Jerónimos Monastery: A story of how it was built through time

By Augusto Iglesias

Jerónimos Monastery is located in Lisbon, Portugal near the Tagus River in the parish of Belem. The monastery started to be built in 1501 and took roughly around 100 years to be built. It was originally built by Diogo de Biotaca and made for the return of Vasco da Gama who was in India at the time. Through time many architects worked on the structure and its purpose changed. This building is important because it incorporates one of the latest styles of the Manueline Gothic in Portugal which is very prominent throughout the country, specifically in Lisbon. One can also find various other styles in this one building.

  • 1501: Construction begins

    Throughout this time, Manuel I was King. He had stretched the kingdom of Portugal once he discovered the Americas and conquered what is today known as Brazil. This generated massive growth for Portugal, despite its small size compared to the rest of European countries. In addition, Portugal had one of the best ships for voyaging during his time. Also, Manuel I originally funded the project through the Vintena da Pimenta. This allowed for money to come from a 5 percent tax on commerce that was coming from Africa and the Orient. This tax was equivalent to 150 pounds of gold every year. With this influx of money, there were little to no problems whilst building the monastery. Manuel I hired Diogo de Biotaca as the first architect of the Monastery. Biotaca looked towards gothic and manueline influences to incorporate in the design process of the building. Manueline style incorporated maritime elements and objects discovered during naval expeditions. This caused a lot of the decorations to be overly decorative and eccentric.

  • 1517: Juan de Castilho continues construction

    At the time Diogo de Biotaca had finished his part of the building and laid the foundations for the monastery. He chose to make it a three-aisled church with five bays under a single vault and for the walls of the church to be as far as the cornices. Once Juan de Castilho starts, he decides to design the south portal of the monastery, which is one of its most prominent part. Since Juan de Castilho is Spanish, the southern portal uses a Spanish architectural style called plateresque. The Plateresque, is in many ways a gradual shift between gothic architecture and the renaissance for the Spanish. Plateresque has a gothic flamboyant decoration, while still having a rigid order like the renaissance. When one looks at the plateresque style there is a sense that it was designed by a silversmith, hence the translation of the name to “the manner of the silversmith”.

  • 1521: Manuel I dies and construction is stopped

  • 1550: Diogo de Torralva resumes construction

    With time having passed after the death of Manuel I, construction began once again for the monastery. During this era, however, the renaissance style began to be more popular than the previous styles the monastery had taken on, this was due to the rise in Europe’s interest in classical and roman architecture which defined the renaissance era. Europeans began to look back at their classical pasts as a peak in their existence. This was especially evident in Italy where Renaissance first surged. As a result, Diogo de Torralva was hired to construct the monastery. Torralva gave the monastery a renaissance touch. The church followed a very typical design of the time by having a cross plan to represent the cross of the catholic religion. This cross is composed of aisles and nave that are of equal height. The monastery also has a vast square cloister thats dimensions are 55 by 55 meters long. These features that give a sense of symmetry and order are what defined the renaissance style at the time. Torrvalva also added the main chapel and completed the upper two stories of the building.

  • 1580: The union of Spain and Portugal

    The union of Spain and Portugal caused the focus on building to be shifted on the Escorial in Spain.

  • 1640: Independence of Portugal

    Once the Portuguese are able to to gain their independence from Spain, construction of the Monastery is finished. This allows for the monastery to gain its former importance, leading the structure to become a burial place for Portuguese royalty.

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