Sheer beauty of the Batalha Monastery

Mosteiro Santa Maria da Vitória, more commonly known as the Batalha Monastery, is a Dominican convent in Batalha, in the District of Leiria, Portugal. It is one of the best and original examples of Late Gothic architecture in Portugal, intermingled with the Manueline style.

The convent was built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of King John I of Portugal. The battle put an end to the 1383-1385 crisis.

It took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, spanning the reign of seven kings. It took the efforts of fifteen architects (Mestre das Obras da Batalha), but for seven of them the title was no more than an honorary title bestowed on them. The construction required an enormous effort, using extraordinary resources of men and material. New techniques and artistic styles, hitherto unknown in Portugal, were deployed.

Work began in 1386 by the Portuguese architect Afonso Domingues who continued till 1402. He drew up the plan and many of the structures in the church and the cloister are his doing. His style was essentially Rayonnant Gothic, however there are influences from the English Perpendicular Period. There are similarities with the façade of York Minster and with the nave and transept of Canterbury Cathedral.

He was succeeded by Huguet from 1402 to 1438. This architect, who was probably from Catalonian descent, introduced the Flamboyant Gothic style. This is manifest in the main façade, the dome of the square chapter house, the Founder’s Chapel, the basic structure of the Imperfect Chapels and the north and east naves of the main cloister. He raised the height of the nave to 32.46 m. By altering the proportions he made the interior of the church even seem narrower. he also completed the transept but he died before he could finish the Imperfect Chapels.

During the reign of Afonso V of Portugal, the Portuguese architect Fernão de Évora continued the construction between 1448 and 1477. He added the Cloister of Afonso V. He was succeeded by the architect Mateus Fernandes the Elder in the period 1480-1515. This master of the Manueline style worked on the portal of the Capelas Imperfeitas. Together with the famous Diogo Boitac he realized the tracery of the arcades in the Claustro Real. Work on the convent continued into the reign of John III of Portugal with the addition of the fine Renaissance tribune (1532) by João de Castillo. The construction came to a halt, when the king decided to put all his efforts in the construction of the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.

The earthquake of 1755 did some damage, but much greater damage was inflicted by the Napoleonic troops of Marshal Masséna, who sacked and burned the complex in 1810 and 1811. When the Dominicans were expelled from the complex in 1834, the church and convent were abandoned and left to fall in ruins.

In 1840, king Ferdinand II of Portugal started a restoration program of the abandoned and ruined convent, saving this jewel of Gothic architecture. The restoration would last till the early years of the 20th century. It was declared a national monument in 1907. In 1980 the monastery was turned into a museum.

The Batalha convent was added in 1983 by UNESCO to its list of World Heritage sites.

We have roamed the monastery and the surrounding area for hours. It was breathtaking, beautiful. I loved the rather sober interior with the exquisite details on the outside. Did you notice the worn steps? And the elegant nun’s robe? I hope it kept them warm, since the monastery was cold. Photo 120430-1201 is a detail of the huge dormitory, and 1254 a part of the Unfinished chapels.

I don’t know who was riding his horse in the last photos: I was too busy trying to photograph two dogs that entered the monastery time and again. Only to be chased away by the guard. It was hilarious.

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Photos: copyright © Marion Driessen
Information: Wikipedia
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14 thoughts on “Sheer beauty of the Batalha Monastery

  1. Thanks for sharing the photos of this beautiful place. We saw a lot of similar cathedrals in Europe, and in particular, in Italy. I never think of Portugal as a vacation spot. I tiink I may have to rethink.

      • We spent a lot of time in Tuscany, staying at an Agriturismo just outside of San Gimignano. From there we made day trips to some of the small hilltop towns like Volterra, to Siena, and to Florence. We also spend a day in Chianti wine country. We left there and spent a night in Assisi and then several days in Rome. It was a fabulous trip. If you’ve never been to Tuscany, you will love it. My post “Hopping Hillside Towns” was Freshly Pressed. If you missed it you can find it through my “Places” tab at the top.

        I would go back in a minute. You’ll love it.

        • We will also stay at Agriturismos, just like the B&B’s in England. Thanks for all these tips, we will most certainly take a look at them. I have commented on the Hopping Hillside Towns :)

  2. Breathtaking indeed. Wow…i can inderstand that it took some time to absorp all this beauty. If we ever make it there i want to see it for myself. Thanks for sharing :-) x

  3. I love these photos too. Every time when I heard that something is on the list of World Heritage sites, it must me awesome. So is the case also in this case. In Finland we have few places on its list.

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