a monastic moment

From my balcony at Penha Longa I can see orange trees in the foreground and the lone figure of Michael, the Archangel, atop a cupola. Yet it’s not some distant church, I discover; it’s the Monastery of St. Jerome on the grounds of the hotel. The history of Penha Longa and the Monastery is inextricably linked with the history of Portugal.  Founded by Friar Vasco Martins in 1355, the historic structure was built in 1390 when King Joāo sponsored the purchase of the site for the burgeoning order of Hieronymite – or hermit – monks. The small monastery thrived, increasing its domain thanks to the grace and favor of various Kings and Princes who often stayed for long periods, preferring the cooler micro-climate of Sintra to the heat of Lisbon. In the 16th century, King Manuel built a small palace next to the Monastery as a weekend getaway for the royal family.  The Manueline style, a late-Portuguese Gothic which we’ll see a lot more of once we get to Lisbon, can still be seen in the buildings that survived the great earthquake of 1755: the Sacristy and the main entrance to the Convent, and in both the arched ceilings and twin portals of the Palace. In 1584, the Monastery played historic host to the first European visit by a Japanese delegation. (Two tiles, recently unearthed on the property, depict the visit and can be seen in the hotel’s lobby.) With the expulsion of all religious orders from Portugal in 1834, however, the compound’s days as a functioning monastery ended. The property was abandoned and left to its fate, before being purchased at auction by Viscount Olivais, Count of Penha Longa.  It passed through a shifting series of private hands until it became part of a newly built hotel in the 1990’s. Now it’s one of the more unique highlights available to guests at Ritz-Carlton’s Penha Longa property. (I mean, come on, how many hotels come with their own monastery?) The soaring spaces house majestic conference and banqueting facilities, acres of rejuvenated palace gardens with fountains, reflecting pools, and dovecotes make for inquisitive strolling, and in the former royal palace you can still get the king’s treatment at the luxurious Six Senses Spa.

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