The Monastery of São João de Tarouca is intimately linked to the development of the whole municipality where it is located – mainly at a cultural level. It was the first monastery of the Cistercian Order in the newly created country of Portugal in 1152 and was founded in a place with a strong monastic tradition. Its foundation is linked to the first King of Portugal – D. Afonso Henriques, who through his gifts allowed its construction.
The monument, or what remains of it, was majestic. You can see through its huge walls, bare to be sure, but standing. A large dormitory, many cells, corridors and rooms. There was also a pharmacy. In the middle you can see the refectory, the chapter hall and the cloisters where, in the centre of one of them – which was intended for guests, so artistic and elegant – there was a work of art that was famous for the protests that were raised when it was inaugurated among the monastic community, as it did not fit in with that religious environment – it was the mermaids’ fountain. Where these gushed water through their breasts.
With the extinction of the religious orders in 1834 by D. Pedro IV, the Monastery – Convent, entered a critical state and only the convent church was saved from ruin.
To the south of the Monastery, one can find this church and the bell tower, the latter built in the 19th century and attached to one of the sides of the façade. Still showing signs of the primitive construction, the front of the church is grandiose and marked by four solid buttresses. In the middle, the 16th century doorway stands out, above which opens a niche flanked by fins, housing a sculpture of São João Baptista and topped with the Portuguese coat of arms. To the side, slightly above, are two rectangular windows with volute pediments and further up still is a distinctive rose window. At the top of the frontage you can still see a Latin Cross.
The church consists of three naves where you can admire several gilded carved altarpieces and other beautiful works of art. Near the entrance there is a polychrome wooden image from the 17th century of Nossa Senhora da Piedade and a 16th century polyptych. In a side chapel is displayed the remarkable painting of São Pedro and several stone and wood carvings fill other altarpieces.
In this church is the grandiose Romanesque tomb of the Infante D. Pedro – Count of Barcelos. Made of granite, this tomb consists of the lying statue of the honoured resting with a dog at his feet – a symbol of fidelity. Nearby is a splendid armchair made of exotic wood and on the gilded carved back you can see a gallery of figures that belonged to the Cistercian Order. Adjoining the wall is the stunning pipe organ, a baroque work.
The walls of the chancel, as well as the sacristy, are lined with 18th century tiles, where episodes alluding to the foundation of this Cistercian monastery can be seen. The main altarpiece is a work of the National Baroque – it is a superb composition of gilded woodcarving.
This set of monuments are a must-see for any history enthusiast.