Convent of the Capuchos: a Souvenir in the Forest

 

The inner yard of the Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

The inner yard of the Convent of the Capuchos

Probably, you have often seen toy home decorations such as tiny fountains. Each one has its plot: a little bit of mountains, a little bit of bushes, a tiny home or a mill with a small waterfall, or something similar. They are like bonsai, and they have one thing in common: they all seem to be from a fairytale. Maybe this is one of the reasons why we love them. Which of you did not love to listen to fairytales in your childhood? Please, raise your hand. Not one hand. I knew it.

These small home fountains are part of our childhood. Now, imagine such a home decoration in full size, like a real house. That is the concept of the Convent of the Capuchos in Sintra, Portugal, or Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra da Sintra.

Emotional part

One more digression. Some people just live in their house because they must live somewhere, but others want to live in unusual houses: on the water, on a tree, on a ship, or underground. The last houses are called troll houses. Once again, these houses are from fairytales, from childhood. It seems, a few Capuchins who came to Sintra from the Convent of Arrábida to build a monastery, were fond of troll houses, because that is precisely what they have built—a house of trolls for several persons.

The inner yard of the Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

Entrance to the Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

The living area of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

The living area of the Capuchos Convent

OK, OK, I hear you saying that they were economical and strict in funds. Maybe, but it is a boring version, so let me to continue.

Earlier, coming up to any monastery, we saw its size from a distance. Every time, it was an enormous construction clearly distinguished from the surrounding nature. Quite another matter is the Convent of the Capuchos. You know you are in the monastery only when you are already in the monastery, and that picturesque shaft of mossy boulders you just passed was a fence.

The convent is fully integrated into the surrounding vegetation. A moment ago, you were walking through the forest and saw the stones overgrown by moss, and—oops: you have found yourself in the middle of the monastery’s inner yard in front of a tiny fountain similar to those from a home goods store. But this toy is very old. Capuchins came here in the 16th century to live in poverty and isolation.

Entrance to the Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

Entrance to the convent

Convento dos Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

Entrance to the Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

The Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

The only handmade decoration used in the living area of the convent was of cork, the traditional material for this part of Portugal. Monks decorated doors, jambs, shutters, and benches with it, so the second name of the monastery is “Cork Convent.” A convent must be poor, and this one is poor to no end. It was visited by some kings, and one of them said that he adored two things in his kingdom: El Escorial [the king’s residence in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial] for being so rich, and the Convent of the Holy Cross for being so poor.

Inside the living space, all made for trolls (if you remember, trolls were not tall), all the things are very small: passages, cells, kitchen, chapels, windows, doors…. The ceiling is also very low. Usually, eight monks lived in the monastery, and I am sure they managed to co-habit easily in spite of the cramped quarters.

Chapel of Our Lord in Gethsemane. Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

Chapel of Our Lord in Gethsemane

Inside of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

Inside of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

Inside of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

Inside of the Convent of Santa Cruz. Sintra, Portugal.

Entrance to the Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

Inside of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

There was one more advantage to living in poverty: for the first time for its 450-year history, the Convent of the Capuchos was robbed in the 1920s. Robbers stole the images of Santo António and São Francisco, and two candelabras. Although, wait a minute, there was one more case of robbery of the convent, in the 19th century, when Portugal disbanded all the monasteries. At that time, the convent’s library was lost forever.

Living area of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

Living area

Inside of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

Living area of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Lisbon. Frescoes by Andre Reinoso. The Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Lisbon. Frescoes by Andre Reinoso.

Living area of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

Living area of the Capuchos Convent

After visiting the Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra da Sintra, I had a desire to pack it carefully to take with me and unpack at home, for example, in a winter garden to enjoy this work of art every day.

Practical part

To get to the Capuchos Convent we took a taxi in Sintra (€10 in 2014), and in 15 minutes, we were near the entrance to the nature park, buying tickets. Since it was January, we met only two guards at the entrance and one salesgirl in the souvenir shop during the whole excursion. Thus, we had the rare opportunity to explore this tiny miracle in solitude. However, if you come here in the high season, in summer, be ready to soak up the atmosphere of poverty and isolation in the narrow passages of the convent in the company of 50 other explorers.

After the visit, we left the park and waited for a bus. It was raining. After 30 minutes, I asked a guard, will a bus arrive at all? Yes, it will arrive, but the exact time is unknown; about once an hour. When a pretty red bus stopped in front of us, we were very cold, wet, and glad to see it. Tickets cost €30 for two (?!)

It was the tourist bus which traveled a circuit, stopping near every attraction around Sintra. The ticket is valid 24 hours from the validation moment. It is very comfortable for those wanting to visit several (or all of the 14) attractions of Sintra, but not for us who wanted only one thing: to return to our Lawrence’s Hotel with its hot cozy fireplace.

The take-home message: If you want to visit only one place, castle, or palace around Sintra, and you don’t have a car:

  • take a taxi in the center of Sintra and ask a driver to wait to drive you back (the more expensive choice);
  • take a taxi in the center of Sintra and ask a driver to pick you up, for example, after two hours (or take his mobile number to call him when you are ready). This is the cheaper choice.

The cheapest and healthiest way of returning is hiking. It is about eight kilometers from the convent to Sintra along the wonderful, fairytale forest with unique trees and fresh air. However, be careful, there is no footpath, only an automobile road.

The Convent of the Capuchos is open from 9.30 a.m. till 20.00 p.m.

Ticket for adults (18–64 years): 6,50 Euros

Ticket for youths (6–17 years): 5 Euros

Ticket for seniors (over 65 years): 5,50 Euros

The inner yard of the Convent of the Capuchos. Sintra, Portugal.

22

Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra da Sintra, Portugal.

Living area of the Capuchos Convent. Sintra, Portugal.

More about Portugal:
Castles of the Knights Templar in Portugal’s History
Quinta da Regaleira as My Internal World in Sintra
Monsanto: the Most NON-typical Portuguese Village

17 Responses to “Convent of the Capuchos: a Souvenir in the Forest”

  1. wordsfromanneli Says:

    The outside photos could be Monet paintings, and the inside of the place would give me claustrophobia. But what a fascinating place!! It’s like a mini troll world, as you’ve said. And the history of the place. Old sites like this always make me wonder what went on back then. Wouldn’t it be interesting to sit in a time machine and watch the scenes from hundreds of years ago?

    Like

  2. Susie C. Says:

    I am stunned by the otherworldly beauty of these photos. I can well imagine them illustrating a volume of fairy tales. What astonishing places you and Irina have seen!

    Like

  3. suej Says:

    Fascinating place!

    Like

  4. mariafalvey.net (@mariafalvey) Says:

    Gorgeous structures and incredible grounds – I can’t think of a better site to reconnect, reflect and “be.”

    Like

  5. natasha Says:

    Beautiful Images…

    Like

  6. Amy Says:

    Absolutely incredible! Great photos, Victor!

    Like

  7. Martin Elsant Says:

    do the small cells for living quarters have any windows? Are they dug into the adjacent ground/mountain or are the cells above ground? And what is the size of the average living quarter cell? As I’m sure you know, Lord Byron wrote about this convent in Childe Harold ( Canto i, Stanza 20: “Deep in yon cave Honorius long did dwell, In hope to merit Heaven by making earth a Hell.”) That’s why I’m curious, was it just Honorius who lived in a cave-like cell, or did all eight of the monks there live in similar conditions to his?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Victor Tribunsky Says:

      Several buildings of the convent are “taped” to rocks, therefore some rooms have windows, some have not. I don’t know which cell Honorius could choose. One of the windows you can see on the photo. Cell size is a little bit more than a bed.
      Thank you for the questions, Martin.

      Like


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