Convent of the Order of Christ (Convento de Cristo)

Convent of the Order of Christ


Location: Tomar   Map

Tel. 249 313 481

Open: June- Sep: 9am- 6:30pm daily

Oct- May: 9am- 5:30pm daily

Closed: 1 Jan, Easter, 1 May, 25 Dec


Description of the Convent of the Order of Christ

The Convent of Christ (12th – 18th century) is the name given to a set of historic buildings located in the parish of São João Baptista, city of Tomar, Portugal. The beginning of its construction dates back to 1160 and is closely linked to the beginnings of the Kingdom of Portugal and the role then played by the Templar Order, where it had its Portuguese headquarters, having subsequently been reconfigured and expanded by the heir to the Order of Christ.

Built over hundreds of years by some of the most important medieval masters and architects working in Portugal (Diogo de Arruda, João de Castilho and Diogo de Torralva, among many others), this architectural complex includes diversified buildings, almost all of remarkable importance. heritage, including the castle and the Templar Charola, the 14th century cloisters, the Manueline church and the Renaissance convent. Its present configuration reflects the successive functions it was intended for and the architectural typologies of the historical periods in which it was built. In it we can find typically Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, Mannerist and so-called floor style elements.

"Art compendium, and history compendium", many major figures in the history of Portugal are closely linked to the Convent of Christ. From the outset, the Templar master Gualdim Pais, the true founder of the city of Tomar; Infante D. Henrique, responsible for an important phase of conversion and expansion of the convent; D. Manuel I, who ordered the construction of the 16th century church, a true ex-libris of the Manueline style; D. João III, who implemented a radical refoundation of the Order of Christ and the convent itself, projecting his architectural preferences there; Philip II of Spain, who extended the constructive program of the reign of D. João III and held the courts there that recognized him as King of Portugal.

The Convent of Christ stands out as one of the most important monumental groups existing in Portuguese territory and is classified as a National Monument (1910) and as a World Heritage Site (1983).

Convent of the Order of Christ Map


Convento de Cristo is a denomination that generally identifies an important architectural ensemble that includes the Templar Castle of Tomar, the Templar Charola and adjacent Manueline church, the Renaissance convent of the Order of Christ, the convent fence (or Mata dos Sete Montes), the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição and the conventual aqueduct (Aqueduto dos Pegões). Its construction began in the twelfth century and lasted until the end of the seventeenth century, involving a vast commitment of resources, material and human, over successive generations. It is currently a cultural, tourist and even devotional space.

12th-18th centuries
The castle was founded by Gualdim Pais in the reign of D. Afonso Henriques (in 1160) and still preserves memories of the time of these knight monks committed to the reconquest; it comprised the walled village, the terreiro and the military house located between the Mestre's house, the Alcáçova, and the knights' oratory (the Rotunda or Charola). In 1357, forty-five years after the extinction of the Templar Order, the castle became definitively the seat of the Order of Christ, created in its place during the reign of D. Dinis.

In 1420, Infante D. Henrique is appointed governor and administrator of the Order of Christ and, from then on, the exercise of governance of the Order will be handed over to the royal family. The Order is reconfigured without detracting from its original spirit of chivalry and crusade, but directing it towards a new objective, that of maritime expansion, which the Order itself will finance (it is with the Infante that the Knights become navigators and that many sailors become knights of the Order of Christ). During his regency, the branch of contemplative religious is introduced into the Order, starting to coexist with that of the friars-knights; the castle's military house is transformed into a convent, two cloisters are built and the Alcáçova is adapted for the Infante's manor house.

Between 1495 and 1521 D. Manuel is King of Portugal, assuming the position of governor and mayor of the Order, which in his reign will have a deep involvement in the company of the Discoveries, holding an immense power spread throughout the Portuguese empire. The convent will be the scene of important expansion and improvement works, which are in keeping with the spirit that presides over the reign of this monarch. The Templar Rotunda is extended to the west, with the construction of an imposing church/choir and sacristy outside the walls (begun by Diogo de Arruda and completed by João de Castilho), where a renovating decorative idiom (Manueline style) is put into practice that "celebrates the Portuguese maritime discoveries, the mystique of the Order of Christ and the Crown in a grandiose manifestation of power and faith".

Even more than D. Manuel, D. João III will focus on Tomar many of his initiatives, in line with the desire to turn that city into a kind of «spiritual capital» of the kingdom, where he would like to be buried (some historians admit having been this is the reason for the construction of the small Church-Mausoleum of Nossa Senhora da Conceição). From 1529 onwards, he ordered a profound reform of the Order of Christ and the construction of a new convent space. The process is led by Frei António de Lisboa, a noted humanist who implements a global change in the institution, transforming the Order into a strict cloistered order (inspired by the Rule of São Bento) and promoting the construction of a large-scale convent. João de Castilho, the most renowned architect/master builder of the time, would assume responsibility for the work (c. 1532-1552), followed by Diogo de Torralva (after 1554). The new buildings will appear to the west of the castle and the Manueline Nave, according to a sober classicist style that contrasts with the hyper-decorative character of the Manueline style.

It is in the terreiro of the Convento de Cristo church that the Courts of Tomar of 1581 take place, in which D. Filipe I (Philip II of Spain) is acclaimed King of Portugal. Heir to the Portuguese throne, Filipe I also becomes master of the Order of Christ. The construction of the convent will continue during his rule and that of his successors, with the completion of the Cloister of D. João III, the construction of the Sacristia Nova and, to the south, the Aqueduct (by Filipe Terzi). The northern flank also undergoes significant changes, with the construction of the Portaria Nova and the Dormitório Novo in the Cloister of the Hospedaria and, at the end of the 17th century, the large Infirmary and the Botica nova, the last major works carried out in the convent, at a later date. to the Restoration of Independence.


19th-21st centuries
The 19th and 20th centuries represent a troubled time of profound change for the Convent of Christ. In 1811, French troops occupied the convent, leading to the destruction of the remarkable choir stalls. In 1834, the extinction of the religious orders suddenly put an end to monastic life in this male convent (by the will of D. Maria II, the Order of Christ will nevertheless survive, in the form of an Honorific Order; its Grand Master is, in present, the President of the Portuguese Republic); An important part of its contents is stolen, namely corner books on parchment with illuminations, paintings and other artistic specimens. In the following year, many of the convent's assets (such as the conventual enclosure, the enclosure of the old town in the castle and the buildings on the south-west angle of the convent), are sold at public auction to a private individual, the future Count of Tomar, who transforms the west wing of the cloister of Corvos in a 19th century mansion where he and his family will live for several generations.

In 1845 D. Maria II, accompanied by D. Fernando, settles in the convent; seven years later, D. Fernando ordered the demolition of the upper floor of the Cloister of Santa Bárbara and of the first and second floors of the south wing of the Cloister of the Hospedaria to allow a better view of the facades of the 16th century church, namely the Manueline window, to the west, which had been obstructed by Renaissance buildings.

At the end of the 19th century, several facilities were handed over to the military – such as the old infirmaries, hospital, Sala dos Cavaleiros, Botica and cloister da Micha – for occupation by the Regional Military Hospital; in 1917 the entire complex, with the exception of the church, was taken over by the Ministry of War. In 1939 the properties of the heirs of the Count of Tomar were reacquired by the State. The disaffection of the spaces given to the military sphere would take place later, in the last decades of the 20th century, with the State taking full possession of the convent, now with cultural and tourist functions, which remain.

Over the years, there have been many actions to restore the Convent of Christ; to them we owe the survival of the historical ensemble that we can admire today. Among the most recent, the protracted restoration process of the charola stands out (begun in the late 1980s and ended in 2013), which revealed a long-hidden treasure: the trompe l'oeil paintings from the Manueline period, " whose vision remarkably transforms the reading of the charola's interior space".

Asset classification
Due to its remarkable heritage value, the Convent of Christ is classified as a National Monument (1910) and as a World Heritage Site (1983). UNESCO's classification as a World Heritage Site was based on two criteria: first, the Convent of Christ represents an exceptional artistic achievement in terms of the primitive temple and sixteenth-century buildings; on the other hand, it is associated with ideas and events of universal significance, having been conceived at its origin as a symbolic monument of the reconquest and becoming, in the Manueline period, an inverse symbol, that of the opening of Portugal to external civilizations.


Architectural characterization

The diverse set that makes up the Convent of Christ was built between the 12th and 17th centuries, having undergone successive adaptations that reflected the various types of use it received and the stylistic characteristics of the architecture of the different historical moments, sharing Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, Mannerist and so-called floor style.

In a very simplified balance, of the initial buildings of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that have survived, the Castle and the Templar Charola stand out (in Romanesque and Gothic styles); of the interventions from the time of Infante D. Henrique in the 15th century, the Gothic cloisters, to the northwest of Charola, and the ruins of Paço do Infante should be noted; the initial 16th century intervention (1510-1515) left us the Manueline church/choir, the wide enhancement of the Charola's interior, the South Portal and an unfinished Chapter Room, where the Manueline style predominates; the following works started c. 1532, corresponded to the construction of the vast convent in Renaissance style (the Cloister of D. João III being Mannerist), which externally involved the Manueline church and occupied an extensive area to the west (including several cloisters, dormitories, refectory, kitchen and other spaces intended for to monastic life); the last stages of construction took place during the Philippine Dynasty and in the period after the Restoration, corresponding to the construction, among others, of the long block, in floor style, that delimits the convent complex to the north/northeast (which housed the Portaria Nova or Portaria Nova Filipina, the Infirmary and Botica) and the Aqueduct, to the south.

Castle, Charola, Gothic Cloisters
The Castle of Tomar consisted of a belt of walls and was divided into three spaces. In the southern part was the village precinct (where the orange grove is now located). On the highest part of the hill, to the north, the military house of the Templars was established, flanked by the Master's house (the Alcáçova; in ruins), with its keep and, to the west, the knights' oratory (the Charola). . The vast courtyard of the castle, now a landscaped space, separated these two enclosures.

The Charola do Convento de Cristo was the private oratory (with probable burial functions) of the Knights inside the fortress. Modeled on the Paleo-Christian basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, it is one of the rare and emblematic rotunda temples in medieval Europe. According to Paulo Pereira, its construction was carried out in two stages: the initial one took place in the second half of the twelfth century (c. 1160-1190), in a time dominated by the Romanesque (it would be interrupted due to serious skirmishes with the Almohads); the second, the completion of the temple, about four decades later (c. 1230-1250), already in the phase of full affirmation of the Gothic language in Portugal. The result is a work that crosses elements of both styles (Romanesque and Gothic). Charola's floor plan develops around a central, octagonal space, which unfolds into sixteen faces on the outer wall of the ambulatory. The interior of the central drum is covered by a dome based on crossed ribs, of great verticality, and the ambulatory by a barrel vault.

The building would undergo adaptations over time, namely in terms of access, which was initially located to the east and which, in the reign of D. Manuel I, would be carried out to the west, through a triumphal arch (from João de Castilho) of communication with the new Manueline church, in a formal and functional alteration that transformed the Charola into the chancel of the new temple. The liturgical valorization was then carried out through a comprehensive and multifaceted intervention that included carving and parietal painting programs and the integration of important pieces of sculpture and painting, where names such as Jorge Afonso, Olivier de Gand, Fernão Muñoz, Fernão by Anes, Gregório Lopes and Simão de Abreu (particularly significant was the discovery of 16th century paintings of the ambulatory vault, finally revealed in a recent restoration).

The refurbishment and expansion of the monastery begun during the period of the Infante's rule resulted, among other initiatives, in the construction of two cloisters, in Gothic style, with a structure of broken arcades on grouped columns. Adjacent to Charola, the Cloister of the Cemetery is designed by Fernão Gonçalves and dates back to around 1420; the name is due to the fact that it was intended for the burial of the friars and high dignitaries of the Order of Christ. The two-storey Cloister of the Washes was originally the articulation between the Cemetery Cloister and the Paço do Infante.

Stone game boards were identified in the Lavagem Cloister and in the Corvos Cloister, which were part of the daily lives of the clerics.


Manueline Church and South Portal
Between 1510 and 1513, the construction of the church took place, under the direction of Diogo de Arruda. The new building was literally leaning against the western face of the old Templar charola and took advantage of the uneven terrain in that area to create a unified volume of great grandeur (the exterior impact would, however, be seriously affected by the later construction of the adjacent Renaissance cloisters), and creating, inside, the overlapping spaces of the sacristy and the upper choir (where a remarkable choir by Olivier de Gand was installed, which would not survive the heritage devastation that occurred during the French Invasions). The whole, in particular the western façade, presents a profusion of decoration endowed with a deep mythographic symbolism that crosses the Christological and Marian symbols with those of royal heraldry. The famous window on the western façade in particular, conceived as an «inflamed poem of stone», is inscribed in a vast vestment (girded with buttresses and animated with sculptures of the four «kings in arms» of the kingdom), revealing the ornamental program of terrestrial flora and fauna and echoes of the Discoveries adventure, emblematic of the Manueline style.

The work would be completed in 1515, in a second contract in which the new manager, João de Castilho, was in charge of dealing with several issues that had remained unresolved in the previous contract, including the construction of the vault of the new Manueline church/choir, the connection between it and the charola and the creation of a new and monumental gateway to the temple. The ribbed vault, with a single flight, that covers the church, gives unity to the space and enhances the interior lighting, coming from four windows (two to the south and two to the north) and a circular oculus on the west facade. The vault is divided into three panels, supported by eight corbels with plant and figurative decoration. Between the church/choir and the charola was opened a wide broken arch that ensures an effective integration between the two spaces. Finally, a portal-retable was built to access the temple where João de Castilho tested a modular system that he would use again in the south portal of the Jerónimos Monastery.

The south portal of Tomar takes advantage of the thickness of the church's wall to create an architectural canopy that tops and protects the sculptural ensemble, in which several symbolic figures of prophets, mitred clerics, Doctors of the Church were integrated, in which, in the center, the image of the Virgin Queen of Heaven, with the surmounting cross of Christ. From a stylistic point of view, there is a fusion between Manueline and Gothic influenced by the decorative lexicon of the Renaissance, through a type of ornamentation that was very widespread in Spain, the Plateresque. In the 1515 undertaking, the construction of the Chapter Room was also started, which would remain unfinished.

renaissance cloisters
The overall layout of João de Castilho's Renaissance renovation and expansion followed a rational (and functional) concept. Two long corridors in a cross articulate four main cloisters, which together delimit an enormous quadrilateral; they are the Cloister Grande (or of D. João III), the Cloister of the Hospedaria, the Cloister of Corvos and the Cloister of Micha. A fifth cloister, of more modest dimensions, was placed against the western facade of the Manueline church, seriously affecting its visibility. From a functional point of view, this cloister – Cloister of Santa Bárbara –, came to occupy a key place, in the transition between the old and the new buildings. It would have been the first to be built (c. 1531-1532) and its stylistic characteristics immediately reveal a radical break with the hyper-decorative density of Manueline and the option for a new classicist idiom. The first floor of this cloister was demolished in the mid-19th century in order to restore visibility to the façade of the Manueline church, in particular the famous Manueline window. Finally, note the small Cloister of Necessárias (a protruding block on the west façade of the convent complex), intended exclusively for sanitation.

The Cloister of the Hospedaria was intended to welcome visitors to the convent and therefore has a noble appearance. It preserves features identical to what must have been the initial Castilian Grand Cloister, allowing us to imagine in general terms what this lost construction would have been. Buttresses of quadrangular section, along the entire height of the cloister, give rhythm to its elevations. Covered by rib vaults, the galleries on the ground floor are made up of four sections, with a double round arch supported on columns with ample capitals; the first floor is covered by wooden beams with caissons, being formed by an architrave based, in the center, on an Ionic column; the west side of the cloister has an additional floor, solved in the same way as the first floor. The formal balance of this cloister was seriously disturbed by the subsequent demolition, to the south, of the gallery on the first floor (for reasons identical to those that dictated the amputation of the Santa Bárbara Cloister), and by the construction, to the north, of the inelegant body of the so-called Portaria Nova , which distorts the balance of this facade. The Cloisters of Corvos and Micha are organized in a basically similar way to the Hospedaria, although they have a smaller scale and a simpler level of finishing, since they are different functional areas, intended for the novitiate and assistance.

Cloister of D. João III
The original Cloister Grande – or Cloister of D. João III – was almost entirely dismantled after João de Castilho's death, for reasons that remain to be fully clarified. It was replaced by the remarkable Mannerist version by Diogo de Torralva, considered a masterpiece of this architect and of European Mannerism. The construction works would be extended by Francisco Lopes after Torralva's death (in 1566), with the final finishes (by Filipe Terzi) and the central fountain (by Pedro Fernandes de Torres) carried out already in the time of Philippine domination. A top piece in 16th century European architecture, this cloister reflects the early assimilation of the most erudite Mannerist values.

The Cloister of D. João III de Torralva reveals an absolute mastery of classical language, influenced by Books III and IV by Sebastiano Serlio and, probably, by inspiring works such as Villa Imperial de Pésaro (c. 1530), adapting them to the program from Tomar. The work interprets the same classic syntagm, but now informed by the experience of the High Renaissance. Monumentality and scale play a decisive role here through the careful proportion of the spans and supporting elements. "The result is a body of galleries of a diaphanous transparency", of a soft luminosity, reverberated by the soft stone of warm color; "The values ​​of light and shadow are accentuated by the play of chromaticism of the surfaces, which mostly use yellow limestone, in contrast to the black marble of the recessed planes".

Dorms and Cruise, Refectory, Novitiate
The long corridors on the upper floor of the bedrooms are covered by extensive barrel vaults with typical classicist oak coffered ceilings; at the place where they cross they form the Cruzeiro itself, an interesting architectural piece designed by Castilho with the assistance of Pedro Algorreta which has a chapel adjacent to the image of the Seated Christ or Senhor da Cana Verde, 1654 (terracotta sculpture by Inácia da Encarnação) . Decorated in relief (garlands, putti…) and covered by a lantern with a dome in a «clergyman's cap», the cross punctuates the intersection of corridors and alters the clean and uncluttered architecture of the set. The refectory room is covered by a barrel vault, based on a continuous cornice and with caissons delimited by ribs in stone, of quadrangular section and classical configuration. Two pulpits, located opposite each other on the longer walls, display symbolic Renaissance motifs.

On the first floor of the west façade of the Micha cloister, the three novitiate rooms stand out. Each of them seeks in some way to emulate Vitruvius' hypostyle room; the first two (for the novices' dormitory) have an arched space, covered in wood, supported by four central columns with Ionic capitals; in the third, square one – the Chapel of the Novitiate or Dos Reis Magos –, "the architect [João de Castilho] built one of the Portuguese Renaissance masterpieces." The roof of this room, which completes the floor, is formed by the intersection of two wooden barrel vaults (with coffered ceilings), supported by architraves resting on Corinthian columns with composite capitals, the four central ones being perfectly highlighted and the remaining twelve adjacent to each other to the boundary walls.


Aqueduct, New Gate and Monastic Infirmary
Built in the era of Filipe II of Spain, the Pegões Aqueduct was designed by Filipe Terzi. This is a large-scale hydraulic engineering work of approximately 6 kilometers in length, with a total of 180 arches for the overhead passages of the pipeline. The stretch over the Pegões valley stands out, consisting of 58 round arches, in the deepest part of the valley they are based on 16 broken arches, in turn built on imposing masonry massifs. The aqueduct ends with a row of large arches attached to the south façade of the convent.

On the opposite side, to the north of the convent complex, is the "long and monotonous" body of the so-called Portaria Nova. Built in the 17th century, in the ground style, "without any stylistic imitations", it integrates the Infirmaries and the Apothecary. With an entrance to the north, Portaria Nova includes a staircase in 3 flights, with ashlars of blue and white patterned tiles, being preceded by a small vestibule (in the open), ending in the Sala dos Reis, a quadrangular space with tiles identical to the of the staircase and painted wood paneled ceiling. The New Sacristy, in a mannerist style, was also built during the Philippine Dynasty.

Chapel of Our Lady of Conception
Located close to the Convent of Christ, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição was (according to the proposal of the historian Rafael Moreira) conceived as a mausoleum-church for D. João III and his relatives (this testamentary wish of the king would not, in the however fulfilled by his successors). With a quadrangular outline, this small chapel was one of the last works by João de Castilho; its interior configuration is identical to that of the Novitiate Chapel, although in this case entirely in stone. It would be completed by Diogo de Torralva (whose stylistic mark is particularly noticeable abroad) after Castilho's death.

"The beautiful exterior is far surpassed by the interior", not very spacious, where a reflection of the first Italian renaissance hovers; this one has three naves covered by barrel vaults over exquisite Corinthian columns, the transept being identically covered by a barrel vault.[30] "The chapel can be rightly considered one of the jewels of the European Renaissance. Its intriguing perfection, especially in the interior, [de Castilho] of a unique harmony in Portuguese and Peninsular architecture, makes it a true example of Renaissance language in architecture. "