Home Governo de Portugal DGPC Home UNESCO
Versão Portuguesa

Jeronimos Monastery

The request sent by Manuel I to the Holy See for authorisation to build a large monastery on the banks of the Tagus just outside Lisbon dates from 1496. The construction work began on 1501 and was concluded approximately 100 years later.
Manuel's motives for building the Jerónimos Monastery most certainly have to do with his desire to have a pantheon for the Avis-Beja dynasty, of which he was the first monarch.
The Jerónimos Monastery, as it is commonly known, replaced a church that had existed on the same site. It was dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém [Belém also being the Portuguese name for Bethlehem] and in it the monks of the Order of Christ provided spiritual guidance to seafarers.
The building has a façade that extends for more than three hundred metres, following a principle of horizontality that gives it a calm and relaxing physiognomy. It was built in limestone extracted in the nearby sites of Ajuda, Rio Seco, Alcântara, Laveiras and Tercena. Given the grandeur of the design and sumptuousness of execution, there were several successive works campaigns overseen by several different master builders: Diogo de Boitaca (ca. 1460-1528), João de Castilho (ca. 1475-1552), Diogo de Torralva (ca. 1500-1566) and Jerónimo de Ruão (1530-1601) are some of the names recorded who left their indelible marks on the complex.
In the 19th century the Monastery underwent isolated architectural interventions, which, while they did not alter the original structure, gave it the form we know today. The bell cupola, the dormitory (today the Archaeological Museum) and the Chapter House were some of the spaces that underwent major alterations. In 1894 the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões, designed by the sculptor Costa Mota (uncle), were also placed in the church.
Always closely linked to the Portuguese royal family, on account of its occupying order (the Hieronymites) and its connections to Spain, the intellectual output of its monks, the fact that it was inevitably closely associated with the golden age of the Discoveries and also its geographic location at the entrance to the port of Portugal's capital, the Jerónimos Monastery was interiorised from its foundation as one of the symbols of the Portuguese nation.