By: ELOISE WALTON
MONCHIQUE’S DECAYING 16th century Franciscan Convent has been abandoned by the council and left to be squatted in by a local man.
The Resident received a letter last month from a reader concerned about this monument and it was soon apparent that little written material or photographs exist on the building overlooking the town of Monchique.
During a visit to the site, the damage caused to the building was evident and also the graffiti that had been painted in red above a side door where a middle aged man stood and watched the occasional foreign visitor.
When approached, the man, who preferred to remain anonymous, allowed
visitors to enter the building through the side door that he guarded. “The convent belongs to the council,” he said.
The building shows the now rare Manueline or Portuguese Late Gothic architecture of the period in which it was constructed. Many of the buildings from this period were destroyed during the 1755 earthquake.
Monchique convent was built as a quadrilateral with the eastern side consisting of an atrium in which a coat of arms can be seen known as the Leão dos Silvas, the Lion of the Silva family, the body of the church and a chapel.
The northern side is made up of the old sacristy and the ruins of another chapel.
On the western side there is the front of the chapel and cells while the southern side is occupied by more cells, the front of the church and a tower. An old cloister occupies the centre of the structure while the doorway of an old mortuary is located under rough arches in the southern part.
Above and below this arcade was a corridor known as the Via Sacra, the sacred path, which was depicted with blue and white tiled crosses, some of which can still be seen.
A refectory was housed in the western side of the convent which still has the remains of a large tiled image of Leonardo Da Vinci’s the Last Supper.
Monchique Câmara reveals that the convent of Nossa Senhora do Desterro, Our Lady of Exile, was founded in 1631 by Pero da Silva, who later became the vice-Roy of India.
According to legend, the founding of the convent was due to a promise made by two sailors at sea who swore to build a church at the first site of Portuguese land. The legend also says that the founder brought with him a small ivory image of the Saint, which the monks venerated after his death as a relic until in 1834 it was hidden to save it from the strong winds before being recovered by a local lady. Our Lady of Exile’s image is currently stored at the hermitage of S. Sebastião in the Algarve.
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