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Portuguese gables, spires, pinnacles and buttresses

© By Adam Southwood
  If you thrill to a profusion of gables, spires, pinnacles and buttresses, you have come to the right place. It's Mosteiro Santa Maria da Vitória, commonly known as the Batalha Monastery, a Dominican monastery and a thrilling example of Late Gothic intermingled with the Manueline style. It simply amazes onlookers, and is a symbol of national pride.
     The monastery was originally built to thank the Virgin Mary for assisting the Portuguese victory over Castilians in 1385, taking two centuries, starting in 1386 and ending around 1517. It spanned the reign of seven kings, and required the efforts of fifteen architects to finish this project.
     An earthquake in 1755 did some damage, but much more was inflicted by Napoleon whose troops sacked and burned the buildings in 1810 and 1811. When the Dominicans were ousted in 1834, the church and monastery were abandoned and left to ruin. In 1840, King Ferdinand II started the long and convoluted restoration program. This program would last until the beginning of the 20th century.
     The stained-glass windows in the choir date from the 1520's and 1530's and were produced by Portuguese masters. They represent scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary: the Visitation, Epiphany and Flight to Egypt. Batalha probably enjoyed the first ever workshop for stained-glass windows in Portugal, and the art was introduced by capable German craftsmen. The stained-glass Renaissance window in the east wall dates from 1508. It depicts scenes of the Passion and is attributed to the Portuguese painters, Master Joäo and Francisco Henriques.
     In 1907, the monastery was declared a national monument. In 1980, it was turned into a museum and in quick succession, the Batalha Abbey was added in 1983 by UNESCO to its list of World Heritage sites.

Santa Maria da Victoria Monastery  Santa Maria da Victoria Monastery  Santa Maria da Victoria Monastery  Santa Maria da Victoria Monastery 

     The impressive church is long and narrow (22 m) in proportion to its height (32.4 m). The nave was raised, altering the proportions of the church and giving it its present feature. The interior creates a sober impression with a complete lack of ornaments and statues in the nave. Ribbed vaults, supported by compound piers, are closed by ornamented keystones. Light enters the church through ten stained-glass windows and the tall windows in the side walls and the transept and through the two rows of windows in the choir.
     The Capelas Imperfeitas (Unfinished Chapels) remain as testimony that the monastery was never actually finished. They form a separate octagonal structure tacked on the choir of the church and are only accessible from the outside.
     The cloister was not part of the original project. It was built between 1448 and 1477. Its stark outward appearance contrasts with the Flamboyant Gothic style of the church.
     The monastery towers over the entire town, a real treat and one of the most fascinating pieces of Gothic and Manueline architecture within the country.

Sepulchre Santa Maria da Victoria  Santa Maria da Victoria Monastery  Santa Maria da Victoria Monastery  Santa Maria da Victoria Monastery 

Adam Southwood writes for Canadian, U.S. and European magazines and newspapers. He is a graduate of both McMaster University in Hamilton and UWO in London with an interest in culture and history. He has produced several educational programs for TV.

Photo Credits
Courtesy of Tourism Portugal

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Batalha, Portugal
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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batalha,_Portugal

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