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Portuguese church served as Knights Templar headquarters

By Catholic Online
February 16th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Convento de Cristo in Tomar, Portugal bears many striking examples of Manueline scrollwork. The portal of the church constructed around 1530 is richly sculpted in the Manueline style. To the right of the portal is the 12th-century charola or rotunda, with strong buttresses, round windows and a bell-tower.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Like all Templar round churches, its shape was modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, which was mistakenly believed to be part of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
 
The building originally started as the castle of the Knights Templar of Tomar. Built by Gualdim Pais, provincial Master of the Order of the Temple around 1160, the castle was chosen as the headquarters of the Portuguese Templars.

The Tomar castle was built as part of a Templar defense system to secure the border of the Christian kingdom against the Moors of Iberia. In 1190 the castle of Tomar resisted the attacks of caliph Abu Yusuf al-Mansur, who had previously taken other Portuguese strongholds to the South. The round church, or rotunda or charola of the castle of Tomar was built in this early period and is Romanesque in style.

By 1314, the Templars had amassed great riches and many enemies, leading to their suppression by the pope. King Dinis, however, allowed the Templar members, assets and vocation to regroup under the new name of "Order of Christ" in 1319. The Order of Christ moved to Tomar in 1357, which became its headquarters.

Today, the charola inside is opulently decorated with paintings and sculptures. Eight Romanesque columns create an arched ambulatory. The capitals depict vegetal and animal motifs, as well as a Daniel in the Lions' Den scene. The style of the capitals shows the influence of artists working on Coimbra Cathedral, which was being built at the same time. Strong Moorish and Byzantine influences mingle with the western styles, creating a fusion of east and west such as that seen in the Mezquita de Córdoba, Spain or Aachen Cathedral, Germany.

Manueline sculptures and paintings were added during a renovation sponsored by King Manuel I starting in 1499. The murals, depicting the life of Christ, are attributed to Manuel's court painter, the Portuguese Jorge Afonso. The pillars of the central octagon and the walls of the ambulatory bear polychromed statues of saints and angels under exuberant Late Gothic canopies (attributed to Flemish sculptor Olivier de Gand and the Spaniard Hernán Muñoz).

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