Apotheque at Convent of Christ


The 17th-Century apothecary's shop



The 17th-Century apothecary's shop

The close proximity of the apothecary's shop to the infirmary is due, above all, to the need for administering remedies within a short time after production, in accordance with galenic principles. On the other hand, the premises for the practice of bloodletting, one of the most common treatments in the late 18th century, were usually close to the apothecary's. It was, therefore, a corollary that the apothecary’s should be contiguous to the infirmary. The infirmary would usually be located in the eastern part of the monastic complex, according to the rule of St Benedict.

Internally these buildings are facing a triangular courtyard formed by the south facade of the infirmary, the west facade of the apothecary's shop and the back of the north walls of the Washing and Cemetery cloisters.

The intersection of the apothecary's block with that of the infirmary at the north-eastern angle stands out of the rest of the building for its turreted shape, with two monumental pediments heralding the advent of the baroque in Portugal. Internally, at this angle of the building there is a large room where the infirmary's and the apothecary's corridors meet. This room has three large windows that receive the first direct sunlight of the morning throughout the whole year. Such circumstance makes this space the most suitable for surgical procedures. This room was known, in popular parlance from the days when it was the hall of the Military Hospital, as the Knights Room.

The apothecary's quarters comprise four large rooms served by a lateral corridor leading to the infirmary. A triangular antechamber, facing the infirmary cells, connects the first room to the other three located towards the southeastern part of the building. Two of these rooms had a chimney, which suggests the use of fire to make medicinal preparations. Over the entrance to the first room is a memorial stone with the date 1679. On the inside of the door wall is a stone sink in mannerist style that reminds us of old apothecary rooms where bloodletting rituals were performed. Could the sink have been used to wash the instruments used in bloodletting procedures made in the apothecary's quarters? Or those used in surgical procedures performed in the large turret room? The convent records studied so far do not allow us to go beyond mere conjecture, however this is not at all unreasonable if we consider the functional nature of the infirmary's and the apothecary's rooms.

Convent Life


Convent Life

Convent life is governed by the practice of prayer accompanied by rules of conduct and social coexistence. In the 6th century, Saint Benedict sets out the code of conduct which will extend to all religious, conventual and monastic communities in the Western World. Daily times of prayer are the basis of life in seclusion: the Divine Office. Each liturgical celebration is named after the respective hour and the Order of Christ complied with the provisions of the Regulamento dos Usos e Cerimónias (the official prayer book of the order). 

(…) Matins are said at midnight all year round (...) Prime is said at 5.30 in the morning, from the first Sunday of Lent to the Holy Cross Day in September exclusive (...) Terce before the mass of the day at 8.00 (...) None is said from Easter to the Holy Cross Day in September exclusive at noon (...) Vespers are at 3.00 pm from Easter to the eve of the Holy Cross Day (...) Compline is at 7.30 pm in the afternoon from Easter to the eve of Holy Cross Day in September (...) in the remaining time is at 5:30 pm (...) Matins and Lauds are sung in the three Passovers of the year (…).

In addition to these offices, there were requiem masses, those on the liturgical calendar and masses of investiture of knights, religious, professed friars, novices, converts and beneficed clergy. It was up to the Lead Chanter to organise and assign liturgical tasks to community members. These tasks were the so-called Breves.

The community's daily occupations were established in the weekly general chapter assembly. All decision-taking with implications for the community and resolution of disputes between members took place here. Admission of new members such as knights, professed friars, novices and converts was held by the convent brothers assembled in chapter. Admission to the Order implied payment of a specific amount, the Fee, which the sacristan wrote down on the Sacristy Ledger and was then distributed between the members of the brotherhood according to their position or hierarchical status. The community related to the world through daily exercise of charity and care of the sick, needy, travellers and pilgrims. On agreed dates, the prosecutor collected rental and lease payments and managed the businesses of the Order outside the Convent.

The time in which friars, professed members and novices were not participating in liturgical office was regarded as spare time. This should be employed in their particular obediences, i.e. daily tasks and personal contributions to the life of the community. Some positions were reserved for professed brothers such as: prosecutor, sacristan, chest keeper (treasurer), chest keeper (bookkeeper), registrar (clerk), door-keeper, innkeeper, refectory caretaker, candle-keeper, lamplighter (took care of lanterns), and calceário, the person in charge of making and repairing shoes for the community. These tasks constituted the second component of the life of a religious, in accordance with St Benedict's motto: pray and work.

Salus Infirmorum


Salus Infirmorum

Salus Infirmorum is the Marian inscription on top of the West window of the infirmary hall at the Convent of Christ. Considering that Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint of the order of Christ, it was a corollary that she was also invoked to bring health to the sick, as in her litany Health of the sick.

The construction of the infirmary was a concern in the design of the new space of seclusion from the early times of the convent's reform by King João III, as can be seen in the royal commission to the architect João de Castilho. A document kept at the National Archive of Torre do Tombo (A.N.T.T.) from the convent factory to the friars of the Order of Christ (1529) about this subject reads:

(…) Item mais fará treze cellas pera a enfermaria da grandura e ordenãça das outra do dormitório e os portais e janelas das dotas çelas serão da proprya grandura e ordenãça e preço das do dito dormitório.

In the 16th century it was already located in the north-western belt of the castro village, in the vicinity of the Cemetery Cloister and at the abutment of the former convent, then demolished. His connection with the new conventual quarters, located in the west wing of the castle, is made by a staircase that bridges the height difference between the base of the hill and the ridge, as Prior Pedro de Moniz reports on the works he undertook in the Convent of Christ between 1620 and 1629 (A.N.T.T.):

(…) Por baixo destas casas da Portaria fiz umas escadas que da claustra da Hospedaria sobem para a Infermaria e é serviço certo para esta oficina para se levar carne, peixe, lenha e hortaliça de maneira que nada vê a comunidade nem passa por ela como ordinariamente passava e só por esta serventia é para se estimar esta obra feita com tanto custo e conselho.

The body of the infirmary building, along with that of the apothecary's, did not reach their final form until the end of the 17th century and, as visitors would later attest, it was monumental. In 1714, Gaspar Leitão da Fonseca, in Rellação da passagem que elrei d. João o quinto fez pella villa de Thomar, made the following description:

(…) Ficou mais para a comodidade dos Padres o dormitório das Emfermarias que na Majestade e grandeza mais parece que se fes para casa de regalo que de aflição.” Entra-sse por huma portada posta em frente de huma alegra e abrigada varanda onde o sol como Planeta mais amado da medecina vizita com benéfica assistência os convalecidos.

Conventual Pharmacies in Portugal


Conventual Pharmacies in Portugal

Conventual pharmacies had a major technical and scientific impact and an enormous prestige in Portugal. There were famous apothecary’s shops such as those of the Augustinian canons of Lisbon (São Vicente de Fora) and Coimbra (Santa Cruz), those of the Dominicans of Lisbon, Batalha and Aveiro, those of the Jesuits, especially the ones of Colégio de Santo Antão (Lisbon) and of Goa. The Order of Christ had an important apothecary’s shop at the Royal Convent of Tomar.

In Portugal, the relationship between pharmaceutical science and regular clergy becomes clear when we note that the first pharmacopoeia written by a Portuguese apothecary was authored by D. Caetano de Santo António, canon of St. Augustine's, apothecary of the Santa Cruz de Coimbra Monastery and then of the Convent of S. Vicente de Fora in Lisbon. The work, titled Pharmacopeia Lusitana (1704), was widely used in the teaching of Pharmacy. Re-published in several editions, it kept track of scientific developments disseminating chemical drugs in Portugal in its very next edition in 1711.

Conventual pharmacies also produced a number of specific medicines that enjoyed high prestige. Some examples of this are the Jesuit's Powder (cinchona and quinine), the Capuchin Powder (oleander, larkspur and tobacco), which has gained considerable reputation for the treatment of head lice, and Carthusian Powder (kermes mineral) that was highly prized for its emetic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Conventual apothecary’s shops were heavily frequented and in some cases they were, apart from mercies, the only source of health care for the poor such as those of the Dominicans and the Jesuits. Others such as the Benedictines, the Carmelites and the Oratorians even dispensed chemical drugs.

Many held up monopoly to supply local shops or certain hospitals, which was a huge source of revenue and also a cause of protest from secular apothecaries. The solution for secular apothecaries would be to close conventual shops open to the public, which only occurred in 1834 with the dissolution of religious orders.

Pharmaceutical Science in the Baroque


Pharmaceutical Science in the Baroque

Pharmaceutical science between the 17th and the 18th century was dominated by two explanatory theories of disease: iatrochemistry and iatromechanism, which advocated new methods of treatment and new medicinal substances.

Paracelsus' iatrochemistry (1493-1541) claimed that disease was an anomaly and not an imbalance of humours. This anomaly was a natural manifestation (hence chemical) and therefore should be treated chemically. The human body was considered a laboratory and its chemical processes dependent on a vital force - archaeus. New substances appear such as tinctures, extracts, alcohol, spirits, oils and essences and the art of alchemy, and consequently chemistry, become indispensable in the pharmacy of the time.

The 17th-century pharmacist became a chemist (and also a botanist) and the pharmaceutical workshop became a chemistry lab, where the processes of distillation, evaporation, incineration, sublimation and leaching were put into practice.

Sanctorius' iatromechanics or iatrophysics (1561-1636) argued that the human body was designed as a machine, and the concepts of health and illness were dependent on interpretations of the laws of physics. The iatromechanical theory replaced   Galen's theory of humours by the concept of fibre, which was seen as the fundamental element of the body.

Baroque pharmacy results therefore from the mixture of various medical theories, in addition to the classical Galenist doctrines. Thus, medication was a mix of traditional methods as purges, bloodletting, enemas and plant drugs; chemical medicines from iatrochemistry; mineral-medicinal waters; new South American plants such as cinchona and ipecac; intravenous injections and blood transfusions, although with little encouraging results. 

In Portugal, the work Pharmacopeia Geral para o Reino e Dominios de Portugal, published in 1794, defined what vases and pharmaceutical tools a pharmacy should have to produce medicines: alembics, pestles, aludels, scales, crucibles, boxes, strainers, spoons, gourds, skimmers, spatulas, ovens or furnaces, funnels, bottles, press, files, lute, pots, sieves, grinding slab and muller, simple and tube retorts, pans, small and big bowls, sand-bath and water-bath pots.    

The Portuguese Pharmacy in the 17th and 18th centuries


The Portuguese Pharmacy in the 17th and 18th centuries

 In the 17th-century, Portuguese medicine and pharmacy were still very influenced by classical doctrines. Therapeutics was a mix of traditional methods as purges, bloodletting and enemas and apothecaries engaged in the preparation of chemical medicines were a minority, remaining true to traditional methods for preparing drugs of vegetable origin and to galenic practices. 

Chemical pharmacy began to be disseminated among us from the early 17th century with the arrival in the country of foreign chemicals and distillers who settled here, producing and selling medicines prepared by Chemical Art. Apothecaries accompanied the development of pharmaceutical chemistry trading chemicals and galenic preparations such as theriaca magnum, Hungary water, gold oil, cordial stones and violet syrup

Chemical medicines were popularized as secret remedies. The holders of secret recipes were mostly chemists, physicians and surgeons who used them against the still-prevailing Galenism. The expansion of secret remedies was also associated with advertising and the possibility of being consumed as self-medication, with a rules of procedure including instructions for use and recommended dose. 

João Curvo Semedo and Jacob de Castro Sarmento produced secret remedies on a large scale, giving rise to generations of producers and traders of secret remedies. In the 19th century, the   Curvian secrets and the English water were still popular.

With the Pombaline Enlightenment, reform is finally implemented and baroque galenic medicine is repudiated and secret remedies officially prohibited. In 1772, under the auspices of the Pombaline reformation, the Pharmaceutical Dispensary of the new School Hospital was founded in the University of Coimbra with the aim of teaching pharmacy to apothecaries and medical students, and also of producing medicines. 

However, access to the pharmaceutical profession was subject to an exam conducted by the Head Physician of the Kingdom, which persisted until 1836.

During the eighteenth century, several pharmacopoeias have been published, but only in 1794, during the reign of Queen Maria I, did Portugal have its first official pharmacopoeia, the Pharmacopeia Geral. The aim of this work was to regulate drug production and pharmaceutical practices in Portuguese apothecary’s shops. However, by failing to adopt the new chemical nomenclature proposed by Lavoisier, it did not keep up with the scientific advancements of the time.

The Splendour of Conventual Apothecary's Shops


The splendour of Conventual Apothecary’s Shops 

Conventual apothecary’s shops had their heyday in the late 17th century, when the Baroque decisively influenced the layout and decoration of cabinets, displays, pots, jars, vases, mortars, wooden boxes, scales and other instruments. Particularly noteworthy in the shop of the Royal Convent of Christ is the splendid set of pots and jars in blue and white glazed earthenware, with lush floral decoration and the emblem of the Cross of Christ.

 At this time, pharmacies often boasted painted ceilings in the exuberant Baroque style. Pots were arranged in small niches, each framed by a small arch and a delicate spiral, columns or round protrusions. When ceilings were high and bookcases reached the ceiling, there were even stairs or benches, they too decorated. Cabinets, chests, bookcases and furniture, were all beautifully carved, gilded and sometimes luxuriously decorated.

Beautiful paintings and sculptures of prominent figures in pharmaceutical history adorned the place. Galen, Hippocrates, Asclepius or Hygieia, the gods of medicine and pharmacy, appeared side by side with Saints Cosmas and Damian or the patron saints of their respective religious orders. 

Apothecary implements were showcased in an elegant display in the form of a church altar.There was at least a well ornamented bronze mortar with a pestle which sometimes was so heavy that had a mechanism that allowed the apprentice to lift it and grind therapeutic substances into powder.

 Baroque pharmacies conveyed influence, elegance and an aura of fear and mystery. A stuffed crocodile or a huge snake hanging from the ceiling, a unicorn horn hanging on the wall, all contributed to turn the atmosphere of conventual pharmacies into something mystical and sacred, just like the venerable art of healing.

Splendour and asceticism: for a history of earthenware in apothecary’s shops


Splendour and asceticism: for a history of earthenware in apothecary’s shops

The use of earthenware items in Portuguese apothecary’s shops allows us not only to trace the history of the material, but also the role of these shops in the society of the time. The examination for the license to practise as a potter of fine ware, the so-called malegueira ware, included the creation of a number of ceramic pieces used in apothecaries, which reveals the importance of these customers for the sector. On the other hand, being costly, earthenware pieces used in apothecaries reveal the investment done and their characteristics allow us to determine the moments of financial ease of the establishments they were intended for.  

While in the first 60 years of the 17th century we find exquisite pieces with blue-and-white decorations, the majority of them with exotic-inspired motifs painted on blank cartouches, in the next 40 years we mostly find coarser pieces with borders painted in manganese purple, containing heraldic symbols of religious orders and painted labels. This practice continues in the first 60 years of the eighteenth century with decorations being limited to figural cartouches on a white ground. Alongside this simplicity, pottery workshops in the region of Santos, in Lisbon, create heavily decorated objects which, in the case of the convent of Christ, are a sign of the strong investment made in the convent shop at the time. Between 1760 and 1832 (year of the dissolution of religious orders) the use of earthenware in apothecaries prevails. Across the country, there are objects created in many different places, but among the pieces found in the Convent of Christ we emphasize those that might have been manufactured by the Real Fábrica de Louça in Lisbon (1767-1835) and the Fábrica de Faiança do Juncal (1770-1876). An inventory of the convent workshops dated 1 July 1817 refers to the latter as being the manufacturer of some of the objects. Although it does not mention the large collection of pharmacy containers with the Cross of Christ painted purple, its origin seems indisputable and marks an ultimate investment in the purchase of materials for the convent's shop, not being aware that it would soon be extinguished.

The Earthenware of Apothecary's shop of the Convent of Christ




Convento de Cristo / Igreja do Castelo Templário
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