Church of Saint Mary Major of Tarouquela – Cinfães

Nowadays, the historical importance of Tarouquela is only shown in the remnant Church, which was part of one of the first female monasteries of the Benedictine Order built to the south of the Douro.

Its origin, in the mid-12th century, associates this monastic house to a couple, Ramiro Gonçalves and his wife D. Ouruana Nunes, who acquired a property that used to belong to Egas Moniz, King Afonso Henriques’ tutor, and his wife.

In this house they founded a Monastery that was recognized by the bishop of Lamego in 1171 and confirmed by their descendants. Although, initially, Tarouquela followed the Rule of Saint Augustine, with D. Urraca Viegas, the daughter of Egas Moniz de Ortigosa, the habit was changed and the nuns began to profess the Benedictine Rule.

Run by dynasties of abbesses, the history of this Monastery crosses its paths with the one of the region’s most notable families. The influence of the Resendes ceased to be felt almost simultaneously in Tarouquela and in Cárquere (Resende), where Vasco Martins de Resende, the nephew of abbess D. Aldonça, was buried; she is mentioned in the transition from the 13th to the 14th century and was one of the most active abbesses with a long ruling period, which allowed her to make use of assets within her family circle.

It is natural that, with the end of the Resendes’ influence, the office would fall into the hands of family members and patrons of the Monastery, even if only temporarily. In the 14th century, we find Tarouquela in the hands of the Pintos, from Ferreiros de Tendais. From the 15th century onwards, the nieces succeed their aunts, keeping the power within a family that was closely related to Porto’s urban elites.

In the 15th century, the Monastery was already showing some signs of decline. In addition to its intrinsically family nature, its physical isolation and size, there were some noticeable signs of neglect by the Tarouquela nuns. The abbesses often broke their celibacy vows and acted according to their own personal interests.

In 1535, an alderwoman, the abbess of Arouca, D. Maria de Melo, moved to Tarouquela to calm the turmoil resulting from the royal will to extinguish the Monastery and prepare the transition to the Monastery of Benedict of Hail-Mary, in Porto, in 1536. This Monastery, founded in 1514 by King D. Manuel I (k. 1495-1521), was built to gather nuns from different female institutes, such as Tarouquela, in a single place.


1134 – Prince D. Afonso Henriques donates the manor of Tarouquela to Egas Moniz and his wife; its (extensive) limits show the territory’s importance and value; nevertheless, in the same year, they traded the manor for a horse with Ramiro Gonçalves and his wife D. Ouruana Nunes;

1162 – According to Viterbo, at least from this year onwards, there was a Convent in Tarouquella, in which the Rule of Saint Augustine was kept;

1171 – The bishop of Lamego recognizes the existence of the Monastery, founded by Ramiro Gonçalves, dubbed “o Quartela”, and D. Ouruana;

1185 or 1187 – The founders’ children and grandchildren confirmed the donation of their church, of prior foundation, to the Monastery, endorsing it to D. Urraca Viegas, who was also the founders’ granddaughter, for her to rule it spiritually and temporally;

1187-1194 – With the support of her relatives, the abbess managed to change the habit in Tarouquela;

Late 12th century/early 13th century – Construction of the Church of the Monastery of Tarouquela;

1214 – Possible consecration or completion of the chancel, according to an inscription identified by Mário Barroca;

1224 – Chartering of Tarouquela, by action of King D. Sancho I;

1232 – According to the news of the foundation of the Monastery of Tarouquela, drafted in the 17th century, D. Urraca would have donated all her possessions to the Monastery;

1291-1340 – The office of D. Aldonça Martins de Resende was one of the most active in Tarouquela;

1312 – It was confirmed that the archbishop of Santiago had no rights over the crops due to the Church of Tarouquela;

1315 – D. Rodrigo, bishop of Lamego, ended the dispute he had begun with Tarouquela;

14th century (Second half) – The Monastery of Tarouquela enters the Pintos’ sphere of influence;

From the 15th century onwards – There is an actual permanence of certain families at the head of the Monastery of Tarouquela;

1481-1495 – Construction of the Chapel of Saint John the Baptist, during the reign of King D. João II and due to a bond established by Vasco Lourenço;

Around 1500 – Design of the image of the Virgin of the Milk;

1514 – King D. Manuel I orders the foundation of a Monastery in Porto to incorporate the female institutes of Tarouquela, Tuías, Vairão, Vila Cova and Rio Tinto;

1535 – An alderwoman moves to Tarouquela, to calm the turmoil resulting from the royal will to extinguish the Monastery and prepare the transition to the Monastery of Saint Benedict of Hail-Mary, in Porto;

1536 – The nuns of Tarouquela are transferred to the Convent in Porto; the external administration of Tarouquela from this Monastery begins;

17th-18th century – Expansion works in the chancel of Tarouquela;

1713 – Of the former monastic complex of Tarouquela, only the parish lands and residence are documented;

1758 – There were almost no traces of the monastic space;

1945 – Listing of the Church of Tarouquela as a National Monument;

1970s – Conduction of major restoration works in the Church of Tarouquela, under the responsibility of DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments];

2010 – Integration of the Church of Saint Mary Major in the Route of the Romanesque.

Architecture and Furniture

The history of Tarouquela provides an excellent insight into the artistic traces left by the different periods in this once monastic Church. Although the foundation of the Monastery of Saint Mary of Tarouquela dates back to the 12th century, its Romanesque traces lead us to a later chronology, likely from the early 13th century.

The architecture and ornamentation of this Romanesque Church illustrate the best kind of work made in this region. The sculpture shown on the portals, crevices, capitals, corbels, tympanum and chevet, attest an artistic richness that, above all, intends to convey a symbolic message.

Part of this sculpture is intended to have a pedagogical mission, i.e., to convey God’s message: in Medieval Times, the church was associated with the earthly image of the House of God. In this sense, the Church of Tarouquela clearly demonstrates, through its shapes and sculpture, the catechetical mission that Romanesque buildings attained in our territory.

The ornamentation of the chevet’s sculpture, both outside and inside, embodies one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture within the Portuguese territory.

Despite having undergone expansion works in the Modern Period (17th/18th centuries), in order to receive the main altar, it takes advantage of Romanesque stonework, as evidenced by the abundance of stonemasons’ initials.

Inside, we should highlight the presence of Benedictine themed sculpture – animals with an apotropaic function (protection from evil); two men with a single head; the serpents; the mermaid; a man between two birds; the palmettes from Braga and the geometric ornamentation.

Another interesting element is the Romanesque consecration altar and its corresponding tabernacle, embedded in one of the chancel’s blind arcades, on the Epistle side. The triumphal arch’s decoration should also be highlighted, as it features the depiction of outraged animals.

The corbels are also unique and represent human weaknesses such as, for example, the exhibitionist, that is, a squatting man holding his genitals. On the left elevation, there is a female representation with exposed genitalia.

However, what has been attracting the most attention is the main portal’s layout. Its composition reflects a very complex ornamental programme, being considered as one of the most curious examples of Portuguese Romanesque sculpture.

In this space we must highlight the work of the capitals, but it’s the so-called dogs of Tarouquela that surprise us the most. They are placed on the imposts, on each side of the portal and may be described as a pair of four-legged animals with nude human bodies hanging from their jaws, attached by the legs. With a clear apotropaic nature, they show a desire to ward off evil forces. Adjoining the Church’s right elevation we find the funerary Chapel of Saint John the Baptist (the current sacristy), which was established by Vasco Lourenço in the late 15th century.

Until 1980, we could still find some graves inside the Church, which we may currently see on the outside. We do not know who the buried people are, however, some symbols found in the sepulchral lids give us some clues such as, for example, the representation of a sword and an abbess’ crosier.

Although the current image of the Church’s interior is mainly a result of restoration works carried out in the 1970s, the truth is that the building once had five altars. Today, we may only see the main altar and another one, located on the nave’s left side, both fitting into the Baroque aesthetics.

In the collateral altars (stone altar tables), we should highlight the minor traces of mural painting, displaying interesting Manueline decorative bars.

The medium-relief sculpture of the enthroned Virgin breast-feeding Baby Jesus, dated back to circa 1500 and manufactured by a Brussels workshop (or in Malines), is a remarkable work.

This representation of Saint Mary Major, placed on a corbel in the main altarpiece, on the Gospel side, combines the medieval hieratism of the majestic pose and a virtuosity that seems to appeal to modern piety.

Regular guided visits

By appointment.

Opening times

Celebrations: Saturday – 3.30 pm; sunday – 9 am (winter); saturday – 5.30 pm; sunday – 9 am (summer)


Church of Saint Mary Major of Tarouquela
Lugar do Mosteiro, Tarouquela