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Monastery of Seiça: National Monument since June 22, 2023

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After the Christian reconquest of Coimbra in 1064, there was a proliferation of monasteries and convents that played a decisive role in the settlement of the populations of this region and in their evangelization. This would have been the case of the Monastery of Seiça.

The date of its foundation is not known, but the oldest known document about this Monastery is dated March 20, 1162, when its Abbot D. Martinho presented himself at the granting of the “Carta Libertatis” (Charter of Freedom), given by the 7th Bishop of Coimbra, D. Miguel Paes Salomão, for the benefit of the Crusader friars of the Monastery of Santa Cruz de Coimbra, then led by the Prior D. João Teotónio.

The Monastery of Santa Cruz was founded in 1131 by the Archdeacon D. Telo, D. João Peculiar and D. Teotónio (the first Prior of the Monastery and the first Saint of Portugal) and also by other religious. The religious of the Monastery of Santa Cruz adopted the rule of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, called “black canons” in reference to the color of the habit of the robe they wore, or “crúzios” (cross) because they were based in Portugal at the Monastery of Santa Cruz.

The community life of the Crusader friars of the Monastery of Santa Cruz began in 1132, when the construction of this monastery also began. The first monastic building was completed around 1150 and on January 7, 1229, its church was consecrated.

The Carta Libertatis granted great privileges to the Monastery of Santa Cruz de Coimbra, and to all the Convents under its administration, exempting from episcopal jurisdiction all the inhabitants of the monastery and its lands, thus giving rise to the “Exempt of St. Cross”, which allowed them to more freely build their patrimony and extend their local and regional influence without intervention from the Chapter of the See of Coimbra. But the Carta Libertatis was the basis of future quarrels between the Crusader friars of the Monastery of Santa Cruz and the Bishopric of Coimbra, which lasted for several decades.

In reality, Bishop Miguel Salomão may not have been exempt, because he came from the Monastery of Santa Cruz when he assumed the Bishopric in 1162, and returned there in 1176, tired of so many quarrels, dying in 1180.

In fact, with the Carta Libertatis, the Prior João Theotónio obtained great exemptions and advantages, because it was ordered that the Monastery of Santa Cruz and its Churches should be free and exempt from the subordination of the Bishopric of Coimbra, and should constitute a private Bishopric for itself, with the support of King Afonso Henriques, Bishop Miguel Salomão, Bishop of Coimbra and one of the twelve founders of the Monastery of Santa Cruz, the Canons of the Cathedral and almost the entire Court.

In compensation for this privilege granted to the Monastery of Santa Cruz, its Prior D. João Teotónio ceded to the Bishop of Coimbra, D. Miguel Salomão, and to the Canons of his Chapter, the “Villa de Lavãos (Lavos), which is beyond the Mondego River, of which the said King D. Affonso had made a donation” in 1166.

This contract was concluded on March 20, 1162, in the chapter of the Monastery of Santa Cruz de Coimbra, with King Afonso Henriques, his son Sancho, the Archbishop of Braga João Peculiar and the Bishop of Coimbra Miguel with the Canons of his Chapter present.

Also present, and signing as witnesses, were Count D. Vasco, Gonçalo de Souza, Nuno Velho, Pedro Paez, Martim Zouparel, Hermigio Moniz, Martim Avaya, and “other Greats, and Lords of the Court”, and some abbots of the holy Orders of S. Bento, and S. Bernardo, namely: D. João, Abbot of Lorvão, D. Giraldo, Abbot of S. João de Tarouca, D. Diogo, Abbot of Pedroso, and D. Martinho, Abbot of Seiça, and D. Miguel, Abbot of S. Cristóvão de Lafões.

From the Carta Libertatis we find that in March 1162 the Monastery of Seiça already existed, with monks, and its Abbot was D. Martinho, but we do not know the exact year of its foundation. Probably, the construction of the primitive Monastery of Seiça, or a rebuilding of something precarious existing, had its beginning with D. Afonso Henriques (1109-1185), who reigned from 1140 to 1185, that is, it was founded between 1140, date of the beginning of his reign, and 1162, date in which D. Martinho represented the Monastery of Seiça in the signing of the Carta Libertatis.

The Monastery of Seiça was not completed until the end of the reign of D. Afonso Henriques (1185), because “before the work was finished, God separated him from the number of the living, but among many recommendations he made to his son, D. Sancho, he deserved particular care for the monastery of Seiça”, which reigned from 1185 to 1211 (long after the Carta Libertatis granted in 1162).

It seems to us that the year of the foundation of the Monastery of Seiça is not much earlier than 1162 and is probably later than 1064, when Ferdinand the Great expelled the Muslims from Coimbra, or even later than 1116, when the Muslims destroyed the castle of Santa Eulália.

In 1572, on June 15, the construction of the current Monastery of Seiça began, entirely new, passing from south to north, according to a project and direction of the “architect” Mateus Rodrigues, an artist of great technical ability, who will have worked on the works that were taking place at the time in the Monastery of Alcobaça.

The construction of the current Monastery of Seiça began in the 16th century (June 15, 1572), although it is often said that it was built by D. Afonso Henriques, confusing the current Monastery with its demolished predecessor, which was located south of the current Convent. One thing is the foundation and construction of the primitive Monastery of Seiça (south of the current one) in the 11th or 12th century, another thing is the current Monastery of Seiça which is from the 16th century.

Founded approximately 900 years ago, the Monastery of Seiça has been a National Monument since June 22, 2023.

MeetFigueira Note: Decree No. 13/2023, of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which extends the classified area of the Monastery of Santa Maria de Seiça and reclassifies it as a “National Monument” was published in the Diário da República of July 7, 2023. According to the publication, “to its undeniable historical and heritage value is added the interest assumed by the municipality in its rehabilitation, justifying both the reclassification and the extension of the classified area to the entire convent area”. The diploma reclassifying the monastery was seen and approved by the Council of Ministers on June 22, 2023. The decree enters into force on the day following its publication. After the rehabilitation, it will be visitable and have a museum function, integrating routes of the medieval Portuguese Cistercian movement.

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AUTHOR

Fernando Curado

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