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The Monastery Complex

The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, today known as the Monastery of Batalha, was built as a result of the promise made on the battlefield, by King João I to the Virgin Mary, under the pressure of all that was at stake, to build a monastery if victory were his, as can be read in the will written by Lopo Afonso in 1426, “on the day of the battle with the King of Castile, where Our Lady gave us victory, was to be built in honour of our Lady Saint Mary (…) and there where it had been became a monastery”.

The importance of the building of the monastery did not end with the fulfilment of that promise; from the very beginning it also embodied the consecration of King João I as King of Portugal, the symbolic and real personification of a new dynasty, as expressed and legitimised by divine will.

Although the exact date of the beginning of construction work on the Monastery de Santa Maria da Vitória is not known, it is believed that the construction site chosen for King João I’s grandiose scheme was ready a year or two after the Battle of Aljubarrota in August, 1385.

The first architect was Afonso Domingues, active from the beginning of the construction till 1402. We owe him the conception and the general outline of the monastic complex, constituted by the church with the sacristy, and the cloister with chapter house, dormitory, kitchen and refectory. After directing the construction for about fourteen years, a large part of the church, the sacristy and two wings of the cloister were built, while work on the chapter house had already begun.

In 1402, he was succeeded by the foreign master Huguet, most probably Catalan by birth, who had already been working at the Batalha construction site. During thirty-six long years as building master, he managed to complete the work begun by his predecessor. Adapting Afonso Domingues’ plans, Huguet incorporated elements of architectural and decorative innovation, of which the daring vaulted roof covering the chapter house in one single sweep was the most obvious demonstration of his profound intervention.

To Huguet we also owe the conception of two centralised plan chapels, which had not been part of the initial design: the Founder’s Chapel intended for the pantheon of King João I and the Unfinished Chapels, commissioned by King Duarte, also to be the family pantheon.

Fernão de Évora was responsible for the construction of the King Afonso V cloister, one of the first in Portugal to be built with two floors and whose construction obeyed to a bigger structural simplicity and rigorous decorative austerity.

Among the abundance of the project’s building masters, it is worth emphasising the work of Mateus Fernandes between 1490 and 1555. To him we owe the second wave of construction on the Unfinished Chapels, having left his stamp on the majestic entranceway, one of the first and most original manifestations of manueline art, which not even the renaissance balcony above, probably by Miguel de Arruda, can faint its enchantment.

A third cloister was yet built during the reign of King João III, linked on the east side to the Afonso V cloister, with a wide range of rooms for the friars’ usage. Burnt down by the French troops in 1810, it was totally demolished in the 19th century, during the restoration of the monument, and much of its stone was used to build the Bridge of Boutaca, a neo-gothic artwork found to the west of the Monastery.