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Versão Portuguesa

XVI century

A request sent by Manuel I to the Holy See for authorisation to build a large monastery on the banks of the Tagus just outside Lisbon dates from 1496.

One of Manuel's motives for building the Jerónimos Monastery most certainly has to do with his desire to have a pantheon for the Avis-Beja dynasty, of which he was the first monarch. The Monastery's dedication to the Virgin of Belém [Belém also being the Portuguese for Bethlehem] was another factor that influenced the king's decision.

The Jerónimos Monastery, as it is commonly known, replaced a church that had existed on the same site. It was dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém and in it the monks of the Order of Christ provided spiritual guidance to seafarers.

The construction work commenced in 1501 and was completed roughly one century later. Manuel I channelled huge amounts of money into the work. A sizeable part of the "pepper tax" revenue, a 5% levy on income from trade with Africa and the Orient, or the equivalent of 70 kg of gold per year) was used to finance the project, which, from the outset was very much under the control of the king.

The building has a façade that extends for more than three hundred metres, following a principle of horizontality that gives it a harmonious and relaxing physiognomy. It was built in limestone extracted in the nearby sites of Ajuda, Rio Seco, Alcântara, Laveiras and Tercena.

Given the grandeur of the design and sumptuousness of execution, there were several successive works campaigns overseen by several different master builders: Diogo de Boitaca (ca. 1460-1528), João de Castilho (ca. 1475-1552), Diogo de Torralva (ca. 1500-1566) and Jerónimo de Ruão (1530-1601) are some of the names recorded who left their indelible marks on the complex. The Jerónimos Monastery is generally considered to be the "jewel in the crown" of Manueline architecture, incorporating both late Gothic and Renaissance elements and blending regal, Christian and naturalist symbols in its design details to make it a unique and outstanding work.Manuel chose the Order of St. Jerome, or Hieronymites, to occupy the Monastery. Their role, amongst other things, was to pray for the soul of the monarch and provide spiritual assistance to the seafarers and navigators who departed from the Restelo shorefront to discover new worlds. This religious community occupied the monastic spaces until 1833,when religious orders were dissolved in Portugal and the monastery was vacated.

Always closely linked to the Portuguese royal family, on account of its occupying order (the Hieronymites) and its connections to Spain, the intellectual output of its monks, the fact that it was inevitably closely associated with the golden age of the Discoveries and also its geographic location at the entrance to the port of Portugal's capital, the Jerónimos Monastery was interiorised from its foundation as one of the symbols of the Portuguese nation.