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The Pantheons



The majestic group of monastic buildings that is the Monastery of Batalha harbours behind its walls two pantheons, designed in their entirety by Huguet, and which had not been included in the basic plan for the monument: the Founder’s Chapel and the Unfinished Chapels, both with a centralised layout. He completed the former, intended for King João I as his pantheon, and here showed his full technical and artistic prowess, nurtured over many years while in charge of the construction site of Batalha and already put to the test in the daring vault of the chapter house. This chapel combines two types of building plan which, within a single square space 19.8 m long, arranges eight columns supporting ogival arches at an incline, thus forming an octagon. This octagon covered by a complex vaulted ceiling in the shape of a star with a keystone showing the arms of King João I has two floors, reaching higher than the surrounding space. The square and octagonal plans play against each other and create two differing architectural volumes.

Nothing remains today to remind us of the basic plan for the interior and exterior of the chapel, given the alterations that came about through natural happenstance, such as the earthquake of 1755, or human meddling at the hands of French troops in 1810 who, among many contemptible acts broke into the tombs and destroyed and pillaged the chapel, or after 1834, when the Dominicans left, resulting in a new perception of the space that devalued primitive spirituality in favour of the profane expressed through a romantic, nationalistic and celebrative symbolism. Following the earthquake the slender pyramidal needle on the exterior of the octagonal chapel was never rebuilt, in lieu of the solution we see there to this day. As for the tombs vandalised by the French, they needed to be restored, a process that continued through the last quarter of the 19th century until about 1930, when its frontispieces were substituted by new copies. In turn this ‘new look’ for the Founder’s Chapel meant that, following the removal of all liturgical objects and religious ornaments as well as the demolition of the altars, practically all traces of its past as a quintessential place of worship were ‘wiped out’.

As for the second pantheon, ordered by King Duarte, son of King João I, and also intended as a family pavilion, it was to remain uncompleted to this day, giving rise to the commonly used name of the Unfinished Chapels.

Built by Huguet only as far as the height of its laced ogive arches, the chapels were gradually vaulted on different occasions. Employing an elaborate style, of which the use of hanging keystones according to the taste for English Gothic verticals stands out, those intended for the King João II and his wife Queen Leonor (1458-1525) are particularly noteworthy. The dense, intricate work of the vaulted ceiling of this chapel, together with the portal by Mateus Fernandes, makes it one of the most original monuments in the Manueline style.

In spite of an attempt to finish the rotunda as envisioned by King Manuel I, the vaulted ceiling was never completed by human hand, thus leaving the sky as the limit...

In the first few decades of the 20th century the double tomb of King Duarte and Queen Leonor was placed in the axial chapel, the couple shown hand in hand in clear imitation of the tomb of King João I and Queen Filipa de Lencastre, their parents.

At the same time, the decision to reintegrate the monument brought to the pantheon all the tombs dotted around the church, even those that bore no relation to it.

During the second half of the 19th century the Pantheon of King Duarte was the object of major restoration as well as simpler conservation measures, such as preparing the central octagon for new flooring, as much as for aesthetic reasons as to avoid weeds growing there.