Monastery of Saint Martin of Mancelos – Amarante

The Monastery of Mancelos stands near Amarante and within the boundaries of the diocese of Porto, in a place where agriculture still prevails as the main activity. Since ever, and particularly in the Middle Ages, the monasteries were very attracted by the fertile agricultural land, hence their main livelihood. And these, the better they would be if they allowed for pasture and grazing and if, in their vicinity, possessed forests for the supply of the, so fundamental, wood.

According to data from the Bull of Callisto II (p. 1119-1124), this Monastery already existed in 1120, so its foundation is certainly prior to that date, coinciding with the period of life of Garcia Afonso and Elvira Mendes, first in the lineage of the Portocarreiros.

Mancelos was passed as patronage and family ecclesial space to their descendants, particularly the Fonseca family, thus considered the true paradigm of private churches. Effectively, in the 14th century, an impressive number of families claimed rights to this Monastery.

Thus, this Monastery turns out to be a good testimony of private strategies for the foundation of monastic structures, more concerned with territorial control than with the creation of centres of evangelization, hence the history of the foundation of this monastic house is almost absolutely unknown in the chronicles of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine.

In 1540, King João III donated Mancelos to the religious order of Saint Gonzalo of Amarante, which Pope Paul III (p. 1534-1549) confirmed two years later. Mancelos would become, thereafter, a centre of administrative action and evangelization for the Preachers from Amarante, thus representing one of the most important monastic complexes of that Order in Portugal.

Today, Mancelos stands out for the variety of structures that incorporate it, from the galilee flanked by the simple tower, to the area of the ancient cloister and, inevitably, its interesting Church.

Although it has undergone several transformations over the centuries, the Church maintained significant portions of the Romanesque Period. The existence of an inscription engraved on a loose ashlar, which may still be found today on the site where once stood the cloister, near the sacristy, takes us back to the year 1166 (Era 1204).

Despite telling us nothing about the nature of the event commemorated, in addition to being decontextualized, the truth is that its epigraphic quality suggests that it relates to some important moment in the history of the Monastery, perhaps the consecration or dedication of the Romanesque work. We must not forget that the Monastery was already dated in 1120.

Inside, only the triumphal arch remains an element reminiscent of Romanesque times, despite its pierced capitals, result of the modern period imposing carved elements that the restoration interventions of the 20th century removed. The archivolts have no decor and the impost is identical to the one in the main portal.

Of the Baroque campaign, only the Johannine altarpiece, which occupies the entire back wall of the apse, remains. Between the columns, four corbels with images of the patron saint (Saint Martin of Tours), of Saint Francis of Assisi and of the Dominicans saints, Saint Dominic of Guzman and Saint Gonzalo of Amarante. The sculptures are datable between the second half of the 17th century and the second half of the 18th century.

In the nave, two collateral altars and a lateral one shelter harbour contemporary devotions represented by modern images: Virgin of the Rosary of Fátima, Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Virgin of Sorrows.

Painting takes on an important role in Mancelos due to the large collection dispersed across the ecclesial space. Of the five paintings on chestnut wood, we highlight the martyr Saint Sebastian, naked and pierced with arrows; the Virgin of the Rosary wrapped in an almond-shaped edge formed by roses, with the Child in her arms; Saint Martin in the chair and the representation of Friar Bartholomew of the Martyrs, whose biography informs to have been particularly linked to the building of the Convent of Saint Gonzalo to which contributed the revenues of Mancelos.

There is still one on linen canvas, which seems to portray the scene of the miracle commonly known as Saint Dominic is served at the table by angels, taking as a model for the composition of the scene of the Last Supper, emphasizing the role that Dominic sought to play throughout his life as an imitator of Christ.

History

1120 – The Monastery of Mancelos existed as a manor of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine;

1129-1152 – Documented between these dates, D. Raimundo Garcia, of the lineage of the Portocarreiros, would have made a donation to Mancelos;

13th-14th centuries – Chronology attributable to the remaining Romanesque traces;

14th century – Mancelos was a commendation of the archbishop of Braga;

1320 – The Church of Mancelos was taxed in 600 Portuguese libras to support the Crusades;

1540 – Donation of the Church of Mancelos by King João III, to the Convent of Amarante, of the Order of Preachers;

1542 – Pope Paul III confirms the donation made by King João III;

17th-18th centuries – The integrated and movable heritage of the Church of Mancelos suffers some interventions, including the design of the altarpiece and respective images;

1864 – The parish priest of Mancelos, Joaquim Lopes Carvalho, considered the state of the building to be deplorable;

1934 – The Church of Mancelos is listed as Building of Public Interest;

60s – Beginning of restoration works;

1979 – A Special Protection Zone around the monastic ensemble of Mancelos is defined;

1979-1985 – Conservation works commissioned to the Fabriqueira Commission of Mancelos;

2010 – Integration of the Monastery of Saint Martin of Mancelos in the Route of the Romanesque.

Architecture and Furniture

The Church of Mancelos features a longitudinal planimetric development, defined by a considerable differentiation of volumes, which highlights the rectangular nave, higher than the chancel and galilee, the latter with quadrangular planimetry. Evidently breaking this longitudinal development, the bell tower, which adjoins the galilee on the south side, appearing as a vertical element, stands out within the surrounding landscape.

First, this monumental ensemble differentiates itself for integrating this massive tower, but also and mainly because it preserves the galilee bordering the main façade, thus sheltering the portal.

The galilee stands as an extremely simple body, torn by a slightly broken arch, allowing access to the inside and whose gable is interrupted by a niche that once would have housed an image.

Given the difference in height between the galilee and the Church’s façade, it is possible to see the gable of the latter. Here we gaze upon the same set merlons adorning the galilee (and which remember the contour of Gothic cantilevers), as well as the existence of a narrow crevice which allows the entrance of light in the nave. In the gable angle, a Baroque-style terminal cross.

The Church’s main portal with its four archivolts, slightly broken, which rest on elegant capitals where the sculpture, of fine design, attaches to the basket, evidence of the approaching Gothic.

Based on the model created by the volutes of the Corinthian capitals and botanic motifs, with little relief, which create certain homogeneity to the ensemble, despite the compositional differences between the various capitals. Elaborated imposts, with rounded off elements, whose monumentality is enhanced by the dihedral logs in the archivolts.

The surrounding arch shows us a decorated modinature with threaded geometric motifs. The tympanum is supported by two corbels where two figures, of atlantean-style, one female, one male, were carved.

Adjacent to the galilee, the tower proudly boasts its apparatus of medieval cut composed of ashlars of several sizes. It is topped by a double bell on the main façade, sitting on a cornice and featuring a classicizing language, outcome of an intervention occurred between the 17th and 18th centuries.
In the rear and side façades, a series of merlons of pyramidal profile, alluding to the military traits intended for this type of construction. The access to the interior of the tower is made through a round portal, cut by a lintel, which, in its axis, features a narrow crevice and a rectangular window.

Regarding the Church, its apparel can be described as irregular, with its different sized ashlars. In some of them, the initials can still be identified, evidence of the late nature of the Mancelos edification.

In addition to sections of Romanesque vestments still visible on the side façades, a set of smooth modillions, whose shape is characteristic of the close cantilevers of wooden beams, stand out.

On both façades, two rectangular glass panes, characteristically modern, were torn in the Romanesque vestments, for better lighting of the nave’s interior. On the south side, halfway up the nave, a series of cantilevers hints out the existence of a porched structure. Also here, a straight lintel door allows access to the inside of the nave.

We must not forget that a cloister once existed on this side. It is, therefore, for this reason that we must understand the location of the arcosolium that houses sepulchral arch, opening at floor level.

In 1944, Armando de Mattos mentioned this tomb for the first time, with a zoomorphic representation. The author of the Guide to Portugal alludes to the three curious symbols that appear next to a figurative medallion: a cross and two equestrian figures. In turn, Mario Barroca streamlined this sarcophagus in the family of those with simple motifs.

Also, in the tower, a perfect round communication arch was opened to allow access to the cloister. A study on the sacristy’s façade shows us the presence of three broken arches, which are now covered, that allow us to guess the adaptation of an older space to the new functions.

To this also contributes the existence of a cornice supported by modillions identical to those in the nave. A set of cantilevers placed in the vestment, on the level immediately above the arches, allows us to confirm this possibility. What kind of space would that be? A former sacristy or even a chapter room? Considering the fact that it is built on masonry, it would certainly be one of the noblest spaces of monastic life. Which one, we cannot say.

The adaptation of this space to a sacristy would have occurred sometime during the Modern Period as indicated by the shape of the porthole, with a quatrefoil design, and of the niche opened in the central arch. In the top arches, straight lintel doors, surmounted by circular oculi, were open. We believe this intervention to be contemporary of the one which designed the bell which finishes the tower.

On the north side of the nave, we highlight several scars on the outer vestment, reflecting the various transformations to which the building was submitted.

Closed by a wooden barrel vault, the nave of the Church of Mancelos is extremely sober, with its vestments in granite, fully visible, where crevices of an evident Romanesque flavour cohabit with large windows characteristic of Modern Age.

Topped by a crevice, the triumphal arch remains as a trace of Romanesque times. Composed of two slightly broken archivolts, without any ornamental elements, it features, however, pierced capitals. Over these, an impost identical to the one in the main portal.

In the nave, close to the portal, to the left as one enters, the granite font. It does not feature any decorative element besides the ring which delineates the upper part of the base that supports the bowl, protected by a timber guard.

Regular guided visits

By appointment.

Opening times

Celebrations: Sunday – 6.45 am and 9.45 am.

Building

Monastery of Saint Martin of Mancelos
Lugar do Mosteiro, Mancelos
Amarante
Portugal