Monastery of Batalha
Monastery Of Batalha
Cultural Portugal Europe And North America Batalha (leiria)

Constructed in fulfilment of a vow by King João to commemorate the victory over the Castilians at Aljubarrota (15 August 1385), the Dominican monastery of Batalha is one of the great masterpieces of Gothic art. The majority of the monumental complex dates from the reign of João I, when the church (finished in 1416), the royal cloister, the chapter-house, and the funeral chapel of the founder were constructed.

Following a brief interruption, work was begun again under King Duarte on the prolongation of the choir, the construction of his funerary chapel and that of his descendants, a spacious edifice based an octagonal plan that the death of the king in 1438 left unfinished. The design has been attributed to the English architect Master Huguet. The chapel's floor plan consists of an octagonal space inserted inside a square, creating two separate volumes that combine most harmoniously. The ceiling consists of an eight-point star-shaped lantern. The most dramatic feature is to be found in the centre of the chapel: the enormous medieval tomb of Dom João I and his wife, Queen Philippa of Lancaster, the first tomb for husband and wife made in Portugal, on which are carved the coats of arms of the Houses of Avis and Lancaster. Bays in the chapel walls contain the tombs of their sons, among them Prince Henry the Navigator.

The main entrance of the church is through the porch on the west facade. On both sides of this portal are sculptures of the twelve apostles standing on consoles. In the centre is a high relief statue of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the Evangelists, framed by six covings decorated with sculptures of biblical kings and queens, prophets and angels holding musical instruments from the Middle Ages. This great profusion of sculptures is completed by the crowning of the Virgin Mary.

The church's interior refers back to the period of sober Gothic majesty that has remained undisturbed by later additions. The nave and aisles are separated by thick pillars crowned by capitals with plant motifs. The chancel windows, decorated with beautiful 16th century stained-glass windows representing the Visitation, the Adoration of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, project a diffused light that gives the church a feeling of great spirituality.

The last great period of Batalha coincided with the reign of Manuel I, who built the monumental vestibule and the principal portal, and restored the royal cloister, built in the reign of Dom João I. The arches overlooking the garden were built later and are embellished with finely carved tracery displaying the emblems of Dom Manuel I, the Cross of the Order of Christ and the armillary sphere. In the galleries are doors leading to the various rooms of the former monastery, beginning with the large Chapter House, a marvellous example of the pointed arches of Gothic architecture, in which the enormous vaulted ceiling has no central supports.

As a monument charged with a symbolic value from its foundation, the convent of Batalha was, for more than two centuries, the great workshop of the Portuguese monarchy. It is not surprising that the roost characteristic features of a national art would have been determined there, during both the Gothic and the Renaissance periods. Batalha is the conservatory of several privileged expressions of Portuguese art: the sober and audacious architectural style of the end of the 14th century, with the stupendous nave of the abbatial, of which the two-storey elevation, whit broad arcades and high windows, renders more impressive its dimensions;the exuberant aesthetic of the capelas imperfeitas;the marvellous flamboyant arcades embroidered in a lace-work of stone: the Manueline Baroque even more perceptible in the openwork decor of the tracery of the arcades of the royal cloister than on the immense portal attributed to Mateus Fernandes the Elder;and finally, the hybrid style of João de Castilho, architect of the loggia constructed under João III.