The Historic Monastery
One of the most important monuments in Portugal, Jerónimos Monastery is the country’s most visited heritage site. The sixteenth-century 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, the monastery was erected close to the fifteenth-century Church of Santa Maria de Belém. Its cloister 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 historical significance, as it was built during Portugal’s age of exploration, when intensive national maritime campaigns spanned the globe.
Challenges to the Site
Being the most visited monument in Portugal, the site suffers from the continuous wear of tourism. Furthermore, the degradation of the church’s domes and walls, detected namely due to the fall of joint mortars, raised general awareness of the overall deterioration of the site.
A long-standing commitment from World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund’s commitment to the Jerónimos Monastery has been long-standing. Between 1999 and 2001, the WMF Portugal Scientific Comitee and Staff conducted extensive condition surveys at the site, documenting the history of the structure and significant changes that were made to it over time.
Then, between 2012 and 2013, a case-study intervention was performed in specific interior areas of the church before its preliminary stages were implemented. This allowed the project team to identify water filtration problems that demanded conservation efforts, not only in the interior domes and walls of the monument, but also of its exterior masonry walls and terraces.
This work led to the design of a global plan for the conservation of the exterior and interior of the monument. The plan was divided into ten stages, allowing the monument to be open for public visitation and to stay functional for religious cult and state protocol events while ensuring the financial sustainability of the intervention.
In 2014 WMF Portugal contributed financially and scientifically to the plan by implementing phase Interiors 2, regarding the interior north wall and correspondent row of vaults of the central nave. Following this stage, in 2015, WMF contributed additional support to an ongoing comprehensive restoration project at the site in partnership with the Ministry of Culture of Portugal. This phase of work focused on the west façade and bell tower of the monastery. A generous contribution from the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage in 2016 allowed for the expansion of the project to the south façade and portal of the monastery
The goal of this comprehensive project is to minimize the risk of deterioration at the monument and ensure a cohesive treatment of the whole site. It is scheduled to conclude in 2022 and includes a multidisciplinary team of historians, scientists, and restorers.
WMF’s ten-stage plan is made up of six interior and four exterior stages. Exterior stage two, concluded in 2017, focused on the south façade of the church. It included the construction of a new drainage system in zinc over the existing masonry channels to prevent water infiltration issues. Conservation work on stained-glass windows and their iron railings was also completed.
Interior stage three was completed in December 2019 and focused on conservation of the south row of vaults and adjoining walls of the main nave, and of two central vaults of the upper choir, addressing water filtration issues, and restoring stained glass windows and the the rose window. The WMF Portugal team will now focus on the interior of the church’s and will prepare the next intervention phase.
WMF Portugal’s management of the conservation work was performed in partnership with the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage’s multidisciplinary team assigned to this project and with the supervision of its Scientific Committee. The project was funded by the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, the Annenberg Foundation, Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, Energias de Portugal (EDP), Millenium bcp Foundation, Brisa, and the Automobile Club of Portugal (ACP) Team 4.