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Visitors to Lisbon will be duly impressed with the Jeronimos Monastery. Founded in 1501 as a tribute to the Virgin Mary and the success of Portugal's early seafaring explorers, it remains as a stunning example of the era's architecture and stands as part of a larger World Heritage Site.
Lisbon, Portugal (Catholic Online) - King Manuel I (1495-1521) of Portugal asked papal permission in 1496, to construct a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The purpose was to offer thanks for the successful voyage of Vasco de Gama to India, which was the first successful ocean navigation from Europe to India. Construction of the monastery began in 1502 and took about 100 years.
During the time of de Gama's voyage and the reign of Manuel I, spices were in great demand throughout Europe. Many spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, and pepper, sold for their weight in gold. Voyages were very profitable, with the potential of making their sponsors quite wealthy.
The Portuguese king, along with many other regents of his time, saw this as a way to generate stupendous wealth. The rare and greatly-valued imports were heavily taxed and the construction of the Jeronimos monastery was so financed.
The architecture is a fantastic blend of Moorish, Gothic, and renaissance trends. This particular blend of architectural styles appears to have remained largely in Portugal, so the monastery is one of the few places in the world where examples of "Manueline" architecture can still be seen.
The monastery has several notable features and monuments. On a pillar is a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator, the early pioneer of Portuguese, and indeed, European overseas exploration.
Artwork prominently features St. Jerome, patron saint of librarians. St, Jerome was a late citizen of the Roman empire who is best known for his translation of the Bible and his stalwart defense of the virginity of Mary.
For history buffs, the monastery is the resting place for several famous Portuguese figures, including King Manuel I and Vasco de Gama. Several other royals are entombed there.
Of course, visitors can also see the cloister and church that were central to the daily life of the monastery until it was nationalized in 1833. The church and cloister were known as a house of refuge and prayer for sailors preparing to depart on long, dangerous voyages to Asia or the Americas.
The monastery has been renovated and restored several times throughout the ages. It miraculously escaped significant damage in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and has suffered more from periodic neglect than anything. However, today it is a thriving tourist attraction and stands in excellent repair.
Today, in addition to its place as a World Heritage Site, the monastery has hosted the 2007 signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, which guided political reform of the European Union.
The site is open to the public during all days except Monday, and the entrance fee for most adults is around $7.00 USD.
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