Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > Through Portugal > V COIMBRA, THOMAR, AND LEIRIA
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
The morning was sparkling, the sky without a fleck, and the air like draughts of nectar, as I slowly descended from the monastery and hotel of Bussaco, through the lovely umbrageous “valley of ferns” to the “Gate of Grottoes,” in the south wall of the wood, where I had directed a carriage to await me and carry me to Coimbra, fifteen miles distant. I was loath to leave this exquisite spot, which art and nature have conspired to make perfect; the fairy glens, the unrivalled prospects from the heights, the spacious magnificence and homely comfort of the guest-house—but I had already exceeded my allotted time, and other places called me.


Our road lay downward for a mile or two, through a beautiful country of pines and gorgeous stretches of purple heather in full bloom; and here and there long trellised vineyards, 123with the red bronze of the vine-leaves adding a splash of colour to the scene. As we wound down and along the plain, there always towered above us, as it seemed right overhead, the “Cruz Alta” of Bussaco amidst the trees at the highest point of the wood, near where the wall limited the greenery; and soon the whole of the long, sharp hog’s-back of granite ridge, standing clear and distinct from surrounding mountains, tremendous in bulk, is seen from the plain. It was hard to realise that only yesterday I had stood, without fatigue or trouble, upon that giddy height of the Cruz Alta, which looked from here as if an eagle alone might reach it.

Patient ox-teams toil along, led by small boys in black nightcaps, gravely courteous to the stranger, and black-eyed solemn children play soberly by the wayside and take no heed. Soon we pass through the big, poor-looking village of Pampilhosa, and leave the pines and heather behind us; for here down in the valley olives, cork trees, ilex, and vines abound, with figs, pears, and apples, in orchards nestled round the white cottages. Aloe hedges, with the big, fleshy lancet leaves of silver-grey, show that 124we are in a sub-tropical land, and patches of succulent sugar-cane for cattle fodder grow brilliantly green against the maize and millet fields; whilst all along the wayside the light-leafed poplars rear their straight shafts, heavily burdened by masses of purple grapes and flaming vine leaves, the only sign of autumn, though October is now upon us.

As we near Coimbra, though it is not much past noon, we meet many groups of handsome country women, with, as usual, heavy burdens upon their heads, returning home from the weekly market in the city. Barefooted they go invariably, with their fine broad shoulders, full bosoms, classical faces, and broad, low brows, their gay kerchiefs on head and bosom, and their fine eyes gazing straight forth with modest dignity; and mentally I deny assent to the boast of Guimar?es that its maids and matrons reign supreme in buxom grace, for those of Coimbra need bow the head to none on earth. All around the city are gently rounded undulating hills covered by olive orchards, and as the road tops one of them we see the picturesque old capital beneath us upon its steep slope, the broad Mondego at its foot, and 125beyond the river a high green ridge crowned by an immense white convent.

In the ancient times, as the Christian monarchs wrested from the Moors one territory after another, and drove the Crescent ever farther south, the capital of Portugal followed the victorious standard, and Guimar?es soon had to cede its place to Coimbra, which remained the capital from the time of the first Affonso (Henriques) in the twelfth century until the extinction of his dynasty in the fourteenth, and occasionally later. Coimbra is crowded with memories of the heroic times, of combats with the Moors, and of deeds of violence and blood perpetrated within its walls; and in its quaint crowded streets are corners that can hardly have changed since the Affonsos and Sanchos here held their court—the Arco d’Almedina leading out of the principal street, Rua do Visconde da Luz, for instance, and the quaint renascence palace, incorrectly called the palace of the martyred Maria de Telles, in the Rua de Sub-Ripas.

But to the famed Church of Santa Cruz, all that remains intact of a vast Augustian monastery, the pilgrim’s steps first turn. It stands 126in an open place at the end of the Rua do Visconde da Luz, sunk several feet below the present level of the street, and the magnificent Manueline, or Portuguese renascence front is spoilt by a mean and hideous detached portico, in front of the real doorway, with its fine carved figures and capricious canopies. The lower part of the octagonal tower is much damaged, and the delicately carved decorations destroyed; but enough remains of the upper part to prove the magnificence with which King Manuel in the beginning of the sixteenth century rebuilt the sepulchre of the earliest kings. In this church, of which the interior, lined with pictorial blue tiles, is now reduced to eighteenth-century aridity, with the exception of the roof and chancel where the magnificent tombs with recumbent figures of Affonso Henriques and his son, King Sancho, shame the tastelessness of the later work, a dramatic scene was once enacted. Both these first kings of Portugal had worn the habit of St. Augustine, and were lay members of this monastery where their bones were laid. In order to establish his right to the patronage of the foundation, King Manuel, in 1510, rebuilt the church and monastery 127in the exuberant and gorgeous style associated with his reign; and when the time came to restore the bodies of the kings to the new sepulchres prepared for them, Manuel caused the mummified corpse of Affonso Henriques to be clad in royal robes and kingly crown, enthroned before the high altar of Santa Cruz, and there receive the homage of his subjects as if still alive. The pulpit of the church, the work of Jean de Rouen, though stripped now of its side pilasters and famous canopy, is one of the most splendid examples of early French renascence; but the richest treasure of the church is a splendid early triptych, in the mysterious style of the so-called Gran Vasco (who is a mythical painter), in which the early Flemings are imitated exactly by apparently Portuguese hands. This triptych, which should be compared with the “Fountain of Life” described in the chapter on Oporto, and also with the famous “St. Peter” at Vizeu, is signed “Vellascus,” and represents in its three panels the “Ecce Homo,” the “Calvary” and the “Pentecost,” with the exquisite finish and glowing colour of Van Eyck and Memling. The cloisters of the church are a beautiful specimen, as is much of the exterior 128of the church itself, of the peculiar Manueline renascence Gothic, of which I have so frequently spoken, the motives being the capricious intertwining of cordage and branches, spiral bossed mouldings, exuberant pinnacles, and pendent floreated ornaments on the interior lines of arches and vaultings. Of this style the Bussaco palace-hotel is a notable modern specimen, and in a later chapter I propose to treat in some detail the other examples inspected during my trip. By the side of Santa Cruz, separated from it by a road formerly spanned by a high bridge, lies a splendid massive tower, and a huge block of the old monastic buildings now turned into a squalid barrack, so often the fate of the profanated religious houses in Portugal, whilst behind the church and cloister lies another large portion also turned to secular uses.


Coimbra is famous as the seat of learning for all Portugal—for many centuries, and still, the only university town in the realm. The huge square bulk of the university buildings on the crest of the hill overlooking the town typify the absolute domination of the place by the academical tradition. The hotel on the Alameda, 129like other hostelries of its sort, has no lack of commercial customers, but even they, assertive as they are, are swamped by the university professors, staff and graduates, who flock to its tables for their meals; whilst in the streets bookshops jostle each other all filled with text-books, and the unmistakable students are everywhere. And yet, with all this academical presence, there is none of that staid atmosphere of aloof erudition which is especially noticeable at Cambridge, and, to a lesser degree, at Oxford. It is true that the youngsters at Coimbra affect a garb at which the present-day undergraduate at Cambridge would scoff, if he did not proceed to more violent means to reduce its primness. A very clerical-looking black frock-coat, buttoned to the chin, is de rigueur, covered by a long black cloak reaching to the wearer’s heels, although, to tell the truth, this cloak, like a Cambridge third-year man’s gown, is oftener festooned over one shoulder or trailed along upon the arm than worn decorously as intended.

These Coimbra youths wear no head covering, and affect a gravity of demeanour whilst in the streets that gives them all the appearance of budding priests. But the absence of a collegiate 130system brings both staff and students into more direct contact with the town than is the case with our older universities, and the peculiar learned atmosphere of the High at Oxford or King’s Parade at Cambridge does not exist. It is a stiff climb up the hill to the university, and the cathedrals. The former is built round three sides of a large court, with a tower in one corner and an observatory in the open face, the enormous palace of the rector occupying one entire side of the square. Seven good light classrooms and a fine hall, senate-house, and examination rooms, give ample accommodation; and the view of the city from the end of the corridor containing the lecture-rooms is exceedingly fine. The library is a gorgeous gilt and over-decorated room in the florid taste of the eighteenth century, the worst possible style for a place of quiet study; and almost the only attractive feature in the exterior of the university is the fine Manueline doorway to the chapel in the great quadrangle. Here twisted cables, rich mouldings, floreated crockets and pinnacles, armillary spheres and crosses, the usual notes of the style, mark the work as being of the period when Portugal was ebullient with feverish energy and ambition.

131Hard by is the bishop’s palace, now almost a ruin, but with some lovely bits of Manueline, and a delightful sixteenth-century courtyard like a scene upon the stage. The old cathedral (Sé Velha) upon the same hill, is perhaps the most perfect and unspoilt specimen of pure Romanesque of the twelfth century in the Peninsula. The deeply recessed west door, with round arch, quadruple ball mouldings, finely decorated Byzantine Romanesque pillars, and a large, recessed window in the same style above, occupy a square projecting battlemented tower flanked on each side by other square towers at the corners. On the south side the early renascence door reaching to the battlemented roof of the aisle is practically in ruins; but the pure, solid Romanesque of the rest of the building stands sturdy as ever after eight centuries. Small and grave, the nave and aisles, with the beautiful round-headed, recessed clerestory windows and capricious Romanesque Byzantine capitals, remain unmarred, though gilt and alabaster altars and chapels clamour for notice, and splendid sarcophagi of bishops and nobles on all sides contrast with the stern lines of the original building. Two features of the more recent periods deserve 132attention, the truly superb high-altar of Flemish workmanship of the first years of the sixteenth century, and the circular chapel of the Soares family, dated 1566. I could not tear myself away from the contemplation of the exterior of this old Sé on the hill over Coimbra, and at night when the darkness of the ancient city was hardly disturbed by flickering lamps, I lingered in the square around the battlemented walls and sturdy towers, reconstructing the scenes that had been enacted here, and calling up in imagination from their eternal sleep those great ones who rested so quietly within.

The new cathedral (Sé Nova) is a plain and ugly pseudo-classical building, in the so-called Jesuit style, standing on the summit of the hill, and only merits notice on account of its treasures. These form a veritable museum of early ecclesiastical art, from the twelfth century onward. I have rarely seen a finer specimen of goldsmith’s work than the custode of George d’Almeida, of pure Portuguese Gothic, in a similar style, but more imposing than the chalice already described at the Misericordia at Oporto.

Looking across the beautiful river Mondego from the acacia-shaded alameda where stands 133the hotel, the high wooded ridge straight opposite is crowned by the vast white convent of Santa Clara, once the glory of Coimbra and the cloister of queens, now partly destroyed and partly desecrated and turned into a factory. The heat was oppressive on the morning after my arrival at Coimbra, but a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Isabel the Queen, and to the shrine of love near to it, could not be foregone. Crossing the bridge I first wended my way to a beautiful villa almost on the banks of the river, in whose grounds there stands the Gothic ruin of a palace, and adjoining it gushing from a rock shaded by dark cedars a copious spring leaps joyously along a stone channel of some twenty feet long into a stone tank covered with water lilies. It is a lovely tranquil spot, where no sound reaches but the rustling of leaves and the gurgling of crystal water, and yet here, tradition says, was enacted in the long ago one of those tragedies that inspire poets, painters, and dramatists for all time. It was in 1355, and Ines de Castro, the lovely mistress of the Prince Dom Pedro, had so infatuated him that he refused to marry another at his father’s bidding. The King, Alfonso IV., incensed at the recalcitrancy 134of his heir, caused Ines to be done to death here beside the “Fountain of Love” by three courtiers. The son, Dom Pedro, rose in rebellion, and saw his father no more; but when two years afterwards the king died and Pedro succeeded him, he worked his ghastly revenge upon those who had persecuted his beloved. Ines had been buried at Santa Clara, the convent near, to which this estate belonged, and now her body was disinterred, dressed in royal robes, crowned with a diadem and adorned with jewels, and placed, a crumbling corpse, thus arrayed upon a throne in the monastery-Church of Alcoba?a, whilst all the courtiers upon their knees kissed the dead hand of her whom they had insulted and contemned in life. Upon a stone by the side of the fountain this verse of Cam?es is inscribed:—
“As filhas do Mondego morte escura,
Longo tempo chorando morar?o:
E por memoria eterna em fonte pura
As lagrimas choradas transformar?o,
O nome e reputa??o que inda dura
Dos amores de Ignes que ali pasar?o
Vede que fresca fonte rega as flores
Que lagrimas s?o agua, e o nome amores.”

“The fountain of love in the garden of tears” is the spot called to this day, and a crumbling 135little Gothic convent founded by the lover king between this and the river bears the name of “the convent of tears.”

Above us gleams the long white building of Santa Clara, and zigzagging up the steep hill lies the path, shrines at each turn of the way inviting to devotion and to rest. The sun beats fiercely on the steep white road, but the view from the summit upon the esplanade that faces the convent church repays the trouble of the climb. Opposite, across the river, the city is piled up upon its grand amphitheatre of hills, the huge, square bulk of the university and the Sé Nova topping it all; whilst beyond the rolling hills covered with olives provide a dark-green background, which throws into higher relief the blue, white, and pink houses grouped in the limpid air, under a cloudless sky, flooded with sunlight.

Of all the rich foundation of the royal convent of Santa Clara all that now remains devoted to religious uses is the white church, and the adjoining sanctuary of the saintly queen, tended by ladies dedicated to charitable work, but not cloistered. The church is mainly of the seventeenth century, in the usual “Jesuit” style, and is crowded with gilt and carved woodwork; a large stately, 136unencumbered interior, containing several sarcophagi of members of the royal house, and the rich treasure in the sacristy must on no account be missed. A turret stair at the west end leads into a small loft overlooking the church, and richly, but sombrely decorated. Here stands a little altar, and on lifting a trap in the centre of it, and peering down through a grating a most impressive scene is presented to the view. A large, solemn choir-chamber, with carved stalls in rows, extending lengthwise along it, and the ample central space occupied by a magnificent canopy, under which, lit by a tiny red lamp burning eternally before it, lies a great coffin of rich repoussé silver, in which there rests the body of the sainted queen, the patron of Coimbra, the heroic Aragonese princess, who in 1323, rode between the armies of her husband, King Diniz, and their rebellious son, and stayed their unnatural strife at her own great peril.


One other royal shade at least haunts the royal convent of Santa Clara. Here, retired from the turmoil of ambitions and wrongs, of which through her youth she had been the victim, passed the long years of her devout renunciation that injured Princess Joan, “the Beltraneja,” daughter of 137Henry IV. of Castile, whom the great Isabel the Catholic ousted from her inheritance. Here in Coimbra, too, the tragedy of Maria de Telles, subject of poems and plays innumerable, was enacted in real life. King Ferdinand the Handsome, about 1371, though betrothed to a Castilian princess, fell in love with a lady called Leonor de Telles, and so endangered the recently concluded alliance. His people rose in revolt, and the lady’s family, especially her sister Maria, resented the adulterous connection. Leonor, secure in her mastery over the king, wreaked a terrible revenge upon those who opposed her; poison, the dagger, and the dungeon doing her fell work, until all Portugal was in fear at her feet, and the king became her wedded husband. The virtuous sister, Maria de Telles, happily married to the king’s half-brother, Jo?o, and safe in her palace at Coimbra, was difficult to attack. But the wicked Leonor was equal to the occasion, and, like a female Iago, instilled into the ears of the prince suspicions of his wife’s fidelity, and with forged evidence prompted him to revenge. The enraged husband murdered his protesting and innocent wife in cold blood at Coimbra (but not at the house now shown as 138the scene of the tragedy), and as soon as the foul deed was done Queen Leonor, who had been waiting in an adjoining room, entered, and, in the presence of the murdered Maria, mocked at the husband’s pain, and showed him that her sister was innocent. The prince in his rage attempted to murder the treacherous queen, but was seized, and subsequently escaped into exile, whilst Leonor lived to perpetrate other misdeeds.

I paced the acacia-shaded alameda as the sun sank below the hills, thinking of these sad memories of the times long past; of the noble self-sacrifice of the sainted queen, of the long agony of the Beltraneja, and of the blood-stained soul of Leonor. The air was cool and fresh, and the glowing sunset faded from crimson to dead rose in the west; but across the shimmering river the after-glow, like a luminous opal dawn, threw up the black silhouette of the wooded ridge, and the vast bulk of Santa Clara on the crest stood sharp and clear as if cut out of black velvet and laid upon pearly satin. And just over the great convent church a star of dazzling brilliancy—the brightest star, it seemed to me, I have ever beheld—blazed out alone in the pellucid sky, and tipped with diamond the cross above the 139silent silver shrine with its dim red lamp burning through the centuries. Thus sweet self-sacrifice conquers over time and death. The mouldering bones are naught, darkness enshrouds even the huge building in which they lie; yet far aloft the cross still stands distinct above all, gemmed with its glittering star, as the eternal memory of good deeds done still illumines the blackness of the world.

The next morning I took the train for Ch?o de Ma??s, a little roadside station, where a carriage had been ordered to meet me, and carry me two leagues over the mountains to Thomar. There was some stay at Pombal, where it was a feast day, and the peasant costumes were seen at their best—good upstanding people these, gaily clad, sober, and orderly, coming to the railway stations in good time and unhurried, but not hours before the train starts, as the peasants do in Spain. In the market, under the shadow of the great medi?val castle ruins on the hill, they do their buying and selling, live-stock for the most part to-day, without vociferation, but with an earnest quietness which is as far as possible from depression. Here at Pombal, and at Albergaria near, the men wear brown undyed homespun jackets, 140and trousers girt with red sashes. The bag cap is almost universal, and mutton-chop whiskers are the rule, but what will attract a foreign visitor most in their dress are the curious triple-caped ulsters, made of layers of grass, seen in many places in Portugal in wet weather, but especially in this neighbourhood. These garments, bulky as they look, are not heavy, and are an excellent protection against heavy rain.

The women here have very full, short, gathered skirts, and though none of them wear shoes or stockings hardly any are without heavy ancient jewelry of gold filigree apparently of considerable value. The bodices of the dresses are mostly red or yellow, and a broad horizontal stripe of bright colour often enlivens the skirt also, their brilliant head-kerchiefs being usually topped by a broad-brimmed velveteen hat, for the pork-pie hat of the north has been left behind now.

We had mounted into the country of pines and heather when we stopped at the little station of Ch?o de Ma??s, dumped down, as it seemed, in the wilderness with just a row of one-storey whitewashed cottages opposite. But where was the carriage? None had been heard of there, and I found myself several miles from anywhere, 141and with no means of conveyance. Sympathetic interest was not wanting. A muleteer loudly deplored that he was engaged to carry a load of goods to Ourem, and could not take me to Thomar. Clearly something must be done, however; so the little meeting of grave consultants adjourned from the station platform to the door of the humble general shop and tavern opposite to continue the important discussion. It happened that the whole village was just then deeply absorbed in witnessing an itinerant barber cutting a man’s hair in an open stable whilst the onlookers criticised and suggested improvements and variations in the process; but when the news spread that a strange gentleman was stranded at Ch?o de Ma??s with no conveyance to take him to Thomar, the critics of the barber’s art adjourned en masse to the tavern, and respectfully joined in the discussion as to my fate. They were quite unanimous in agreeing that the Senhor Mathias Araujo, the hotelkeeper at Thomar, could not have received the letter or he would certainly have sent the carriage, of that there could be no doubt whatever. But oh! that correio, the post, was always at fault; and then many anecdotes were given at great length of hairbreadth 142escapes and heavy losses incurred by the sins and omissions of the Portuguese post-office. All this was no doubt interesting, but not helpful to me in my quandary, and I gently led the talk again to the chance of my getting a conveyance. The outlook was not hopeful, but the sympathetic muleteer somewhat doubtfully suggested to the innkeeper that some one near had a pair of mules. A significant look passed round, but the hint was not lost upon me, and by dint of much diplomacy a rapaz was sent off for the mules. He returned by-and-by with an excellent-looking pair of animals, and an ancient shandrydan was pulled out of a stable. I wondered what had caused the hesitation, but my wonder did not last long. No sooner were the mules hitched to the bar than they began to kick furiously. Kicking chains were of little use; the lout who drove the team used his whip with heart and arm, the pieced and spliced rope and chain harness was strained almost to breaking, and the ancient “machine” threatened every moment to disintegrate into splinters.


And so the team kicked their hardest all the seven miles to Thomar, and performed the distance, as it seemed to me, in one continued 143gymnastic exercise, more on their fore-legs than on their full complement of limbs. But kicking mules were powerless to mar the delight of the drive. The road was a perfect one, over hills covered with pines and dales ablaze with purple heather. The cool mountain breeze, laden with the scent of wild thyme, brought with it a new sense of delight which made breathing a conscious enjoyment, and the jaded elderly person in the shivering shandrydan felt impelled to shout aloud in mere exhilaration of living in such an atmosphere. Only a three weeks before I had seen Deeside at its best, but Deeside heather was dull, and the Deeside pine-clad hills in their wreaths of clouds were depressing, in comparison with this sparkling sweep of sandy moor and mountain.

Turning the shoulder of the highest ridge we came in sight of the vast and beautiful valley below us with Thomar in its midst upon its river bank nestling in greenery, with its steep, abrupt hill and castle standing sentinel over it. It was Sunday, and, although broad daylight when I drove into Thomar, a flight of rockets rushed into the air from the town-hall, and the braying of a brass band told me that the town was en fête. It was, I learnt, 144the ceremony of prize-giving and treating the school children by the town council, and all the little ones, clean, chubby, and well-clad they looked, were trooping, shouting, and cheering, as children do the world over. I found a warm welcome at the Hotel Uni?o, and was soon convinced that the Ch?o de Ma??s meeting was right in their assurance that the failure to send the carriage was from no fault of the host, a gentleman of cultured manners and tastes, quite unlike the ordinary type of Portuguese innkeeper. He was distressed to have received no letter to advise him of my coming, as he ought to have done two days before, but an hour or two afterwards he rushed into my room, excited and triumphant. He had forced them to open the post-office, Sunday though it was, and had rescued my letter from a heap which some careless postman had neglected to deliver! Thenceforward Senhor Jose Mathias Araujo, a pattern of Portuguese hotelkeepers, was indefatigable in making me, a mere passing stranger though I was, of whose name he had only heard vaguely, feel at home and comfortable at Thomar.


The place is one which to my latest days I shall never forget. A clean little rectangular 145town with straight streets of singularly modern aspect, on the banks of an exquisitely beautiful stream fringed by trees and gardens. The shops for the most part are but doorways open upon the street, for they have not adopted the modern fashion of windows for the display of goods. And life in general seems to pass drowsily, for with the exception of a small factory in some ancient conventual buildings on the farther bank of the stream, there is not much doing in the place.

But the object of my coming to this sweet, dull, little town pervades it everywhere. At the end of the three straight streets running from the river to the square market-place, with its ancient church and town-hall, there looms upon a steep hill, right up over the roofs as it seems, the most splendid and interesting medi?val castle-monastery in this land of hill-top strongholds—the ancient fortress headquarters of the crusading knights of the Order of Christ, successors in Portugal of the Templars. Thomar was the metropolis and fief of the Order, and on all sides the emblem of their peculiar cross is evident. Impressed upon my mind for ever is the view as I first gazed upon it from the 146main street (of course, incongruously called now after Serpa Pinto) on the sparkling autumn day. Clear and sharp high up on the hill against the indigo sky stood a ruined bell tower through whose gaping window the light shone, with tall, pointed cypresses by its side, and flanked by a mighty stretch of warm, grey battlements, above which rose the bulk of a great square keep.

A zigzag path leads from behind the sixteenth-century town-hall in the pra?a up the rocky sides of the precipitous hill. Gnarled olive trees, dwarf oaks, and aloes grew in the crevices and amidst the ruins of outer walls upon the face of the declivity; and the outer donjon, still standing unwrecked across the path, shows the tremendous strength even of these exterior defences. Above these loomed the Titanic walls, their battlemented sides and turrets, all stained a golden yellow with the lichen that covered them. The inner donjon, which adjoins the picturesque ruined bell tower, gives entrance to a charming grassy garden with tall cypresses, orange trees, and gay flowers, growing in what was once the wide courtyard of the castle; and the huge square main keep standing in the midst, all dismantled as it is, rears its flame-tinged battlements as proudly as when the soldiers of the Cross held this isolated stronghold against the hordes of Islam. The walls are everywhere pierced with loopholes in the shape of a cross surmounting a globe, and the cruciform device of the Order is graven upon stones on all sides.


147Connected with the walls of the ancient castle, and upon a somewhat higher level than the keep, there stands the high round church of the Templars, with buttresses of immense strength reaching to the parapet, and a crumbling square bell tower upon one of its faces. Upon an ancient slab let into the sides of the church an inscription tells how Dom Affonso, first King of Portugal, and Gualdrim Paes, master of the Portuguese Templars, constructed this edifice in 1108. Joined to this ancient structure is one of the most astounding specimens of Manueline architecture in Portugal, built in the early sixteenth century, when all the country was pulsating with new life and eager longings. It is the choir and chapter-house, and behind them is the ruin of the great monastery of the Order of Christ. Words are weak to convey an idea of 148the capricious splendour of the choir and chapter-house so far as they remain undefaced, for later ages have done their best to spoil the edifice. Eight cloisters have been built around it, and tacked on to it, by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its lovely Manueline doorway has been marred, and the east end of the building blocked as high as its upper windows by the “Cloister of the Philips.”

The Choir and Chapter-House, Thomar.

But notwithstanding all the vandalism, enough of the Manueline building remains intact to strike the beholder with reverent wonder at the intricate beauty of the work, and the inexhaustible invention of the design. The doorway stands in a recess reaching to the parapet, and enclosed within an arch of surprising beauty, of which the under curve is lined with an elaborate pendent ornament. Within the recess filling the whole space and over the door itself, figures in niches stand under canopies and upon pillars in which caprice and intricacy surpass themselves. Coiled cables, bossed spirals, floreated pinnacles, armillary spheres, crosses, and intertwined branches, stand out in high relief and under cut, as if the sculptors had purposely sought difficulties in order to overcome them. 149The arch of the door itself is beyond description, so luxuriant is the design of the chiselled stone which forms the three grooves and two spiral pilasters around it. The parapet of the whole edifice is similarly rich, alternating the cross of the Order with the armillary sphere; and although most of the lower part of the walls is hidden, the view of the east end with its two corner towers, as seen from the roof of the adjoining cloister, is magnificent. The lower window, which lights the interior of the choir, is a massive tangle of outstanding cables; each point being crowned by the cross and the armillary sphere which formed the device of the grand master, the famous Prince Henry the Navigator. Around one of the corner towers a great chain cable, each link carved entire in stone, is braced, and around the other an equally tremendous buckled belt, representing the Order of the Garter, which the Prince, a Plantagenet on his mother’s side, possessed. The upper window which lights the chapter-house is more suggestive still. It is a highly decorated circular light bevilled into the deep thickness of the wall, and represents upon the sloping inner face of the 150circle a series of bulging staysails, each held down by a rope.

But all this description in detail is incapable of conveying an idea of the richness of effect produced by the whole work. The exuberance of the style and its tricky capriciousness may be, and are, condemned by purists as in questionable taste; but as an outcome of national feeling, and as an example of original inventive ingenuity and patience, this and other notable specimens of the style, to which reference will be made later, are of the highest interest to the student, and a delight to the ordinary observer who can free himself from the straightlaced traditions of the schools.

Inside the grave old round church of the Templars, to which this gorgeous edifice was to serve as a choir for the warrior monks of Christ, a fine Byzantine altar stands in the centre. The interior of the edifice itself is a quaint and curious mixture of Byzantine, Moorish, Romanesque, and Gothic, the pillars being painted and gilt in oriental taste, whilst the splendid canopy over the central altar is pure Gothic, and dated 1500. In four of the eleven arched spaces upon the wall of the circular church there are some 151ancient pictures of the highest interest, the remaining seven having been stolen by the French invaders in the Napoleonic wars. The paintings are fine enough to be by the hand of Jan Van Eyck himself, and are, as usual, ascribed by Portuguese to the mythical Gran Vasco. It is far more likely, however, that they may be the work of a painter called Jean Dralia of Bruges, who was living in this monastery at the end of the fifteenth century, and is buried here. It is lamentable to see the condition to which these masterpieces have been allowed to fall from sheer want of care; and unless they are promptly rescued, a few years more will complete their ruin.

The great choir, added on to the round church, presents in its interior the same wealth of fancy as that already described on the outside; but the wonderful choir stalls of the Manueline period were stolen or destroyed during the French invasion. As I stood under the exquisitely carved ceiling of this choir, looking towards the Byzantine altar in the round church before me, my mind flew back to a scene enacted here in April 1581, which I had more than once endeavoured to describe in writing 152without having seen the place. Philip II. had followed in the devastating steps of Alba to wrest from the native Portuguese pretender the crown he coveted. Portugal had sullenly bent its neck to the yoke, and the nobles had either been exiled or bought to the side of the Spaniard. But one thing more was needed to make grim Philip legally King of Portugal as well as King of Spain. The Portuguese Cortes, elected of the people, though in this case elected with Alba’s grip upon its throat, had to swear allegiance to the new monarch, and Philip had to pledge his oath to respect the rights and liberties of his new subjects. The stronghold of the Knights of Christ at Thomar was chosen by the Spaniard for the crowning act of Portuguese national subjection; and here Philip arrived on the 15th March 1581. On the 3rd April, in one of those charming little letters to his orphan daughters, he wrote from Thomar saying that the Cortes would sit soon, for many people were already arriving, and the oaths would be taken as soon as they were met. “You have heard,” he says, “that they insist upon my dressing in brocade, much against my will, but they say it is the custom here.”

153On the 16th of April the church of the monastery was aglow with shimmer of gold and gems and rich stuffs. Under a dais at the end of this choir Philip sat in a robe of cloth of gold over a dress of crimson brocade; though his heart was sad for the death of his last wife, and he hated splendour in his broken old age. After mass had been said, the Cortes did homage and swore to keep their faith to him as king; and then stepping down from the throne, he advanced to the high altar and solemnly pledged his word to respect the laws and liberties of Portugal. How little he relished the splendour is seen in a letter he sent to his girls from Thomar a fortnight later, as soon as he could find time to write to those whom he loved more dearly than any other creatures on earth. “How much I wish,” he wrote, “you could have seen the ceremony of taking the oath from a window as my nephew [the Archduke Albert] did, who saw everything excellently. But I send you a full account of it all.... I have given the Golden Fleece to the Duke of Braganza, and he went with me to mass, both of us wearing the collar of the Order; which upon my mourning looked very bad, and I can 154tell you he looked much smarter than I did, although they say that the day of the oath was the first time he had worn low shoes, though everybody is wearing them here now except myself.” Thomar, for the last time in its existence, was a blaze of splendour for those six feverish weeks; for Spanish and Portuguese nobles, jealous of each other, vied in lavish expenditure; and then the fortress of the Knights was left to its solitude: gradually royal encroachments stripped the Order of its wealth and power, and Thomar lived in memory alone.

The upper chamber of the Manueline building over the choir is the chapter-house of the Order of Christ. A grand, low, pillared hall, with the twisted cables and the repeated cross and sphere, testifying once more to the reigning idea of the period of the Navigator Grand-Master. Here it was that the Portuguese Cortes sat to confirm the religious act of allegiance to Philip, and set the seal of subservience upon the nation for nearly a century. Every carved stone and crocket has a story to tell if we could but hear it. Here in the older monastic building the Navigator himself held his chapters, dwelling in the adjoining palace, in the intervals of his 155life-task upon his eyrie at Sagres; here in the “cloisters of the Philips,” dull Philip III. held his monastic court upon his one visit to Portugal; and the magnificent cloister of John III. testifies to the classical reaction after the exuberance of the times of his father Dom Manuel.

In the quaint little Gothic cloister around the burial-place of the monks, called the “Cloister of Dom Henrique,” a strange sight is to be seen in the upper ambulatory. Baltasar de Faria was the instrument of Philip II. in forcing the Spanish form of Inquisition ruthlessly upon Portugal, and in cruelty surpassed his master. So bitterly hated was he that the saying ran that earth itself would reject and refuse to assimilate the body of such a monster. In the lid of a stone coffin in the cloister a pane of glass is set, and he who will may gaze and see how Baltasar de Faria looks now. He was a splendid courtier in his time, and doubtless a gallant-looking one too, for it was a sumptuous age; but the poor gentleman’s looks have now little to recommend them, as he lies contorted and mummified but perfect in his narrow home, to be gazed and wondered at by those who list—a scoff for the ribald, a text for the moralist.

156More there was, much more, to describe in this wonderful monastery, but I have said more than enough to prove that the visitor to Portugal who misses Thomar has failed to see a relic, which, in its way, has hardly an equal in Europe. The drives around Thomar are exquisitely beautiful, the view from the hill across the river embracing the monastery and the great white sanctuary of the Misericordia, with its long scala sacra, upon the twin hill, being one never to be forgotten. Just outside the town, hard by an ancient pillar marking the junction place of the armies which won for a second time the independence of Portugal from Spain (at Aljubarrota, 1385), there stands the beautiful old church of Santa Maria, a perfect Gothic fane; and close to its west end a strong tower built as a place of refuge for its constructors against the constant attacks of the Moors. Much I should like to linger upon Thomar: upon the quaint garb of the peasants, the picturesque bits of the old Manueline church of St. Jo?o in the pra?a, upon the lovely private gardens by the side of the stream, upon the noble aqueduct, and upon the sweet tranquillity of the acacia-shaded walks; but I dare not delay further, for the carriage is at the door of the humble though hospitable, Hotel Uni?o, to carry me on this brilliant morning the twenty-five miles to Leiria, where I must pass the night. As we drove clear of the town the loveliness of its situation came home to one with more intensity than ever. The peaceful stream winding through the plain, its course marked by a continuous line of poplars, the pine-clad hills all around—miles away but in this clear air seeming within touching distance of the hand—the cluster of white and pink houses with red roofs, and, almost sheer above them, the two hills, one crowned by its never-to-be-forgotten monastery-castle with its long battlemented walls, its high keep, and, most striking of all, its gaunt bell tower, with its guard of tall cypresses; whilst climbing up the gentler green slope of the other hill is the snow-white scala sacra of twenty-five flights of steps leading to the gleaming sanctuary of the Misericordia. Above all a sky of deep luminous blue, and pervading all the soft warm air, sweet with the scent of thyme, basil, cistus, and pines.


157Thus, for two hours or more, I drove over a good road, winding round the foot of rising hills, and following the sinuosity of fertile valleys, 158above me grey boulders, around me pines, olives, and sweeps of flowering heather on the red earth. At length, afar off, there loomed a bolder hill than the rest, rising abruptly and crowned by another great fortress, as it seemed at an unscalable height, with a cluster of ancient houses nestled just beneath it. Patience and a scarped road on the hillside, however, enabled us to reach without apparent difficulty half up the hill to the modern village of Ourem, where a rest for the horses and a meal for myself had been agreed upon. The place was dead, basking in the hot sunshine, all the village, as it seemed, baked to the uniform yellowish-white colour of the soil of the hill upon which it stood. The gaunt yellow castle above[1] softened only by the verdure of a crown of pines, and just below its walls the ancient town and a great monastery of long ago.


159The hostelry was humble enough, but a chatty, shrewd-looking, old lady provided an excellent luncheon for me in an upper room, and became charmingly friendly when I praised her wine, of which she was very proud, and with reason, grown, as she told me, in the vineyard at the back of the house, and as good a wine of its sort as I care to drink. She was equally pleased with the approval of her quince marmalade, and pressed no end of home-made confections upon her passing guest, whilst she kept repeating that “os senhores ingleses que veem sempre alab?o muito o nosso vinho;” for the approval of Englishmen in this country is always taken as fixing the final seal of excellence upon anything.

Outside in the main street of the town complete quiet reigned in the fierce sunshine of midday. Against the indigo sky the immense castle on its peak showed clear, as nothing is ever seen in our mist-laden atmosphere. A man passes, bearing a great boat-shaped basket piled with big black grapes, the bloom upon them still undisturbed; four cronies in black nightcaps and with long staves in their hands gossip in the parallelogram of black shadow thrown athwart the road by the church tower; and, by-and-by, 160three lithe damsels with bright yellow head-kerchiefs flowing as they walk, swing by joyously; then comes, painfully hobbling beneath a heavy burden of yellow gourds, a barefooted old woman, and anon a man riding à la gineta, a pacing nag with brass-embossed harness, and great box stirrups. Then silence again for another half-hour, and this is life at Ourem.

Still through a land of pine and heather with beautiful little valleys full of vines, figs, and olives, we drove for two hours more, and, just as the black shadows began to lengthen, we drove into the town of Leiria, the Calippo of the Romans, and for long the stronghold whence the Moors harried the advancing Christians to the north. It is a lovely place on the banks of the Liz, set in the midst of pine-clad hills, and the centre of a great agricultural district. Here, again, the two abrupt eminences that loom over the town are crowned respectively by the enormous medi?val stronghold and the religious house that for ever seems to keep it company—the sword and the cross, twin instruments of soldier and priest, to keep the people in subjection, both alike happily now superseded, in Portugal at least, by more enlightened means.


161I started soon after my arrival at the inn, where there was no particular temptation to remain, to scale the hill from which the castle frowned down upon the town. The townspeople seemed to care nothing for the vast ruin that to me was the one attraction of the place. No one cared to guide me up the steep. It was easy, they said, to find the way by following the path, and the castle ruins were open to all. So I started alone, and wound round the lower ascent, finding myself at last on the side of the hill farthest from the town, and at a point from which the castle was apparently quite inaccessible, as the ascent was almost a sheer precipice. A couple of women and some children were in a field by the wayside, and from them I learnt that I should have taken another path, and have ascended on the opposite face of the hill. It was annoying, for the day was already declining, and I had other things to do on the morrow. Just then an officious urchin of twelve volunteered to show me a way he knew of by the side I was on, and rather than lose my opportunity I followed him across a ploughed field to the foot of the steep.

A rocky path aslant the hill amidst the undergrowth 162seemed to offer no great difficulty at first, and I began the climb. The path, if it can so be called, was continued by other slanting ascents more difficult than the first, but still intent only upon each next step, I scrambled on by the aid of tufts of esparto grass, until I became aware that the track had ended altogether, and that the farther ascent was apparently impossible. Not until then had I looked down, but when I did so I understood in a moment the peril in which I was. I stood at a height of some five hundred feet above the level, and descent by the way I had come was absolutely impossible. For the last hundred feet I had only scrambled up by the aid of occasional stones that afforded a momentary lodgment for the toe and by clutching tufts of grass, but these would not help me to descend. The pine-needles that lay thick underfoot made the slope as slippery as ice, and I knew that if I attempted to retrace my steps I should certainly be dashed to pieces. The poor women below knew it too; for one was wringing her hands in horror, and had thrown her apron over her face to hide from her the coming catastrophe, whilst the other was loudly bewailing, whilst she belaboured the head of the urchin who had been the cause 163of the trouble. For one moment panic seized me, but it was succeeded immediately by a cool wave of critical, speculative interest, as if another person’s life and not mine were at stake, as to the sporting chance of my ever being able to negotiate the hundred feet of sheer precipice that lay between me and the top. Each step achieved was a triumph, and my whole soul was concentrated upon the chances of the next being successful. Of course, the ascent had to be made by long zigzags on the face of the precipice, and again and again, as a stone slipped from beneath my foot or a frond of bracken yielded to my grasp, I gave myself up for lost. But I never glanced below, and the jagged and frowning battlements above me gradually drew nearer and nearer, until at last, I know not how, I stood beneath them, panting but safe, and then, looking from the giddy height to the field below, I saw quite a large group of peasants now, waving their black nightcaps, and shouting in token of rejoicing at my safety.

The great castle around me, built by King Diniz the Farmer, in the thirteenth century, upon the site of the Moorish stronghold, was of immense extent, and included ruins of residential 164edifices of later medi?val times. As I saw it now it was a dream of beauty. The setting sun falling athwart its lichen-covered stones dyed them as red as blood. Within the vast crenellated walls two distinct castles stood, one the cyclopean early structure, and the other a lovely Gothic palace, whose ogival windows, pointed arches, and slender pillars were still graceful in decay. The dismantled chapel is exquisite, and if light had served or any intelligent guidance had been obtainable, the inscriptions in it would have been interesting. But the twilight was falling, and the magnificent view from the battlements over the town, the plain, and the mountains called to me.


It was a feast of loveliness to the eye. The golden light of the setting sun glorified the vast plain below me, with its silver river fringed by poplars winding through it for many a mile, and the hills in the distance clothed to the crests with lofty pines, black and solemn now in the fading light. On a hill adjoining that upon which I stood the great white Convent and Sanctuary of the Incarnation looks across at the crumbling castle that it has outlived; and, just below me, between the inner and outer defences of the 165stronghold, on a green grassy slope, some children are playing joyously. As I wander down the way, safe and easy on this side, through mighty donjons, and thick, tunnelled walls which have seen so many bloody sights and echoed so many dismal sounds, the very spirit of peace seems to pervade the place. Half-way down, leaning over one of the grim walls, was a beautiful peasant girl talking to her young lover, who stood at the foot, and cascading masses of purple flowers fell across the jagged stones here and there, giving the just touch of colour needed to perfect the scene. Past a quaint old desecrated church and the enormous monastery of St. Peter, now, like most of such places, a barrack, I tread the picturesque pra?a of the town again, and stroll along the fine avenue of planes and eucalyptus by the side of the river as the after-glow lights up the cliff and the castle with a pearly reflected glamour. The hill from below is like that of Edinburgh, but apparently double as high, and the vast extent of the battlements is more evident than when seen on the summit. Huge buttresses of rock seem to sustain the curtain that connects the keep of the fortress with the Gothic palace, and everywhere the grey of the granite is covered 166with a patina of yellow lichen, and the crevices filled with yew, aloes, and olives.


The next day was market-day at Leiria, and long before dawn the town was busy. This was by far the largest country market I saw in Portugal, and the gathering of peasantry the quaintest and most picturesque. The shops, particularly those in the mosaic-paved pra?a, are mainly wholesale warehouses for the supply of village traders, and a very extensive distributing trade must be done. The town itself, on this occasion, was one vast emporium, and multitudes of people bargained from early morning till past midday in the acacia avenues under the brilliant dark-blue sky. A gay-looking crowd they were: for the costume here is quite distinct. The women invariably wear a velvet pork-pie hat over a yellow or red head-kerchief, of which the ends hang down the back, and the older women have full black cloaks with hoods, whilst most of them have a broad band, some nine inches wide, of yellow cloth round the bottom of the skirt. The wares exposed for sale were infinite. In the pra?a great heaps of maize, grapes, potatoes, chestnuts, and beans covered the mosaic pavement, whilst stalls displayed calicoes and 167cloths of vivid colours. Giant yellow gourds in high piles lined the footpath, and elsewhere under the shade of the trees stacks of grass-fodder and maize-leaves for cattle stood. In another space heaps of salt, and long lines of stalls for the sale of salted sardines and salted pork, were followed by a score of temporary butchers’ shops. Then came stands for the sale of fresh fish, skate, sardines, and cod, with the inevitable bacalhau; and farther on, spread upon the ground, were hundreds of homely crocks, red amphor?, slender and beautiful in shape, coarse household dishes gaudily decorated, and unglazed jars to keep water cool. Beneath a beautiful picturesque arcade of ancient arches in the pra?a women were seated before panniers piled with pears, figs, apples, melons, and grapes, such as Covent Garden might glory in; and hard by strings of garlic, onions, and eschalot claimed their purchasers. In a field by the side of the river long lines of oxen, horses, and asses were for sale, and men in red and green nightcaps, and trousers made of two or three different coloured cloths, soberly bargained for the beasts. Over all was the dark-blue arch of the sky, and the brilliant sun, tempered beneath the trees by the light-green of the acacia leaves: 168but what strikes most an observer who is familiar with the south, is the absence of vociferation and apparent excitement. There was no shouting, no pushing or quarrelling, and every transaction in the chaffering town seemed to be got through with serious deliberation. Even the cluster of gaily-dressed women around the stately sixteenth-century fountain adjoining the hotel, gossiped staidly, and the children playing beneath the trees were as grave as little judges. This is Leiria as I saw it on market-day; but long before sunset the country people trudged homeward again; the ox-wains carried away the produce and merchandise; the stalls and booths folded their canvas sides and disappeared, and the next morning Leiria resumed its habitual sleep, from which it awakens but once a week.


1.  I noted with interest that this castle of Ourem, and others of these vast hill-top strongholds, had the outer defences arranged similarly to those I have described in the chapter on the buried city of Citania; namely, that on the side of the hill, where attack was difficult or impracticable, the outer walls dipped far down the slope, whilst at the point where danger might be apprehended the three lines of circumvallation were comparatively close together. This arrangement of hill-top defences was evidently long pre-Roman in the Peninsula, and seems to have been adopted by the Romans and their Gothic successors.


All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved