The Convento das Chagas de Cristo was founded by Dom Jaime, the 4th Duke of Braganza c.1514, apparently as a house for the ladies of the Court and unmarried daughters and with a Church where the wives of the Dukes of Braganza could be buried. The Dukes of Braganza themselves were buried in the Monastery of St Augustine across the square. The Convent buildings have now been converted into the Pousada do Convento das Chagas de Cristo, (also known rather oddly as the Hotel Dom João IV), a luxurious, comfortable and atmospheric hotel with an excellent restaurant. We stayed for three nights and I had plenty of time to wander through the buildings, looking for signs of the convent.
It was too dark inside the Church to take photographs but this article gives some idea of the interior. Inside the Pousada I found one of the entrances to the Church off the Upper Cloister. Could these tiles also date to 17C, with similarly old frescoes on the ceiling and nearby walls?
There are many frescoes around the Pousada – these are near the Church and the middle one is interesting. It looks like a Black Friar, i.e. a Franciscan Friar of which the Second Order is the Poor Clares, the nuns who inhabited the Convent. The Friar looks very similar to a rather curious lady in the Upper Cloister, and her gruesome companion.
The Cloister is on two levels. On ground level it is open and airy with orange trees and the scent of orange blossoms. A fountain in the centre looks as though it is fed by a well on one side of the Cloister.
A small side Chapel in the Cloister is decorated with frescoes. One site says the frescoes were created by Cecilia of the Holy Spirit, a poet and painter who worked at the Convent until her death in 1723. This ‘fact’ is repeated many times on the internet, in the same words, and I searched vainly for information until Professor Jean Andrews at Nottingham University told me ‘…[Cecilia] was professed in the Convento das Chagas de Cristo at a young age and is recorded there in 1652… It was not at all unusual for professed nuns to be trained painters who produced work for their own convents and indeed other religious houses. Likewise there were many religious women who were poets… Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of information on Cecilia beyond the names of her parents and that she was born in Lisbon. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 caused massive destruction and innumerable works of art and archives were destroyed…’. But was Cecilia solely responsible for all the frescoes in the Convent? The styles seem to vary – the Franciscan Friar seems earlier than these ‘Italian’ style paintings…
And what is the meaning of a Templars’ Cross carried by two fishy maidens below these religious scenes? And another Templars’ Cross above a doorway?
The Chapter House has a wonderfully decorated ceiling and is a great surprise as you enter from the Cloister. On the walls are tiles from Delft – another surprise.
The Upper Cloister was peaceful, with traces of religious frescoes. These seemed to be more ‘primitive’ than the paintings on the ground level… And a tomb, or small shrine?
And another surprise – this room was beautifully decorated in 1820 and is now a quiet sitting area.
And as you retire to your cell you are reminded this was a religious house.
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