Central Portugal: Batalha and Fatima

We’ve been very busy exploring some of the main sites in Central Portugal. We stayed for two nights at a free Aire right in the centre of Batalha, where we visited the Dominican Abbey.

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We’re skipping on a bit through our crib sheet of Portuguese history…. The 6G grandson of of Afonso Henriques who declared independence in 1139 was Joao 1. There was a bit of a to-do on the accession of Joao 1 in 1385  as he was an illegitimate child and the neighbours over in Castile objected to his claim. A major battle ensued, Joao 1 won, and had the abbey built to celebrate his victory / cement his status.

The building itself is very airy with high ceilings, pale limestone walls, and very colourful glass windows. Inside is the Founder’s Chapel, in the middle of which stand the tombs of Joao 1 and his English wife Phillipa of Lancaster.

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Around the sides stand a variety of other royal tombs. The only person I’d previously heard of was their son Henry the Navigator, who although he did all of his navigating safely from shore was a key figure in Portugal’s age of exploration. Despite being only the 5th son, he got a much more elaborate tomb than his three siblings who are also in the chapel.

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We have filed away the key bit of information that Henry the Navigator was half English (and Lancastrian at that) to be brought up should we ever happen to come across any overly patriotic Portuguese folk….

The eldest brother, Duarte, didn’t do quite so well. After becoming King he decided to have his own octagonal mausoleum built, but didn’t live long enough to see it finished. His tomb is in what is known as the “Unfinished Chapels”(the central part of the octagon may or may not have been designed to be open-air, and there are some very strange-looking truncated towers….), with tools seemingly downed pretty sharpish following Duarte’s demise.

The following day we visited nearby Fatima. Holy heck – this was religion on an industrial scale.

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The modern round building on the right contains a huuuge auditorium, set out a bit like a modern lecture theatre. I dread to think how many people it can hold. A thousand? Steps go down from the main square and underneath are many many more smaller chapels (though the ones we saw would probably each seat 200-300 people). It must be mayhem when the pilgrims descend en masse. All was quiet when we visited; we only saw one penitent woman crawling her way very slowly across the square (it seems that knee-pads are allowed).

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Mark was very excited by the nearby shopping streets, in fact I can’t say that I’ve ever seen him so enthused by shops. It was the ones selling unattracive religious tat that really caught his eye. Though perhaps tat is the wrong word, with statues commonly in the 2000-3000 Euros price range. Gulp!

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