The construction of this monastery, built by the order of São Domingos (Portuguese for Saint Dominic), began in the second half of the 16th century on the ancient chapel of Santo António de Lisboa (better known as Saint Anthony of Padua) that existed here since the 13th century. Having no children, Manuel Fragoso and Brites de Negreiros, wealthy inhabitants of Montemor-o-Novo, took the initiative of establishing here the monastery of Santo António de Lisboa. This decision was made under the influence of the Spanish Friar Louis of Granada, an important figure of the Dominican Order. The construction of the monastery begins in 1561, and in the presence of the Friar Louis of Granada the first stone is cast towards the edification of the church. In 1565, the church is completed and in the same year the works on the actual monastery begin. The beginning of the second phase of the work was marked by the ceremonial cast of the first stone in the presence of important personalities of the village of Montemor-o-Novo, the Alcayde D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas, his brother D. Vasco and his son D. João (the future Alcayde who would eventually be killed in the battle of Ksar El-Kebir (Alcácer-Quibir). This work dragged on until 1619, when the monastery was elevated to a priory and in the very same date the monastic life begins. By taking advantage of the building, the Dominican friars community decides to settle there for good. The convent had some degree of importance in the region and would be the lodging place for some of the important figures that passed through the old village. An example of that is the stay in 1669 of Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his entourage in the monastery when they passed through Montemor-o-Novo.
This character of the history of the monastery of Santo António de Lisboa, in Montemor-o-Novo, was crucial in the enrichment of the whole convent during the 17th century. Brás de Figueiredo e Lemos was the son of Bento de Figueiredo de Lemos and Inês de Mira. Although it is not very clear, he was related, on the paternal side, to the bishop of Funchal, D. Luís de Figueiredo de Lemos. As it seems, he had a very successful ecclesiastical career and was granted mass orders in 1633 and several important positions throughout his life. As shown by the cryptic epigraph, he was entitled “conservative judge” and “apostolic protonotary”. He was also a parish priest in the church of the former parish Safira, in the Municipality of Montemor-o-Novo, today reduced to a completely ruined urban area. Brás de Figueiredo e Lemos was a very renowned personality in the local Dominican community and that much is due to the fact that he spent a large sum for the re-ornamentation of the Monastery's Chapter Room, initially built in the 16th century. Thanks to him, this space would have new vestments, liturgical vessels in silver and a major campaign towards the coating of the walls with polychrome tiles (mostly following the pattern known as “tapete” or “carpet” in English). The Crypt where Brás de Figueiredo e Lemos would lay, as well as his brothers and parents, would also be built there.
After the extinction of the religious orders in the 19th century, the building starts declining due to abandonment. It would be sold in public auction later on. The structure of the church would eventually fall into ruin, with the back-wall of the chancel in imminent collapse. Of the first floor of the cloister, only the walls remained and the Chapter House, which lost several of its distinctive elements.
Due to the monastery's ruin, the Chapter Room lost a great deal of what made it unique as a conventual space of the municipality in the 17th century. However, thanks to new technologies it is possible to virtually reconstruct this space as it actually was, based on textual references of this site as well as the remaining architectural elements and archaeological evidences. In order for you to visit the site and be able to compare its present state to what once could be found in the 17th century, we leave you an approximation between the several elements of the virtual reconstruction of what used to be the room of the monastery where the monks gathered in assembly.
In the 17th century, the walls of this room were covered with azulejo (tiled) panels, typical of the time. Traces of every pattern used in the re-ornamentation of this room can still be found today and they allow us to piece everything together.
In the south wall, through what is left of the azulejo (tiled) panels we can see what used to be an altar, precisely underneath the parietal tombstone, which emphasizes the patronage of Brás de Figueiredo towards this room, dated from January 12, 1675. The tile covered altar could have had a figurative front of the same material but it would end up being represented with an altar cloth. On it, the banquette consists of the traditional 6 candlesticks and a silver cross.
Before the restoration work of the monastic complex, this tombstone would have been removed by locals who ventured into the ruined building. The fragments of the epigraph were found scattered across the cloister, their origin unknown. Thus, after properly identifying and piecing together the several elements, it was possible to decipher the text that it held: HAEC REQVIES MEA IN SEACULU(M) SAECULI HIC HABITABO QVONAM (...) ELEGI EAM ANNO DOMINI 1674. This inscription can be interpreted as follows: “This is my eternal rest where I chose to dwell forever. Year of the Lord 1674”.
On the North wall, on the right side of the Portal we could find a niche used to put away liturgical objects in the Chapter Room. For our virtual reconstruction we considered the similar example found on the Cafeteria of this monastery, the interior of which is covered with azulejos (tiles).
Also present on the North wall, on the left side of the portal, we could find a holy water font of which the stone base can still be seen.
Currently preserved outside of its original location, the Coat of Arms used to be placed on the upper area of the western wall, above the parietal stone which emphasizes the patronage of Brás de Figueiredo towards this room on January 12, 1675. Close to its base on the vault we can still find traces of its removal. On the coat of arms, with approximately 27 by 20 inches, we can find six tassels on the side of a hat, the symbol of the dignitary of the Catholic Church. The arms at the center represent the family Figueiredo e Lemos.
Imagination based on the historical and natural context
Conjecture based on similar structures
Representation achieved by the comparison of architecture and similar elements
Basic textual reference
Simple textual description (indicative only)
Descriptive textual reference
Detailed element description (size, materials, colors, etc.)
Brief graphical reference
Simple representation in drawing, picture or painting
Detailed graphical reference
Representation in drawing or in detailed objective picture
Basic archaeological information or simple plans
Simple archaeological evidence or schematic plans
Strong archaeological and documentary evidence in photographs and detailed plans
Precise archaeological data and other documentary evidence such as photographs and detailed plans
Existing (or partially existing) with modifications
When the structure or object exists in the present, either partially or somehow modified
Existing in accordance with the original
When the structure or object exists in the present in accordance to how it was originally built
AAVV, Cerâmica – normas de inventário (Artes plásticas e Artes decorativas), Instituto dos Museus e da Conservação, Lisboa, 2007.
FIGUEIREDO, César, APARICIO RESCO, Pablo, Escala de Evidência Histórica/Arqueológica (PT) – disponível em https://parpatrimonioytecnologia.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/escala-de-evidencia-historica-scale-of-historical-evidence [consulta a 01-10-2014].
ESPANCA, Túlio, Inventário Artístico de Portugal, Concelho de Évora, 2 vols, Academia Nacional de Belas Artes, Lisboa, 1966.
SAMEIRO, Pedro, MALTA, João, Pedras de Armas de Montemor-o-Novo, in Almansor | Revista de Cultura, n.º 2, 2.ª série, 2003, p. 101.