Europe Travel

Jerónimos Monastery – Discovering History in Lisbon

February 14, 2017

The Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon is one of the jewels of the city. Discover the beautiful architecture and history of this iconic landmark with our guide to the Jerónimos Monastery.

There’s not much I remember about my trip to Lisbon fifteen years ago. My friend Stacie and I had been interrailing around Spain and Portugal on the tightest budget ever (think cartons of wine for €1 and a lot of meals consisting of bread and cheese). We’d wandered around a lot, visited jazz clubs and that was about it… until we visited Belem and the Jerónimos Monastery.

At 17 I was a dutiful diarist, so I can tell you exactly what I thought of the Jerónimos Monastery the first time…

“I’ve never seen anywhere so amazing, so peaceful. We love Belem so much! The Jerónimos Monastery was awesome!”

Clearly at 17 there were not enough exclamation marks to help me describe my feelings. In fact, that whole diary reads a bit like that – everything was awesome or awful, with exclamation marks to match. Why have words when you can use punctuation? They do the same thing right?! 

Even so, when I stepped into the entrance of the monastery on this trip, my feelings were exactly the same. I won’t try and describe it… I’ll just drop in a picture instead. 

Monastery of San Jeronimo, Lisbon

Why Visit?

You’re probably beginning to see why the Jerónimos Monastery is famous for being  one of the most beautiful buildings in Lisbon. A day trip to Belem with a visit to the monastery, Torres de Belem and the Monument to the Age of the Discovery is a must see for any visitor to the city.

However, the Jerónimos Monastery is not just a pretty facade. The monastery has played an important role in the city’s history throughout the years and now stands as one of Lisbon’s main tourist attractions.

The monastery houses the tombs of several important figures in Portuguese history including King Manuel and the famous Portuguese seafarer Vasco De Gama. Other figures buried within the monastery include Portuguese poets Herculano and Fernando Pessoa.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to time your visit to coincide with one of the temporary exhibitions that are sometimes held in the monastery. In the past it has hosted two major exhibitions, Four Centuries of Paintings and Leonardo da Vinci: A Man at the World’s Scale, A World at the Scale of Man.

Step into the monastery’s Library and check out the permanent exhibition “A Place in Time”, which commemorates and explores the history of the monastery over the past 500 years. It offers an interesting glimpse into the history of the monastery and the lives of the monks who resided within it.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos: An Architectural Exploration

The Jerónimos Monastery showcases the ornate features of Manueline architecture, a style that is unique to Portugal. Manueline architecture features an eye-catching combination of gothic, Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles.

The exterior of the building extends over an impressive 300 metres and is constructed from limestone extracted from quarries in Ajuda, Rio Seco, Alcântara, Laveiras and Tercena. Taken as a whole, the effect is pretty dramatic.  But it’s only when you start to look at the smaller details do you see the elaborate handiwork present in each part of the construction.

South Portal - Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon The South Portal (now used as the main entrance to the monastery) is the visual crux of the monastery’s exterior, despite it only being a side entrance. It was built between 1516-1518 by João de Castilho and features Our Lady Bethlehem with Child surrounded by statues of apostles, prophets and saints. The portal’s pillars are decorated with sculptures depicting scenes from the life of Saint Jerome – the translator of the Vulgate and the Hieronymite patron.

After marvelling at the outside, you should walk through into the cloisters (which were also designed by Castilho). The cloisters are spread out over two floors:  and almost every surface is decorated with the carvings and stonework that make the monastery so special.

The Chapel of St Jerome is the heart of the monastery. Built in 1514, the chapel is a rectangular building featuring conical pinnacles at the corners and stone rope placed along the roofline. Look out for the gargoyles stationed in the corners of the chapel and enjoying the view of the sea.

History of the Monastery de San Jerónimos

The construction Jerónimos Monastery began in 1401 – it took roughly a century to complete.

King Manuel was determined that the monastery would be a grandiose building and hired several esteemed architects to achieve that vision. These architects included Diogo de Boitaca, a master of Igreja de Jesus in Setúba, João de Castilho of Spain, Diogo de Torralva and Jerónimo de Ruão (1530-1601). Together, the architects created the “jewel in the crown” Manuel required and an outstanding piece of Manueline architecture.

The original designs were predominantly in the Gothic style. By the time the monastery was complete, its design had evolved to include touches of Baroque and Renaissance design.

Much of the vast amount of money required for the monastery’s construction came from the so-called “pepper tax”. The pepper tax taxed the revenue from trade between Africa and the East.

Architectural detailing in the San Jeronimos Monastery

Manuel chose the Order of St. Jerome, also known as the Hieronymites, occupy the monastery. The Jeronimos said daily mass for the souls of Prince Henry the Navigator and King Manuel I. They also had to hear the confessions of and provide spiritual assistance to those who sailed from Belém.

In 1755 a devastating earthquake struck Lisbon, causing wholesale destruction of much of the city. Though the Monastery de San Jerónimos suffered some damage, fortunately it wasn’t severe. It has also been subject to a number of projects to restore it to its former glory. 

The Jerónimos occupied the monastery until 1833, when all religious orders in Portugal were dissolved and the monastery was vacated.

Today, the Jerónimos Monastery stands as a monument to the Age of Discovery and as a mausoleum for King Manuel I and his successors.

Planning Your Visit to the Jerónimos Monastery

Admission Costs

An individual ticket will cost you €10 and combination tickets start from €12. These combination tickets include entrance to other sites, such as Torre Belem. Entry for children below the age of 12 is free. Access to the Jerónimos Monastery is free on the first Sunday of each month.

Address

Praça do Império, Lisbon 1400-206, Portugal

Getting There

Bus- 727, 28, 729, 714 and 751

Tram- 14

Train- Belém Station

Ferry- Belém Ferry Station

Opening Times

October to May 

From 10.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (last admission at 5.00 p.m.) 

May to September

From 10.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. (last admission at 6.00 p.m.)

Closed: Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December

Love this? Check out my recent trip to the Monastery on San Francisco in Lima, Peru or read my Ultimate Guide to Things to Do in Lisbon….

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