In the centre of Portugal, north of Lisbon and south of Coïmbra, there is a faith line connecting the Batalha Monastery, Fatima pilgrimage site and the Templar Convent of Christ in Tomar. When we left Obidos, one of the most beautiful towns in Europe, after having lunch and under 40ºC in August we had to take the decision of not going to Alcobaça Monastery and go to Batalha. There was only one reason: it was too late and we could not visit everything. Portugal surprised us in its cultural and historical heritage.
There was no one at 4pm in the square in front of the monastery. The heat was oppressive and the rubber of our shoes were almost melting while walking towards the main entrance of the monastery. The building acted like a shelter when we crossed the shadow line of the big door. Once inside the fresh air, the huge walls, the columns and the beautiful stained glass embraced us.
The Batalha Monastery is a Dominican monastery. It is one of the best and most original examples of Late Gothic architecture. It is full of pinnacles, needles and buttresses. It was built to thank the Virgin Mary when the Portuguese defeated the Castilian army in the Aljubarrota battle, in 1385. Its construction lasted for more than 200 years… but, in fact, it was never completely finished. John III of Portugal decided to put more effort in the constrution of the Monastery of dos Jerónimos in Lisbon. In 1983 it was included in the World Heritage Site list of the UNESCO.
We walked through the main nave of the church, later we walked through the bigger cloister, the Royal cloister, one of our preferred places in every monastery, and finally we could discover a second cloister, smaller than the previous one. The hard work behind every stone of this kind of medieval constructions has always amazed us. Inside Batalha Monastery you can also find the grave of John I of Portugal, “The Founder”. It is considered the first royal pantheon of Portugal.
The last thing we visited was the Capelas Imperfeitas (unfinished chapels), located just after the main choir and the high altar but only accessible from outside. It is an open octogonal structure to the sky and it is maybe the most unique and original feature of Batalha Monastery.
After Batalha we went to Fatima, just 20 km to the east, inland. The heat was not so opperessive and shadows were longer on the huge grass areas around the city. We saw many camping tents in those areas, as it is one of the main pilgrimage sites in Europe for Catholics. It is the most important Marian Sanctuary of Portugal and every year more than 9 million people come to pray and know about the history behind this site.
Between 1916 and 1917, in a climate of war and turbulence of the early twentieth century and the First World War, three children who were tending their flocks in Cova da Iria experienced manifestations of the Mother of God and an angel. The apparitions of Our Lady occurred on the 13th day of each month between May and October 1917. There her great message of peace was transmitted to the world by the three children through faith and devotion to Our Lady and the praying of the Rosary. Several thousand people witnessed the amazing “Miracle of the Sun” during the last apparition of the Virgin on October 13th, 1917.
There is a huge plain area between the Basilica of Our Lady of Rosario de Fátima and the modern Basilica of the Holy Trinity where thousands of people come when popes visit the Sanctuary. Between both basilicas, the Chapel of the Appearances can also be visited. That’s the place where the history of this site started.
Our next stop had to be Tomar, but it was already too late and the sun almost down the horizon. We left the town of Fátima looking for a camping site. We didn’t plan this properly, all camping sites where full, maybe because being so close to Fátima. We were almost desperate, first stars in the sky, when in a small village in the side of a hill and surrounded by forests, close to Tomar, we found Redondo camping with a free slot for us. The next morning we were going to discover the Templar Convent of Tomar.
The Tomar Convent is at the top of a hill and surrounded by medieval walls. Its structure and different areas of the cloister are designed more like a castle than a typical monastery. It has a main nave, six cloisters, but it looks like a fortress instead of a spiritual oasis. Defintely the philosphy behind the templar order was in every corner of the building. We could imagine those templars on their horses, coming from the holy wars and protecting the Saint Grial between those walls.
The heart of the monastery is the charola, from the XII century and main place for praying for the templars. This special poligonal feature is inspired in the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and templars used to walk around while praying. Next to it there is the church and the sacristy in opposite sides. It has complex and beautiful paintings and golden figures all around and in the middle.
Another special feature in this convent is the window of the chapter house. It is built in Manuelina style and was used as an inspiration for the Palacio da Pena in Sintra. It is possible to walk freely all along the building, inside and outside. It is quite easy to get lost among cloisters, dark corridors, spiral staircases and sculptures.
Tomar Convent is conidered of Outstanding Universal Value by UNESCO and it is also in the World Heritage List.
Visiting Portugal is like going from one World Heritage site to another. There should exist a passport to collect all these places as a souvenir. We could not find it. Anyway, we know of many places we still want to see in Portugal, so definetely we will be back at some point.