History (4A)

The building of the “Jerónimos” monastery was ordered by King Manuel I in 1501 and involved the work of various architects. The monarch had in mind the creation of something which would act as a pantheon to his reign.  

To pay for the construction he did not hesitate to use what was called “Pepper money”, funds gained from a tax on all spices (cinnamon, cloves and pepper), precious stones and gold, which brought great wealth to the royal family.

The monastery’s location, then on the periphery of the city, was close to Restelo beach, from where many of the expeditions set sail. Because of this the area was also home to a hospice and the small “Nossa Senhora de Restelo” chapel, built years before by Henry the Navigator. The sailors would spend the night before setting sail in the chapel praying and asking for protection from the Virgin of Belém. The monastery was entrusted to the monks of Saint Jerónimo, and stayed in their care until 1834 and the expulsion of Portugal’s religious orders. The working lives of the monks revolved around praying for the King’s soul and spiritual guidance for the sailors.

The first part of the “Jerónimos” monastery project was built by the craftsman Boitac, who had brought the manueline design to the “Jesús de Setúbal” church. His plan was to create something in the style most popular in Europe at that time: late gothic. While under his orders between 1502 and 1516, the project saw the building of the church, cloister, vestry and refectory. 

When, in 1517, Boitac was replaced by Joao of Castile, the project took on the renaissance style while also paying consideration to the manueline designs of his predecessor. His most prominent addition to the construction was the covering of the dome and the second floor of the cloister, an especially fine piece of work.

After the death of King Manuel I work was suspended for a long period, and it was not until many years later that the Spanish architect Diego de Torralva restarted it, followed by Jerónimo de Ruao.

In 1850 an annex to the monastery was built in the neo-manueline style and today houses the national museum of archaeology

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