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The Monastery Enclosure



The convent enclosure at Batalha originated on the property called the Quinta do Pinhal estate, which King João I acquired from Egas Coelho and his mother Maria Fernandes de Meira, not long after the triumphant Battle of Aljubarrota (1385), in order to build there the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória. It was not a continuous piece of land but rather a group of terrains composed of vineyards, olive trees and pines, where there already existed a winery and an olive press.


During the 15th century other plots of land were added, whether purchased or donated. Some of the lands, houses and mills found on these properties were turned into a source of income for the monastery. In the 16th century, the Monastery continued its policy of unifying its territory, this time through the exchange of plots. The running of the conventual estate and its natural resources was affected by the division of usufruct amongst various persons. This led King Afonso V to issue a charter in 1444 intended to preserve the Quinta do Pinhal, in which he forbade the chopping down of trees without the consent of the prior and the friars, a practice that can only be assumed to have been rife there.


From 1551 onwards, the Monastery of Batalha underwent a profound reconfiguration in the wake of the general reform of the Catholic Church, adding two new cloisters and their respective dependencies to the gothic buildings, which today are the only surviving traces of a much larger convent. The Friar Preachers were obliged to follow a life of extreme solitude, with the contemplation of nature and outdoor recreation their one source of comfort. For this reason, the Quinta do Pinhal estate, already demarcated in 1514, came to be enclosed by a wall at the latest as of 1542, the date on which King João III would issue an order concerning the raising of the parapet on the town bridge ‘so that the religious persons could not be seen by whomever was passing by’. Later, in 1551, the monarch issued a new order which endeavoured to close a path situated between the pine forest and the wall from where the cloister could be seen, requiring in exchange that the religious community ‘give to the parish another path the width of that which I have ordered closed, through the pine forest along the wall they built.’


The cloister façade built in the northeast quadrant of the Monastery from 1551 was projected in line with the intention to transform the enclosure into another space of clausura, in addition to the agricultural purposes the land served. This was implied by Friar Luís de Sousa in 1623, when he wrote that the dormitory of the subjects ‘gave onto a terrace overlooking a great vineyard, and orchards, which gathered around a good flowing stream with ample depths which at times helps to relieve the solitary toil and study of the Priests, with the aid of fishing rods and nets’.


Besides the dormitory, the guesthouse also had an ample terrace which gave onto the enclosure. Two celebrated visitors to the Monastery, James Murphy (in 1789) and William Beckford (in 1794), described the atmosphere of the enclosure after dark, experienced from the residences where they had been lodged by the prior of Batalha. Beckford wrote: “I wasn’t tired although my room, so modest yet pleasant, encouraged me to be: white, stark walls reflected the crisscross outline of the foliage as it stirred and the murmur of a brook [the river Lena] could be heard at a distance. Seated in the nook of an ample bay with every other window ajar, I let the balsamic air and the peaceful moonlight wash over my troubled spirit. A single nightingale had staked its claim on a laurel right beside me, from where every so often it let out delightful chirrups.”


To the west, the enclosure came to an end near the main façade of the church, creating a patio that led onto the kitchen and the olive oil cellar. To the east, parallel to the main gate, there was a wall with a doorway giving onto a square which served the workers’ dependencies, the livery, stables and tool shed. From this square one could also access the estate and the church of Santa Maria-a-Velha.


The conventual property also housed a porticoed winery, in the northeast corner of the King Afonso V Cloister. Set onto the outside edge of the wall, on the eastern banks of the river Lena, the ruins of an olive oil press, inscribed with the date of 1738, can still be seen today. The structure is notable for an impressive array of limestone decanting basins, most certainly dating from that time. Besides the press there was a mill intended for grinding wheat.


There were three paths around the enclosure: the old road to Golpilheira, its medieval path following the 15th century walls; the route from here heading north and then westwards, giving access to various properties surrounding the enclosure; andthe path to the olive oil press and mill, following the wall on the eastern side, and also giving onto the properties bordering onto it.


Following the extinction of the religious orders, the monastery enclosure was separated from the Monastery and sold in public auction to José Maria Crespo. Inherited subsequently by his daughter, Júlia Charters Crespo, it was then given by her to the Diocesan Seminary of Leiria which in turn would end up selling it to António Gomes Vieira and Sons Ltd. in 1988. The majority of the estate was meanwhile acquired by the Municipality of Batalha, which over time added municipal infrastructures: swimming pools, tennis courts, multiuse pavilions, a football field and sports pavilion. As parts were sold off bit by bit to private buyers, a supermarket and hotel came to be built there.