bellow:
This Alcobaça Monastery in Centro de Portugal post was written by my inspiring friend Brendan Harding as part of my ongoing collaboration with the Centro de Portugal Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Photo credits to Emanuele Siracusa.