Convent of Christ in Tomar

Hello [tap, tap] can you hear me? I’m coming to you today, in my best BBC accented crackly radio voice, from the island of Terceira in the Azores. However, I’m three monasteries behind on mainland Portuguese heritage sites, so you’ll have to wait a few days (internet access permitting) to hear about the two sites here.

Tomar - fortress walls

Tomar - fortress walls

On Tuesday I took a train two hours north of Lisbon to Tomar to visit this fortified monastery, originally a symbol of the Christian reconquest in the 12th century. The fortress and first church (which looks circular but is a 16 sided polygon) were built by the Knights Templar, and during subsequent centuries the monastery was substantially enlarged, with multiple cloisters and a fabulous Manueline style extention to the church.

Tomar - church interior

Tomar - church interior

The latter includes a window smothered in exuberant carved stone froth, a lot of it nautically themed including ropes, chains, coral, the ubiquitous royal symbol of the armillary sphere (all over the Belem tower as well) and frilly stuff that looks like seaweed.

Tomar - the Manueline window

Tomar - the Manueline window

A turret close to the window had this rather marvellous stone belt and buckle around it:

Tomar - detail on church turret

Tomar - detail on church turret

The monastery interior is extensive with staircases going all over the place and long corridors of monks’ cells.

Tomar - the great dormitory

Tomar - the great dormitory

The cloisters vary in size and design, from this simple pointy Gothic arch one:

Tomar - the 'laundry cloister'

Tomar - the 'laundry cloister'

to this magnificent Renaissance space:

Tomar - the main cloister

Tomar - the main cloister

I love cloisters, they really are very contemplative, and I cannot resist taking photographs of arches and vaulting for some reason. Should this kind of thing float your boat too, there are loads of photos in my Flickr stream you might like (link on right of page). However, much as I’d like to, I really don’t have enough part to build a cloister in Lego, so today’s model is of the original Templar church, on the right in this photograph:

Tomar monastery church

Tomar monastery church

And in now Lego:

Lego Tomar monastery church

Lego Tomar monastery church

The monastery was so large and engaging that sadly I didn’t have time to visit the museum of matches that I passed on the way from the railway station:

Tomar - sign to the museum of matches

Tomar - sign to the museum of matches

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3 Responses to Convent of Christ in Tomar

  1. drsnyc says:

    Knights Templar! how cool! They not around any more are they? So I guess you didn’t bump into any … keep imagining you chatting up some burly chap in chain mail and a tunic with a cross on it. Not even a ghost?
    and I can’ believe you didn’t go to the matches museum first – in fact that it wasn’t your first stop in Portugal – how can you bear to have missed it (and just to be really clear: this is not a sarcastic note)

    • Jax says:

      No, no knights (unless you count the toy ones in the gift shop), they were abolished in the 14th century and the monastery was transferred to another order. And now there are no monks at all as religious orders were abolished in the 19th century. So sadly I don’t have any library pictures for you!
      Obviously if I’d known about the match museum I would have headed there weeks ago, but I just happned to see the sign when I was walking past. According to a panel outside it was there because a private collector had donated his collection to the city. And you can imagine the joy that must have caused at a council meeting…. I hope one day to cause similar consternation to either the V&A or RIBA by leaving them my building toy collection. Unfortunately it was only open in the afternoons so I couldn’t pop in on my way to the monastery

  2. I recently returned from Portugal where I saw The Convent of Christ at Tomar for the first time – absolutely breathtaking – I could have spent the whole day there, and will certainly return. I will be posting shortly.

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