Life at the Convent


The Aqueduct


The Aqueduct

Y la causa de aver tantas sisternas es porque el monasterio no puede tener fuentes por ser su aciendo alticimo y no tiene agua natural porque o es lo devisa para servicio del comvento o del rio para bever.

Jerónimo Román

The location of the monastic complex, once motivated by strategic reasons, turned out to be restrictive in terms of water availability. The Templar castle depended on cisterns which collected rainwater from roofs and pavements, indispensable for household consumption and extremely important in the event of assault or siege. In the early days of the Order of Christ, marked by the divide between priest-friars and friar-knights, relying solely on cisterns has proven to be too risky: it depended on rainfall, cumulative volumes and a cautious control of consumption. It is assumed that this strategy has been used in the Vila de Dentro and in the Arrabalde de São Martinho, probably supplemented by wells. Descriptions prior to study timelines are rare, however brief references to orange groves and gardens suggest that other sources of water were used for irrigation in addition to domestic water.

The expansion of the convent over the 15th and 16th centuries was accompanied by the construction of large tanks and cisterns, described in ocho claustros by Jerónimo Román, who also admired the solution adopted in the kitchen that tiene dentro un poço án que se seva de una sangradera que se hiço en una gran sisterna con maravilloso artificio del qual se prove de toda la agua necessaria para aquesta ofecina es proveida i limpia.

With King João III the convent undergoes deep changes, the cerca boundaries are defined and new seclusion rules are imposed. However, the availability of water has not kept pace with the growing domestic and agricultural needs. This justifies the construction of the aqueduct at the request of Philip II of Spain. The vast undertaking began around 1595 with the acquisition of land. Water springs have been identified and big arches supported by huge piers have been planned. Finished in 1619, after the death of Terzi, the engineer who conducted the works, it had a connection to the fountain of the Mannerist cloister. This remarkable watercourse collects the water from the springs of Cano, Vale da Pipa, Cú-Alagado and Porta de Ferro. It starts in Carregueiros and carries the water by gravity through underground galleries, and canals at soil level or mounted on high masonry arches. Apart from the semi-circular limestone gutter or canal, there are hydraulic devices such as manholes, diversion canals to divert excess water and decantation boxes, some built in pavilions, which remind us of old times. It reaches the cerca by flowing into a large tank named Cadeira d'El-rei that has a diversion box where part of the water was conducted to the Convent and its orchards and gardens, and the rest was collected and stored in reservoirs and used to irrigate the rich agricultural land in the valley, where probably some of the plants used in the apothecary's were grown.





Bela Vista Room


The Bela Vista Room

The Bela Vista room, or Hall of Knights, presents us with a magnificent octagonal ceiling subdivided into eight trapezoidal compartments connected to the middle by eight smaller ones, featuring vegetal motifs (flowers and leaves). The beauty and splendour of the set suggest that, in addition to the beautiful view enjoyed from the windows, there is another beautiful view inside the room: the painted ceiling.  

The roses stand out among the identified flowers, not only because they are in greater number, but also because they are the main theme of the medallions painted inside the trapezoidal frames.

There are also tulips, carnations, jonquils, olive trees, which form the compartment frames, ornithogalum (also known as Bethlehem star), buttercups, primroses and acanthus (which are in stylized form). Not all flowers are identifiable because, in some cases, they have been devised by the painter only for decorative purposes or for improving the pictorial composition.

The painting of the ceiling in the Bela Vista Room, although similar to others that are coeval and may have been based on engravings that long circulated in Europe, has probably been commissioned with a specific purpose. Although little is known about the room and its ceiling, the symbolic meaning of the flowers depicted might help to shed light on our understanding of this set.

One possibility is to connect this painting with the Marian cult. The rose is the flower that has greater connection to Our Lady, symbolizing grace, the heavenly purity of the Mother of Christ, the first among the flowers, as well as Our Lady is the first among women.

Also the palette of colours used brings us to the Marian cult. The light blue and pink shades used in flowers are usually associated with this cult; Our Lady being often depicted with light-blue garments symbolizing the divine, heaven and spiritual values. Pink, composed of white, symbolizes celestial purity associated with Our Lady and red symbolizes Jesus and the blood he shed on the Cross. As can be seen, the compartments with painted flowers are all surrounded by stripes with red as the background colour.

The symbolism of flowers cannot be analysed outside its context and for each flower there is more than one possible meaning, which varies from time to time. Flowers in general mean hope, positive feelings, because they are supposed to bring good things (fruit); youth, the ephemeral and short life; the Saviour of the World because, like him, wild flowers are unique and grow without man's intervention.                                                                

Cut flowers such as those that appear in the smaller stripes and branches also represent the transience of life.

Many of these meanings originate from classical mythology (involving Venus, Daphne, Adonis), being subsequently incorporated into the Christian symbolism.

Pink - means Grace (Hail Mary full of Grace...), the Virgin Mary. The hornless rose is associated with Our Lady, who conceived without sin, and represents the Marian cult.

Carnation - As its scientific name (Dianthus) indicates, symbolises the flower of God, the infinite and pure motherly love of Our Lady to her son Jesus.

Tulip - Represents the Divine Grace, the Holy Spirit and Divine Love, but also the fragility of earthly possessions.

Jonquil (Narcissus) - symbolizes the triumph of eternal life over death and the sacrifices made by Christ and Man.

Primrose - An attribute of the Virgin Mary meaning first just as Mary was blessed among women.

Anemone - Symbolises Christ's Passion and crucifixion; the red marks on the petals represent the drops of blood from the wounds of Christ.

Olive tree - Symbol of Peace, the peace of God in the world and the peace with others.

The inscription Mors est malis that can be seen on a wooden plaque in the ceiling of the Bela Vista room is a clear allusion to an excerpt of the hymn Lauda Sion Salvatorum written by St. Thomas Aquinas in honour of the Holy Eucharist and would correspond to another plaque, already lost, located on the opposite side, which would bear the inscription Vita bonis.

Summunt boni, summunt mali;

Sorte tamen inaequali,

Vitae vel interitus,

Mors est malis, vita boni:

Vide paris sumptionis

Quam sit dispar exitus.

(The good receive Him, the bad receive Him, but with what unequal consequences of life or death. It is death to the unworthy, life to the worthy: behold then of a like reception, how unlike may be the result!)

Strengthening the Christian symbolism of the painting, the number eight dominates the conceptual structure of the ceiling and the Room itself. The painting is inserted in an octagon, which is divided into eight larger trapezoids (containing the large sets of roses) and eight smaller (next to the central panel with bunches of two or three flowers). In Christian symbology, the number eight represents a new beginning, the Resurrection, and is connected to various biblical episodes: eight people were saved in the Ark, and it was to them that the dove took an olive branch, symbolizing the peace of God in the world.

Finally, it should be noted that the shape of the roof is reflected on the pavement, reinforcing the octagon and creating a drawing similar to some baptismal fonts or sites. These two major milestones of Christian life are, together with Eucharist, represented in the Bela Vista Room.

The Apothecary's shop Garden


The Fence


The Castle and the Convent of Christ between the 12th and the 17th centuries


The Castle and the Convent of Christ between the 12th and the 17th centuries

Built in 1160, the Castle of Tomar was erected to accommodate two distinct communities: the knights Templar and the villagers. Each community had its own living area. The castle hilltop belonged to a group of seven hills that surrounded a small but deep valley: the Riba Fria valley.

In 1357, the Castle of Tomar becomes the headquarters of the Order of Christ.

In 1417 Prince Henry the Navigator becomes Grand Master of the order and converts the old Templar house into a convent of contemplative friars, adding them to the cavalry. The Cemetery and Washing Cloisters have been built under the command of Prince Henry. The Prince also changed the knights' mission converting them into sailors for the maritime enterprise.

In 1497, as the aim was to turn the whole castle into a convent, King Manuel I expropriated the last inhabitants of the castle and ordered the walling-up of the old town gate with stone and lime.

In 1510, King Manuel I ordered the extension of the Templar Church westwards to the outside of the castle walls and up to the base of the hill.

King John III, in 1528, undertook a profound reform of the order of Christ, in order to confine the friars to cloistered, contemplative life. To this end, he ordered the construction of a new monumental Convent to the west, outside the castle walls, around the church expanded by his father, the late King Manuel I. This is the Renaissance convent that will be connected to the Mata dos Sete Montes by a long wall that snakes along the hilltops to form the Cerca do Convento. When Portugal loses its independence, in 1580, the Spanish King Philip II, heir to the Portuguese throne, becomes grand master of the Order of Christ and orders the construction of the aqueduct that runs across a distance of 6 km to take the water to the convent.

After 1640, with the restoration of the country's independence, the new King, John IV, decides to carry on with the construction works, which had been suspended during the reigns of King Philip III and Philip IV of Spain. The convent again has an architect to oversee the works that will be completed in 1690 with a new infirmary and a new pharmacy.

It was not until 160 years later that the convent started by King John III was finally finished.  



Convento de Cristo / Igreja do Castelo Templário
2300-000 TOMAR
t: +351 249 315 089