Situated in the heart of Coimbra’s historic center, Santa Cruz Monastery (Monastery of the Holy Cross) is a stunning embodiment of Manueline architecture. Simply put, it is an absolute must-visit!
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Curious about Coimbra’s history? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the capital (in English). You can choose the tip you want to leave the guide—it’s entirely up to you!
Looking for accommodation in Coimbra? Take a glance at this handpicked selection of excellent-value hotels: accommodations in Coimbra.
A Short History of Santa Cruz Monastery in Coimbra
The origins of Santa Cruz Monastery
In the 12th century, Dom Afonso Henriques (Alfonso I), the first king of Portugal, generously granted Saint Theoton a piece of land where Santa Cruz Monastery was erected. Together with a dozen companions, Saint Theoton founded the monastery to establish the Order of the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross.
It quickly became a prominent intellectual center, attracting numerous thinkers and scholars who played a vital role in shaping the cultural and intellectual identity of emerging Portugal. Even Saint Anthony himself resided there to deepen his theological studies.
The significance of Santa Cruz Monastery in the country’s cultural and political life is evident from the fact that the first two kings of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques and his son Sancho I, found their resting place within its walls.
King Dom Manuel and the Monastery
However, as the centuries passed, the monastery gradually lost its influence, particularly to the Cistercian Order. It endured a long period of decline until the 16th century when King Dom Manuel (Manuel I) rescued it from obscurity. Manuel I aimed to restore the monastery’s former glory as the burial site of the first two Portuguese kings.
To accomplish this, he enlisted the expertise of renowned Portuguese sculptors and architects, including Diogo de Boitaca and Diogo de Castilho, as well as the Frenchman Nicolas Chantereine. Thus, Santa Cruz Monastery underwent a radical transformation, replacing its original Romanesque architecture with a flamboyant Gothic design embellished with Manueline elements. The main church, cloister, and other parts of the complex were reconstructed, giving the monastery its present-day appearance.
Santa Cruz Monastery today
Today, Santa Cruz Monastery in Coimbra stands as a spectacular testimony to the history of Portugal, attracting visitors from all corners of the globe. In essence, it is an essential stop for anyone exploring Coimbra.
Visiting Santa Cruz Monastery in Coimbra
The Monastery’s Exterior
Upon first glance, Santa Cruz Monastery leaves a grand impression with its majestic façade. Dating back to the early 16th century, the façade exemplifies the exquisite Manueline style. It showcases decorative elements inspired by the Portuguese Age of Discovery, featuring intricate maritime details such as ropes and anchors, as well as nature-inspired motifs including leaves and seashells, all masterfully carved in stone.
The Monastery’s Interior
Stepping inside the monastery, one encounters a sumptuously adorned main nave, adorned with 17th-century blue and white azulejo panels depicting scenes from the life of Saint Anthony and the history of the Order of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine.
Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful Baroque organ and the monastery choir, featuring elaborate gilded woodwork and religious sculptures.
The sacristy, dating back to the 17th century, houses paintings by Portuguese artists Grão Vasco and Cristóvão de Figueiredo.
The Tombs of the Kings
Noteworthy within the main nave are the tombs of Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, the first two kings of Portugal. Sculpted in the 16th century by French artist Nicolas Chantereine, these tombs serve as splendid examples of funerary art from the Manueline period, characterized by intricate details and symbolic motifs.
The Cloister of Silence
For a moment of tranquility, away from the city’s hustle and bustle, make sure to visit the monastery’s exquisite cloister. Constructed in the 16th century, it stands as a true masterpiece of Manueline architecture, featuring arches adorned with botanical and maritime motifs.
Getting to Santa Cruz Monastery
Bus lines 7 and 103 have stops near the monastery.
Opening Hours of Santa Cruz Monastery
Santa Cruz Monastery is open:
- Monday to Saturday: 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM
- Sunday and public holidays: 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Admission Fees for Santa Cruz Monastery
The entrance fee to the monastery is €3 per person.