Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos)

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos



Location: Praca do Imperio, Lisbon  Map

Tel. 21- 362 00 34
Bus: 28, 727. 729, 751
Trolley: 15
Open: Oct- Apr 10am- 6pm Tue- Sun

May- Sept 10am- 6:30pm Tue- Sun
Closed: public holidays


The Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém, better known as the Jerónimos Monastery, is a Portuguese monastery, built at the end of the 15th century by King Manuel I and was handed over to the Order of Saint Jerome. It is located in the parish of Belém, in the city and municipality of Lisbon. It has, since 2016, the status of National Pantheon.

The culmination of Manueline architecture, this monastery is the most notable Portuguese monastic complex of its time and one of the main hall churches in Europe. Its construction began at the beginning of the 16th century and lasted for a hundred years, having been directed by a remarkable group of architects/masters of works (highlighting the decisive role of João de Castilho).

The Jerónimos Monastery has been classified as a National Monument since 1907 and, in 1983, it was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the Belém Tower. On the 7th of July 2007 it was elected as one of the seven wonders of Portugal. Closely linked to the Portuguese Royal House and the epic of the Discoveries, the Jerónimos Monastery was, from an early age, "internalized as one of the symbols of the nation".

It is now one of the most important tourist attractions in Portugal, with a total of 807,854 visitors in 2014, 944,000 in 2015 and 1,166,793 in 2017.



Restelo, an area close to Lisbon where the future Jerónimos Monastery would be built, was initially a small village on the banks of the Tagus River. It grew under the impetus of maritime trade and naval production, which would have great strategic and logistical importance with regard to the protection of Portuguese maritime routes, later becoming a major commercial port and shelter for navigators. The Conquest of Ceuta (1415), of the Indies and the coast of Africa gave great impetus to Portuguese maritime expansion and consequently to the growth of this port, then called Restelo. However, such growth was not accompanied by the development of the necessary infrastructure, which makes the population, already overwhelmed by difficulties on the high seas, more vulnerable to diseases. To meet these new demands, the Infante Dom Henrique, in 1452, ordered the construction of the Chapel of Santa Maria de Belém and also water pipe services, houses for housing the presbytery and land for agricultural production. In this church, the great navigators like Pedro Álvares Cabral, Vasco da Gama and others, kept vigils before leaving for their great sea voyages.

In 1496, even before Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India, D. Manuel I made a request to the Holy See to grant him permission to build a large monastery on the site of the old chapel of the Ordem de Cristo at entrance to Lisbon, along the banks of the Tagus. Having received this authorization on June 23, of the same year, by the bull "Eximiae devotionis" issued by Pope Alexander VI.

Two years later, the same king donated the place of Santa Maria de Belém to the Jerónimos friars, for the construction of a monastery that should have the capacity to house 100 religious and where the public services previously provided to sailors by the Order of Christ should be continued. Taking possession of the place, from a material point of view on January 17, 1499 and canonical on April 21, 1500, the works began in 1502, supported by the Crown, under the administration of the monks and a keeper, passing in 1505 to be managed by the "Table of Tales".

In 1517, by order of Pope Leo X, the Monastery became the mother house of the aforementioned order and its prior, the Provincial.

In 1518 D. Manuel decided, in his will, to transform it into his own pantheon, expanding "the exceptional character of the monarchy and the lineage that had been born with it, as a branch of the Avis dynasty. "But he wanted to distinguish it through a work sumptuous, that was in accordance with the principles of royal propaganda and the glorification of a kingdom, which was confused with his person".

The building was built in limestone (lioz) extracted from quarries not far from the site. The grandeur of the undertaking and the richness of the execution extended the works for a hundred years, in successive construction contracts whose responsible masters were Diogo de Boitaca (first architect in charge of the works), João de Castilho, Diogo de Torralva and, for lastly, Jerónimo de Rouen. Touted as the culmination of Manueline architecture, the Jerónimos Monastery integrates late Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements, associating them with a regal, Christological and naturalistic symbolism, which makes it unique.

The monks of the Order of Saint Jerome were chosen to occupy the monastery (hence the name Mosteiro dos Jerónimos), a religious community that lived in these spaces until the extinction of religious orders in the 19th century (1834). The monastery was then handed over to the Real Casa Pia de Lisboa (an institution dedicated to the reception and education of orphans and the recovery of beggars and the underprivileged and which would occupy the spaces of the cloister until 1940); the Church became the Parish Church of the Parish of Santa Maria de Belém. In all this process, a large part of the valuable contents of the monastery was lost.


Building chronology

During the reign of D. Manuel I, two major undertakings for the construction of the monument can be considered: the first was directed by Diogo de Boitaca, who defined the layout of the monastery and church, probably revising its scale in 1513 when the king acquired more land for the building, which reveals an intention to enhance the work; the second takes place from 2 January 1517, under the general coordination of João de Castilho. "Castilho's virtuosity in the management of subcontracts is the key to the success of the intervention that puts in the field and simultaneously nothing more, nothing less than two hundred and fifty workers". Under his coordination, the projects are deployed in seven different areas: south portal; axial portal; chapter room; sacristy; cloister; refectory; choir chapels.

Effort is made to work with the finishing of the ground floor of the cloister and the beginning of the construction of the second floor (which will result in the first two-storey vaulted cloister) as well as the execution of the portals (south and axial), sacristy, refectory, part of the walls and portal of the chapter room. The covering of the naves and the cross of the church is carried out through new and bold technical solutions that allowed the conception of an unprecedented unified space, the first large Portuguese hall church. Castilho also witnessed a change in terms of architectural ornamentation, initially marked by late Gothic and which would open up to the air of Renaissance classicism («the Roman») through the Spanish Plateresque.

In 1530 João de Castilho abandoned the works on the Jerónimos Monastery. Ten years later, Diogo de Torralva takes office (until 1551), who will carry out several finishing works on previous constructions. A new gatehouse was also built (replaced in the 17th century), the high-choir stalls were designed and the chancel was altered in order to receive the remains of D. Manuel I. But Jerónimo de Ruão would take over the completion of the building. , occupying the position of master builder of the Monastery from 1563 until the date of his death in 1601. He is responsible for the new chancel, of a Mannerist nature, which will contrast with the Manueline style, dominant in the rest of the building. .

The original plan followed the typical scheme of a monastic house, including the church, cloister and annexes. What we can still find in Belém today preserves the essential aspects of the initial design (16th century), but it is also a repository of the numerous changes and additions carried out in later centuries, of which the remodeling carried out in the 19th century should be highlighted. included the construction of the long neo-Manueline building to the west of the monastery, where the National Archeology Museum and part of the Navy Museum are now located.

In the first decades of the 20th century, several works were carried out: completion of the central body of the annex; restoration of the chair; dismantling of the organs of the Choir-Alto; installation of stained glass windows on the south façade designed by Abel Manta. Other restorations took place during the preparation of the commemorations of the centenaries of the Foundation and Restoration of the nationality (1140 and 1640 respectively), which would culminate in the great initiative of the Estado Novo that was the Portuguese World Exhibition, 1940 (the initiative occupied the vast space that opens between the monastery, the real backdrop for the exhibition, and the river / Torre de Belém). At that time Casa Pia abandoned the cloister area; the tombs of Camões and Vasco da Gama were transferred from the cruise to the subchoir; the porter's porch was rebuilt.



The Church has a Latin cross plan, consisting of three naves at the same height (salon church), covered by an extensive polynervated vault supported by six pillars. The vault of the crossing, without intermediate supports, covers a width of 30 meters, representing "the most complete realization of the late medieval ambition of covering the largest possible span with the least amount of supports" (Kubler). The profusion of ornamentation reaches its peak in this vast space.

In the chapel to the left of the transept, the Cardinal-King D. Henrique and those of the sons of D. Manuel I are buried; on the right is the tomb of D. Sebastião and the descendants of D. João III. The church also houses the tombs of Camões and Vasco da Gama, by Costa Mota, uncle.

The initial chancel, in Boitaca, was demolished and replaced by another, built in 1571 by D. Catarina, wife of D. João III. It was designed by Jerónimo de Ruão, who introduced the Mannerist style here, establishing a strong contrast with the Manueline body of the Church. In the open arcades between the pairs of lateral columns are the tombs of D. Manuel and his wife, D. Maria, of D. João III and D. Catarina. On the high altar is an altarpiece by the painter Lourenço de Salzedo with scenes from the Passion of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi.

High choir and sacristy
Prior to 1551, the high choir was used, among others, for the fundamental activities of the monks of the Order of Saint Jerome (prayers, chants and religious services), as the Chapter Room remained unfinished until the 19th century. The monastic stall (very remarkable) that occupies the space to the west, was designed by Diogo de Torralva and executed by Diogo de Sarça (Diego de la Zarza) between 1548 and 1550; its elaborate erudite design reveals the influence of mannerist models. On the high choir's balustrade stands a 'Crucified Christ' (1550) by the Flemish sculptor Philippe de Vries (Filipe Brias); offered in 1551 by Infante D. Luís, it is considered a landmark of the triumph of the renaissance in Portugal. The group of paintings depicting the apostles that make up the chairs is by an unknown author.

Attached to the church is the large sacristy room, whose vault radiates from a central column. Designed by João de Castilho, its construction dates from 1517-1520. The furniture includes a wooden chest from the 16th century, presumably from Jerónimo de Ruão, where vestments and liturgical implements are preserved. On the back are fourteen oil paintings representing scenes from the life of St. Jerome (attributed to the Mannerist painter Simão Rodrigues; executed c. 1600-1610).



In the Jerónimos Monastery, due to their artistic and iconographic value, the "fundamental testimonies" are the portals, oriented to the south and west (the latter is also called the axial portal, as it is located on the axis of symmetry of the building, in front of the High Altar). The two portals must be read together "like a diptych carved in the glory of D. Manuel I".

south portal
Built over two years (1517, 1518) by João de Castilho and his officers, the Portal Sul is one of the richest pieces of late Gothic Portuguese architecture. Its structure reaches 32 meters in height and more than 12 meters in width, presenting itself as a true «door to Christianity» with triumphal characteristics. Authorship cannot be attributed to a single artist. João de Castilho was responsible for the overall design and had at his service a large team that reached up to 200 performers (imaginers, masons, rigs, decorators, etc.), with greater or lesser responsibility in the final definition of the work. Among the most outstanding names are Diogo de Castilho, André Pilarte, Juan de la Faya or Machim.

Of the two, this is the most complex portal from an iconographic point of view, with a total of forty figures, thirty-eight alluding to Sacred History, one to the history of Portugal, in addition to the national coat of arms, in the central bas-relief of the upper part. of the eardrum. At the base of the portal are the twelve apostles; in the buttresses, those who foretold the birth of Christ (sibyls and prophets); in the center, the Virgin and Child; to crown the ensemble, four Fathers or Doctors of the Church and, at the top, Saint Michael, the Guardian Angel of the Kingdom. Further down, in a central position between the two entrance doors, the statue of Infante D. Henrique, ancestor of King D. Manuel (kinship link between D. Manuel and the House of Avis). On the tympanum there are two scenes from the life of S. Jerónimo.

West portal (axial)
Although on a smaller scale than the Portal Sul, this is the main door of the Jerónimos Monastery, occupying the position bordering the main altar. It must have been designed initially by Diogo de Boitaca and, later, by João de Castilho, as can be seen from the Spanish-Flemish Gothic nature of the architectural elements. It was executed by Nicolau Chanterene and his company, having the hand of the French master dictate a significant stylistic inflection, with the introduction of Renaissance classicizing motifs.

The upper part of the portal is occupied by three niches with scenes of the birth of Christ: Annunciation, Nativity and Adoration of the Magi. In the lateral areas, among representations of saints and figures of the apostolate, the praying statues of the founding kings stand out, with their respective insignia and their patron saints: on the left side D. Manuel I and São Jerónimo; on the right, Queen Maria and Saint John the Baptist.



The Jerónimos cloister is the first of its kind in Portugal, with two vaulted floors and a square plan, with cut corners, forming a virtual octagon. It is considered a masterpiece of world architecture and constitutes an aesthetic testimony of extraordinary beauty, whose harmony resulted from the skill and delicacy of the masters who, in three successive campaigns, dedicated themselves to its construction - initially designed by Diogo de Boitaca, it underwent adaptations of João de Castilho and was completed by Diogo de Torralva.

The cloister is a synthesis of different genres and styles, reflecting an effective interpretation of the principles of late Gothic, experimental renaissance, decorative character, and mature renaissance or high renaissance. Combining religious symbols (including elements of the Passion of Christ), regal (royal shield, armillary sphere, cross of the Military Order of Christ) and naturalistic elements (ropes and plant motifs that cohabit with an imaginary still medieval, of fantastic animals), the iconographic richness of the decorative elements is remarkable. European buildings of that time with such a rich and dense decorative load of meaning are rare. "The celebration of the royal couple, [...] the elevation of the biblical narrative of the Passion of Christ and the declamation of the Portuguese epic [...] are assumed here in a single speech, with different combinations", contributing to the "mythical projection of a superior mission to be carried out by the Portuguese kingdom".

In the north wing of the lower cloister is the tomb of Fernando Pessoa (1985), by Lagoa Henriques.

Chapter room, dining hall, confessionals and bookstore (library)
Directly connected to the cloister are several annex spaces, including the chapter room, the refectory, the confessionals and the bookstore (library):
Built by Rodrigo de Pontezilha, the door to the Chapter Room was completed in the years 1517-1518. The room itself, however, never had the intended use, as the vault and interior decoration only began to be completed in 1886. Two years later, in the center of the room, the tomb of Alexandre Herculano (by Eduardo Augusto da Silva), which would be altered in 1940 and of which the tomb chest remains. The Chapter Room was temporarily used as a pantheon for other more recent personalities in the History of Portugal, who would later be transferred to the National Pantheon.
The refectory was built between 1517 and 1518 by master Leonardo Vaz and his officers. With its polynervated and low-slung vault, it clearly exemplifies the taste of the Manueline period. Under thick cords of stone, the walls are covered with ashlar tiles from 1780-1785.
There are twelve, the doors of the old confessionals, although two are canceled by the Capela do Senhor dos Passos. The confessor accessed the confessional through the Cloister and the penitent entered through the Church, being separated by an iron grate.
The bookshop (or library) was built around 1640. At the time of the extinction of the Community, the library had around 8,000 volumes. At present, this room hosts a permanent documentary exhibition that aims to build a memory of the 500 years of the Jerónimos Monastery.