Tomar has aroused the interest of many travellers who praised the qualities of the town and the surrounding landscape. Documents of past eras describe the town's dimensions and economic vitality, the sanitary conditions and the proximity to the monastery. They also confirm assumptions about the proximity of the town to the river, which irrigated the crops grown in the floodplain adjacent to it.
... El 9 del mismo (Enero) visitamos á Tomar (villa grande) ...Tomar es una hermosa, grande y abierta villa; cerca hay en la montaña 'El Monasterio de Cristus' en que se concede la portuguesa 'Comenda del hábito de Cristo'. Está situado 'ad fluvium Nabonin' (vulgo sobre el rio Tomar)
Erich Lassota de Steblovo, mercenário às ordens do Felipe , in Viajes de Extranjeros por España y Portugal en los Siglos XV, XVI y XVII (1580-84)
The landscape, which evidences past times, specially Roman, stands out for the physiographic diversity between the Serra da Sabacheira, with steep slopes, and the Serra de Tomar, with milder slopes, and the flood plains, recent rocky outcrops from the Jurassic, Cretaceous and even the Old Massif. The climate is moderate: annual average temperature of 16.4° C and average annual rainfall of 773 mm, abundant from November to March. Protection from prevailing winds from the North, exposure to East and water resources characterise the climate of the western hillside of the Nabão river.
For centuries the alluvial banks of the water courses were irrigated lands; the permeable limestone slopes were cultivated with vineyards and olive groves; in the rocky hilltops vestiges of the Carvalhal da Zona Húmida Quente can still be found. The harvested material, the fruit of the hard work of the renters, was processed in presses and watermills, stored in special containers, marketed in fairs, important business venues since the times of Prince Henry when he was commander of the Order of Christ, and even in apothecary's shops.
The introduction of the military orders in Portugal, essential in the Reconquista (Reconquest), has involved territorial changes as well as civil and religious reorganisation of the communities of conquered and settlers. This was done through a complex hierarchy headed by the master of the Templar Order as governor and administrator, represented by a member of the royal family in the case of the Order of Christ. In this order, new rules have introduced changes in the traditional structure that distinguished between clergy and knights, maintaining direct benefits and without jeopardising the status of commander, who was entitled to territorial benefits. The commandery, lifetime benefit of ecclesiastical origin, was an autonomous estate comprising adjacent and non-adjacent properties: rural properties such as vegetable gardens, orchards, vineyards, olive groves and pasture lands; storage facilities such as barns, stables, storehouses, hovels, haystacks and shelters; implements such as furnaces, mills and wineries; urban properties such as shops and inns.
The commandery was intended to guarantee an income to a member of the Order. The beneficiary or commander could resort to emphyteusis in perpetuity or for a time. Direct administration regime was preferred because it reduced risks ensuring - through contract - resources in cash or in kind and the conservation of properties and other means of production.
Women healers, rituality and nature
They are women who were recognised and valued by society, the heirs of a rural naturalist tradition, a know-how which is passed down orally from generations of grandmothers, mothers and aunts, which makes use of vegetable and animal substances to cure the ills of body and spirit, acute pain and malevolent spells.
Many people used to go to my grandmother's. She was even said to be a saint. When she died people said St. Ti Cândida had died. Many people cried. She had learned from her mother. I learned from her. These remedies are very old, but work. (Deonilde, 27-4-2106)
People use local herbs such as garlic and rosemary straw for fumigating dwellings, people and animals afflicted by the evil.
Herbs harvested in far-away yards, fields and woods are decocted, infused or macerated to cure illnesses that are more or less visible and afflict everyone at some time in life.
Harvesting local herbs is subject to strict rules. Biological rhythms of the different species are respected, herbs are harvested in season, always on sunny days, and dried under shadow to ensure their quality and treatment effectiveness.
Poultices and ointments are prepared to relief pain and garlic and olive oil are panaceas for almost all ills: toothaches, insect bites, cracked skin.
Processes are slow when compared to those used by conventional medicine, requiring perseverance and faith from patients.
In the process of healing, the gestures of the healer, the ingredients and the objects used are reinforced by sacred words, prayers and exorcisms to enhance the success of treatment which is often repeated in odd number.
When I needed to make some tea, my mother used to tell me to go get three orange blossom leaves. And even if I brought more she would put only three. Or five. But never even numbers. (Luísa L., 12-4-2016)
To treat torn muscle or sprain in a particular area of the body, it is crucial to use a prayer formula and water and several artifacts such as a pot, a needle, a piece of thread and a cloth. Some women healers believe this treatment is effective even in the absence of the patient.
What am I sewing on Catherine's foot?
Is it torn muscle, twisted nerve or muscle sprain?
If it is torn muscle, may the Lord sew it if he will it so
If it is sprain
May the Lord take it away with him
If it is twisted nerve
May the Lord take it to his place
In praise of the Lord and the Virgin Mary
Our Father and Hail Mary
In praise of St. John
May this affliction be over
In praise of St. Edward
May this illness be cured
Say the prayer three times and for three, five or seven days. If the person comes to our house, sew with the needle over the affected area. If the person is away, even if he/she is in Angola, sew a cloth as if you were performing a running suture with a threaded needle as you say the prayer. Always use the same cloth. In the end, burn it down.
My grandmother always had a little pot of water by the fire. People went there and said "Look, I have a sprained leg and you have to sew me with torn muscle prayers". She prayed while she turned the pot upside down into the bowl collecting all the water" (Luísa L. 12-4-2016)
I've sewn many feet. Doctors say it is torn ligaments. Take a needle with unknotted thread and use the same needle and thread the nine times you say the prayer and do the treatment. Say a prayer as you use the needle and thread to make cross-stitches over the sore area. Move the thread sideways, up and down. The prayer must be said once a day for nine days. (Eugénia, 4-4-2016)
To cure herpes zoster you say a healing prayer over the affected area seeking to reverse the growth of the venomous animal impeding it from joining head to tail, which is believed to be deadly for the patient. Prayers and gestures symbolizing the cutting of the animal are used together with wheat oil, which in the past could be obtained from blacksmiths. A dark oil obtained by hammering wheat grain on anvil was then applied to the affected area to alleviate the symptoms. Today wheat oil is bought in pharmacies but the use of magic prayer persists.
Quicklime is still today used to treat burns as according to sympathetic magic. After being properly diluted in water, and after a long rest period, it serves as a remedy for burns. Stored in old jars, lime water is periodically renewed and is used on those who, rejecting conventional treatments, prefer to rely on the know-how of local women healers.
Snakeskin syrup is still used to cure sore throats in adults and children. First, boil the snakeskin along with some water, figs, raisins or plums. Filter the solids, add the same amount of sugar to the resulting liquid and put it back on the stove to make a syrup.
Chicken fat, used for the same purpose, seems to have fallen into disuse. It was cut into pieces and preserved in olive oil or salt; then it was warmed up and brown paper strips were soaked in it, put around the throat and covered with a cloth for a more effective treatment.