The origin of the Monastery of Freixo de Baixo is prior to 1120 and entangles itself in the usual family patronages, as the author of the Portuguese Chorography highlights in 1706: “founded by year 1110 by Dona Gotinha Godins, wife of Don Egas Hermigis, the Brave, in-laws Don Egas Gozendes, who lived in the period of king Dom Afonso, the Sixth.”
Less certain are the chroniclers of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, including the father Nicolau de Santa Maria (? -1675) who, to explain the origin of the Monasteries of Mancelos and Freixo de Baixo, cites only the bull of Calixtus II (p. 1119-1124) and adds that “we do not possess any more information”.
Standing on a valley, in the boundary between the municipalities of Santa Cruz de Ribatâmega and Basto and where, even in the 18th century, circulated great part of the traffic between Minho and Trás-os-Montes, Freixo de Baixo was in 1540 annexed (together with its parsonage of Saint Michael of Freixo) to the Dominican convent of Amarante.
Although profoundly changed during the Modern Era and target of a significant intervention carried out between 1941 and 1958 that sought the return Freixo de Baixo to what was considered to be its “primitive style”, the remaining monastic ensemble is still extremely significant within the Romanesque context in the valley of the Tâmega.
The persistence of the foundations of the original Church porch and traces of the original cloister, along with a stout bell tower, give this ensemble a less than common monumentality and legibility within the panorama of Romanesque architecture in Portugal.
Inside, the sobriety prevails, with smooth and stripped vestments, and granite stands out in all its exuberance. The classicizing language of the triumphal arch immediately provides immediate evidence of the intervention than in the Modern Period refurbished the chancel and part of the nave.
Worthy of mention is the fresco that, although today is placed on a mobile support, can be appreciated on the right wall of the nave, beside the pulpit. It is a scene of the Lord’s Epiphany (Matthew 2: 1-12), attributed to the workshop led by Master of 1510, also responsible for painting in Saint Mammes of Vila Verde (Felgueiras) and Saint Nicholas of Canaveses (Marco de Canaveses).
Although, throughout the 18th century, there have been a number of interventions in the Church with a view to preservation and aesthetic upgrade, of these only parts of the altarpiece remain today, carved in national Baroque style, which combined with a newer throne, a predella and an altar front.
Before 1120 – Foundation of the Monastery of Freixo de Baixo;
1379 – Date inscribed in the funeral epigraph of prior D. Afonso;
1540 – The Monastery of Freixo de Baixo is annexed to the Convent of Saint Gonzalo of Amarante;
1758 – There were three altars in the Church of Freixo de Baixo, the main altar and two collaterals;
1864 – The Monastery of Freixo de Baixo was considered in good condition;
1935 – The Church of Freixo de Baixo is classified as a National Monument;
1941 – Beginning of the restoration works;
1958 – Publishing of DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments]’s Bulletin no. 92 on the intervention in Freixo de Baixo;
1971 – Definition of Special Protection Zone of the Church of Freixo de Baixo;
2010 – Integration of the Monastery of the Saviour of Freixo de Baixo in the Route of the Romanesque.
Architecture and Furniture
Impressive in its proportions, formed by rows of granite ashlars, all at the same height, the bell tower consists of three access openings.
Over the portal (simple and round) facing the atrium of the primitive Church porch, the cantilevers, drip-course and quadrangular scars attest the prior existence of a porched structure.
In turn, the portal that opens to the south side of the Church, i.e., to the space where once stood the cloister, two carved ashlars provide evidence of a reuse: with horizontal development, an ashlar ending at the lower section with a denticular structure and, on this, a reused corbel (?), decorated with a stylized floral motif.
At the top level, on all sides of the tower, a pair of round arches emerges, animating the façades, housing the bells, and also assuming functions related to the lighting and ventilation of the internal space. A frieze extends all around the tower, in the continuation of the imposts in these arches.
From the old porch, just the foundations of the south side remain, although their memory still lives in the design of the small wall that delimits the current churchyard. Therefore, the western façade is the best preserved element of the primitive Romanesque temple.
Finishing in an angular pediment, crowned by small and simple granite cross, this façade, besides being reinforced by two corners, is animated by a powerful Romanesque portal, surmounted by a narrow crevice. This consists of three round archivolts, with slightly bevelled edges and animated by dihedral logs. Much like a surrounding arch, a groove formed by chained circles repeats the same motif carved in the imposts on both sides of the portal.
Despite showing the wear caused by exposure to the elements, the capitals are finely carved, bearing affronted animals emerging from the relief, phytomorphic and botanic motifs stuck and braided to the basket.
In terms of lateral façades, simplicity reigns. On the north side, only a single counterfort, reaching only about halfway the height of the elevation, thus creating a vertical cut halfway the façade. With no drip-course nor modillions, it features only two narrow crevices for interior lighting.
The chancel also presents, on this side, an elevation completely devoid of any element which may animate it, sensing a few scars at the level of vestments, outcome of the intervention to which it was submitted during the restoration interventions of the 20th century.
On the rear façade, in addition to the staggering of volumes, the terminal crosses on the pediments of the nave and chancel, and a square window that illuminates the interior of the sacristy, which is accessed by the portal facing south, stand out.
On this same side, in the nave, we find traces of what was once a drip-course to sustain a porched structure, along the corner of the western façade, placed at the same height of the drip-course in the tower. A simple portal formed by a round arch allows entrance to the inside of the nave that is accessed by climbing a set of four steps. It receives its natural light from two narrow crevices, similar to the ones on the north side, while, in the chancel, a large rectangular window rips the wall.
It is in this south façade, in an ashlar built into the wall of the nave, in the third row above the shoe, to the right of the side portal, that we find a funerary inscription of prior D. Afonso, dated 1379 (Era 1417), which, despite its poor condition, can still be read.
This ashlar is the area where the cloister of the Monastery once existed in the Middle Ages, so the prior would have been buried there, as it was recommended.
Inside, sobriety prevails. In the smooth and stripped vestments, granite stands out in all its might. Of Romanesque nature, the font, in granite, smooth, with a wooden guard, stands at the entrance of the Church, on the Gospel side.
The triumphal round arch features a classicizing language at the level of imposts, providing evidence of an intervention subsequent to the Romanesque Period. Both the nave and chancel feature wooden ceilings and flooring.
Regular guided visits