The Santa Cruz Monastery was founded in the reign of Afonso Henriques by a group of twelve Canons of St. Augustine.This monastic community was indeed the most important monastic house during the reigns of the first dynasty and it marked an essential period in the creation of the Portuguese identity, contributing to the political importance of Coimbra during the foundation of the realm.
Coimbra belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine and it became an important medieval school, teaching scholars and people connected with the political power who supported the new dynasty. King Afonso Henriques was a permanent figure in the monastery’s life and, in the end, chose it as his burial place, a decision his son, King Sancho I would also follow a few years later.
Throughout the next centuries, Santa Cruz became the seat of a great ecclesiastical territory and strengthened its position as the cultural and intellectual centre of the realm. From 1527 onwards, together with other Portuguese canon monasteries, the Santa Cruz Congregation was created and the Collegium Sapientiae was founded. It remained an important academic centre linked to the Coimbra University where several teachers from the Order taught.
Built from 1131 onwards, the Santa Cruz Monastery started its community life during the next year, although the construction lasted for almost another century. The main chapel was finished around 1150 and the solemn dedicated church only in 1228. The monastery became increasingly important, which lead to several changes in its structure throughout History. Nowadays there’s little left from its original Romanesque structure.
The most important change, which gave the building its current appearance, was carried out during the second half of the 16th century when King Manuel, concerned about the dignity of the final resting place of the first two Kings of Portugal, decided to finance a campaign of renovation works which improved both the outside and the inside of the building. Carried out by the most important architects and sculptures of the Manueline era, the intervention began in 1507 under the guidance of Boytac and, later, of Diogo de Castilho. It was he who designed the monumental façade while the sculptures were the work of Nicolau de Chanterenne, the famous sculpture who also renovated the graves of Afonso Henriques and Sancho I.
The works lasted throughout the reign of King John III. It was during this time that the Manga Garden, a small Renaissance architecture jewel design by João de Ruão, was built and it is worth a visit.
At Santa Cruz you should not miss:
The interior space, covered with impressive rib vaults and decorated with Baroque tile
The Claustro do Silêncio (Silence Cloister), design by Marcos Pires, with bas reliefs of scenes from the Passion created by Nicolau Chanterenne
The 17th century sacristy which includes paintings by Grão Vasco and Cristóvão de Figueiredo
The upper choir and its impressive Manueline chair
The Baroque organ, built between 1719 and 1724