On his way to Lisbon, where he would become the General Inquisitor, in 1616, the Bishop of Algarve stopped in Montemor-o-Novo. This caused a great commotion in the village and even more so for the local Alcayde D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas who, along with his wife D. Catarina, arranged to receive the cleric in the village castle. In fact, the emotion was such that at eight o’clock in the evening, D. Catarina started feeling ill and had to withdraw herself to her chambers, where she came to pass half an hour later.
It was in her loving memory that, two days after, D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas issued the construction of the crypt, in the lower choir of the church of Convento da Saudação, where she and his descendants would be laid to rest henceforth.
In August 2008, the Municipality of Montemor-o-Novo issued an archaeological intervention aiming for the preservation of the Crypt of the Mascarenhas Family, due to constant acts of vandalism and to the possibility of a project towards the recovery of Convento da Saudação being carried out.
On a wall close to the tomb of D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas, we can still read the inscription “ESTA [depiction of a sword] É. DO. SENHOR. DOM. IOÃO. SEU. PAI /. FALECIDO. EM. ÁFRICA.” (something like “THIS [depiction of a sword] BELONGS. TO. D. JOÃO. HIS. FATHER/. KILLED. IN. AFRICA.”). Placed precisely next to the body of the Alcayde was a sword which had belonged to D. João de Mascarenhas, father of D. Fernão Martins, killed in the battle of Ksar el-Kibir (Alcácer-Quibir), where the king D. Sebastião disappeared and whose body never returned from Africa.
In honor to his father, D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas requested that he would be buried with a sword that had belonged to him. It is thanks to the acceptance of that request that today we have access to the same sword.
Also known in Morocco as the Battle of the Three Kings, it was one of the most devastating battles in the history of Portugal and took place close to the city of Ksar-El-Kebir (Alcácer-Quibir) on August 4th, 1578. This historical event placed on the battlefield the Portuguese army, led by the King D. Sebastião, allied with the army of the Sultan Abd Al Malik, against the Moroccan army led by the Sultan Abu Abdallah Mohammed Saadi II.
The Portuguese monarch D. Sebastião intended to subdue the Moroccan Islam to the Christian doctrine. However, on the other side of the battlefield, albeit poorly armed, the Moroccan army had twice the men the Portuguese had, thus opposing twenty thousand men against almost fifty thousand. The Moroccan pressure was such that the Christian army had to retreat towards Larache, on the coast of Africa. Death by drowning was the fate of many, and among them was the Portuguese king, while others surrendered to the hands of the Moroccan army. Without a rightful heir to the throne, the death of D. Sebastião would leave the Portuguese empire ready for the taking by Spain. This would soon come true, for over 60 years, during the Philippine Dynasty.
Among the 9.000 killed in the battle of Ksar el-Kibir (Alcácer-Quibir) 231 were Portuguese nobles including D. João de Mascarenhas, Alcayde of Montemor-o-Novo, son of D. Vasco Mascarenhas and father of D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas, who was still a child at the time. Therefore, until he would come of age, the position of Alcayde had to fall on his mother D. Aldonça de Mendonça, widow to D. João and whose tomb could also be found in the crypt.
Although it is an old belonging of D. João de Mascarenhas, preserved by his widow D. Aldonça de Mendonça and son D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas, this sword was never wielded in the battle of Ksar el-Kibir (Alcácer-Quibir). Instead, this was an artifact that remained in Montemor-o-Novo, while D. João left with the Portuguese nobility to fight in Africa and with which, in honor to his father, D. Fernão Martins de Mascarenhas was buried.
The sword of D. João de Mascarenhas can be characterized as a rapier, a type of sword that evolved from the Spanish ropera in the late 16th century. Rather than a military sword the rapier was used in a more civil fashion. It was an ornamental item used by the nobility of the 17th and 18th centuries and if it ever had to be used in combat it would be mainly in duels. However, since duelers could not wear armor or bear shields, the use of the rapier lead to the development of defense techniques solely based on body movement and blocking with the sword itself.
Usually the rapier was a very light and very balanced sword, with its guard in the shape of a cup. This, however, is not the case with the sword of D. João, since the guard has only a circular body section followed by three cross-guards in a similar fashion.
Material: Metal (iron, silver, gold and organic material)
Specifications: Total length: 1.27 m; Hilt length: 27 cm;
Description: Sword with a lenticular blade section. The hilt features very thin and interwoven silver threads. The ricasso is gold-plated and appears to have a depiction of a coat of arms. Although undecipherable, if we look closely we can see a geometrical figure [shield] with a flower inside. The pummel is oval shaped, featuring a circular button. The guard has a circular body section and is followed by three cross-guards in a similar fashion.
FONSECA, Jorge, “A cripta dos Mascarenhas no mosteiro de N.ª S.ª da Saudação de Montemor-o-Novo”, in Almansor | Revista de Cultura, n.º 8, 2.ª série, Câmara Municipal de Montemor-o-Novo, Montemor-o-Novo, 2009;
GALAMBA, Ulrico, “A Colecção de Armas do Museu de Évora”, in Cenáculo n.º3 – boletim online do Museu de Évora, Museu de Évora, Évora, 2008 [available online in: http://museudevora.imc-ip.pt];
MATRIZNET – catálogo colectivo on-line dos Museus do Ministério da Cultura [http://www.matriznet.dgpc.pt/ - consulted in 06-17-2014].
MYARMOURY.COM – A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors [http://www.myarmoury.com – consulted in 06-17-2014].