Life in the monastry of Alcobaça

Monks founded monastry

The abbey dates back to 1153, the year in which King Afonso donated to Don Bernardo de Claraval large areas between Leiria and Óbidos. It was a wild and desolate area with plenty of water. It was located in a deep valley, 'where the sunrise was late and the sunset was early'.

Which made it an excellent place for monks, because this gave them plenty of time to pray and meditate. One of the 'rules' of the Order says that if there are (too) many monks in a monastry, 12 monks have to leave to found a new monastery elsewhere. So when monks from the monastery of Claraval (France) arrived in Alcobaça they found a deserted region, where only a few descendants of Portuguese Arabs lived.

The monks' work was not easy. They had to clear the land, fight the water, build dikes and divert rivers. The name Alcobaça is derived from the name of the 2 rivers that flow through the village: the Alcoa and the Baça.These rivers were very important to monastry life, and one of the rivers was diverted through the monastry so the monks had running water. On the side of the monastry you can still see the spot where the water was directed inwards.

Ingenious water system

The water system was, especially in that time, very ingenious. In the huge kitchen you can still see the huge basins where food was washed. By the way this is not the original kitchen: the kitchen, which is still there and is unique in its kind, was built later when many more monks joined the monastry. In the cloister you can see the door to the old kitchen. You can also see the old well in the center of the courtyard, and the fountain where the monks washed their hands before they had their meals.

A simple life

Deze vallei was des te meer een goede plek om een abdij te bouwen omdat het dichtbij de de Serra dos Candeeiros lag, waar goede steen voorhandig was. Maar eerst wachtte de monniken nog een zware taak. Om het klooster goede fundamenten te kunnen geven en te beschermen tegen overstromingen, moest de grond 12 meter verhoogd worden. Omdat de monniken gekozen hadden voor een leven van eenvoud, gebed en armoede werd de bouw van de abdij sober gehouden. Toch is de kerk nog gigantisch. De weinige versierselen die er zijn vonden hun oorsprong in de natuur. De pilaren zijn summier versierd met uit steen gehouwen afbeeldingen van o.a. palmbaderen, varens en manden, In de kerk zijn de beroemde graftombes van King Pedro en Inez de Castro. De hoofdrolspelers in het beroemde liefdesverhaal van Portugal. Dit verhaal is overal beschreven.

All the more this valley was a good place to build a monastery because it was close to the Serra dos Candeeiros, where good stone was available. But first the monks had to complete a daunting task. In order to give the monastery good fundaments and to protect it from floods, the ground level had to be raised by 12 meters. Because the monks had chosen a life of simplicity, poverty and prayer, the abbey was kept sober. Yet the church is still gigantic. The few decorations out there have their origin in nature. The pillars are meticulously decorated with carved stone palm leaves, ferns and baskets. In the church stand the famous tombs of King Pedro and Inez de Castro, main characters Portugal's most famous love story. You can read this story everywhere.

The monk and the egg

The monks were mainly involved in the exploitation of the land, and their spiritual development. They wrote and copied books and illustrated them. The room (The Scriptorium) where this took place is still visible. You can also visit the former dormitory (Dormitario). Hereyou can see very well the decoration of the pillars. They are all different.

Apart for the monks, there were also the so-called lay brothers. They worked on the land. And thanks to these people, the monasteries were so rich. They herded cattle, worked the land, sowed and reaped. In addition, the lands were leased to (poor) farmers. Often, the lease was paid with the harvest of the country and with eggs.

The story goes that in some monasteries there were so many eggs, the monks had to find a solution for the use of all the eggs. This was found in the making of pastries. Portugal is famous for its pastries. Every year in November a pastry festival is held at the monastry of Alcobaça. A better atmosphere and better cakes you can not imagine. But even if there is no festival, you can indulge yourself to pastries. Opposite the monastry you will find Pasteleria Alcoa, there you can taste all the cakes you want.

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