The historic monastery
The sixteenth-century Jerónimos Monastery, an architectural masterpiece filled with artistic elements that have been admired for centuries, was built under the order of King Manuel I. Dedicated to the Order of Saint Jerome, which had strong connections to the monarchy, the monastery was erected close to the site where Henry the Navigator had built a church dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém in the fifteenth century. The cloister of the monastery was a serene place for prayer, meditation, and leisure for the order’s monks.
Jerónimos Monastery is an important example of Manueline, or Portuguese late Gothic, architecture. With vaulted ceilings and sophisticated decorative elements, the site reflects the ecclesiastical and royal commissions that characterized the era in which it was built. Of particular note are images from the Passion, the Cross of the Order of Christ, the royal coat of arms, botanical motifs, and late medieval images of beasts that all combine to chronicle the religious purpose of the monastery, its royal associations, and highlight the exceptional artists employed at the monastery. The monastery is also of particular significance for the Portuguese, as it symbolizes the age of exploration, when intensive national maritime campaigns spanned the globe. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Portuguese explorers reached new cities and worlds, opening up new trade routes and bringing exotic goods to Europe.
A long-standing commitment from World Monuments Fund
Receiving 2.5 million visitors a year, the Church of the Jerónimos Monastery is Portugal’s most visited monument. Continuous wear from such a high number of visitors impacts the site. Additionally, deterioration of elements, such as the stone façade, threaten its sustainability.
World Monuments Fund’s commitment to protect Jerónimos Monastery has been long-standing. Between 1999 and 2001, we conducted extensive condition surveys at the site, documenting the history of the structure and significant changes that were made to it over time. For example, alterations made in the nineteenth century resulted in demolition of the Kings’ Room and the replacement of the once distinctive pyramidal roof on the bell tower with a mitered roof. Additionally, we treated areas of the site that had deteriorated and addressed protective measures to improve drainage and prevent water infiltration.
In 2015, we contributed additional support to an ongoing comprehensive restoration project at the site being carried out by the local government in Lisbon. This phase of our work focused on the west façade and bell tower of the monastery. As a whole, the goal of the comprehensive project is to minimize the risk of deterioration at the monument and ensure a cohesive treatment of the whole site. The project, which is scheduled to conclude in 2022, includes a multidisciplinary team of historians, scientists, and restorers.
In 2016, a generous contribution to support our work at Jerónimos Monastery was made from the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage. This critical support allows us to expand our project to the south façade and portal of the monastery, thus continuing our commitment to preserving this important marker of Portuguese history.