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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Coimbra Monastery Symbolized Power of Portugal's Capital

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

To make room for the tombs of kings Afonso Henriques (about 1109-1185) and Sancho I (1154-1211) on the church’s altar, the choir stalls were transferred to a room on the second story. In 1513, several master carvers began to make the High Choir Chair, sometimes with gilded wood. At the top of the chair is an illustration of an episode from the maritime epic of the Portuguese Discoveries. The chair is done in the Manueline style, sometimes described as Portuguese late Gothic.


Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, undertook an extensive program of capital works in Coimbra, his seat of residence, such as the construction of the Santa Cruz Monastery (1131), the cathedral (Se Velha), reconstruction of the Roman bridge (1132), and the renovation of fountains, kilns, roads, stone pavements and the walls of the old city.

The founding of the Santa Cruz Monastery contributed to the political importance of the area. Coimbra belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine, which became an important medieval school, teaching scholars and political figures. King Afonso Henriques remained a permanent fixture in the monastery’s life, choosing it as his burial place. His son, King Sancho I, would follow his father’s choice a few years later.

Coimbra became the second capital of Portugal (1139 to 1260). (Guimaraes was the first.)

Throughout the next centuries, Santa Cruz Monastery strengthened its position as the cultural and intellectual center of the realm. It remained an important academic center linked to Coimbra University.


A view of Santa Cruz Church as seen from the choir includes a Baroque organ (1719-1724) on the left. The walls of the church are decorated with blue and white tiles that tell Biblical stories.

Church entrance is free. Tickets to the adjoining Santa Cruz Monastery are €3 and are available inside the church to the right of the altar.


The sanctuary, built around the 18th century, showcases 12 pyramids with four faces; a central altarpiece; a yellow, red and green glass lamp; windows that let in natural light, and a floor designed to create three-dimensional effects.


The Cloister of Silence (1517-1522) is in the Manueline style replaced a cloister in the Romanesque style. There are three panels of tiles from the end of the 18th century representing The Calvary, The Descent from the Cross and Ecce Homo.


The Claustro da Manga was built around 1530. It is considered one of the first buildings in Portugal. in the Renaissance style. There is a fountain that was in the center of the cloister and a small temple, formed by eight columns, which connects to four small side chapels with rectangular mirrors in front.


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