This has to be one of the longest buildings I saw in Portugal: It stretched and stretched along the road, its towers hovering above the lines of the apartment and office buildings nearby. It’s a beautiful spot with lots to explore and see, and a bit of a focal point for visits in the area.
The Order of Jerónimos
What kind of monks set up this place? Glad you asked! They were the Order of Jeronimos, modeling themselves after the Rule of St. Augustine and set up shop in this particular patch of land in the late 1400s. When you visit the monastery, you may notice a distinct lack of brown and white robes. That’s because most male cloisters have disbanded or fell apart, the only one still officially active being in Segovia, Spain. As for the female cloisters, those are alive and well, with multiple cloisters in Spain and one in India still up and operating. The order’s followers are sometimes called Hieronomytes, as the Latin name for the order is Ordo Sancti Hieronymi.
The Church of Santa Maria and The Cloister
The real allure of visiting the monastery is the views of the church and the cloister. You have to pay to enter the cloister, with queues starting up about 30 minutes before opening. You’ll also see similar lines for the church beginning a bit early but they tend to move relatively quickly.
The Church of Santa Maria is known for its beautiful columns and ceilings, which you can view from ground level (free) or via the cloister on the second floor (paid). It’s a serene peacefulness inside. So serene, in fact, that Vasco do Gama decided to make this church his final resting place! All that adventuring must have tired him out but I don’t think he could have picked a nicer place to enjoy his final rest.
The cloister is truly serene and peaceful: You can walk on the first floor and see ruined fountains and soak in some sunshine or you can go to the second floor and take a look at some of the nice architectural details in the awning and columns. You can see some fine details, some of which are nautical themed, in keeping with its proximity to the launching point of the great age of discovery from Lisbon.
Whether or not you go into the cloister (I highly recommend that you do, though), it’s well worth your time to stop in and take in the sights!