The iconic Monastery of the Saviour Travanca was built in the 13th century, and in 1916 it was classified as a National Monument. To this day, it is considered one of the most significant Benedictine temples in Portugal and is a must-see for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the region’s heritage. The Monastery impresses by its dimensions – especially the Church.
Associated to the lineage of Gascos, to which Egas Moniz belonged, the servant of D. Afonso Henriques, constituted one of the most powerful monastic institutes in the land of Sousa during the Middle Ages.
Tradition says that Garcia Moniz, son of Moninho Viegas, the Gasco, was the founder of the Monastery of the Saviour of Travanca in the second half of the 11th century. The foundation of the Monastery dates back in the 11th and 12th century, and the construction was complete in the 13th century. Until the middle of the 19th century, the Monastery was ruled by 3 different abbot periods – the perpetual, the commendatory and the triennial abbots.
The Monastery ran two constructive and rebuilding periods – the first one starting in May 1678 to rebuild the monastic quarters and the second one starting in December 1720 with the period of particular constructive and reconstructive activities and artistic investment in furniture assets, particularly in terms of collateral and lateral altars, the choir, organ and sacristy.
In 1834 they terminated the monastic life at the Monastery and shortly after that the subsequent nationalisation of the congregation’s estate was decided.
On 27th January 1916, it was declared as a national monument and became a part of the Route of the Romanesque (Rota do Românico) in 2010.
ARCHITECTURE AND FURNITURE
The Church of the Savior of Travanca falls within the small number of churches with three naves built in Portugal during the Romanesque period, because most of the churches of this period feature a single nave.
Thus, Travanca can be included in the so-called “Portuguese Benedictine style”. According to Manuel Real, Travanca is the best example of this style, standing out for the monumentality of its three-nave plan, for its portal, for its sculptural motifs and the presence of a tower – once a bell tower – the highest in our Medieval times.
Similarly to what occurs in many churches in the valley of the Sousa (e.g. Saint Vincent of Sousa, Saint Mary of Airães or in the Saviour of Unhão, in the county of Felgueiras), the west portal is prominent in relation to the façade, allowing to extend its depth and monumentality.
This solution, which Manuel Monteiro called the “nationalised Romanesque”, originated in the Romanesque of Coimbra, and was later spread throughout the region from the Monastery of Paço de Sousa (Penafel).
In this portal to the house of God we can depict another influence, this time from the Romanesque from Porto: the dihedral logs. By harmonising the four archivolts, the dihedral logs extend the thin columns, of cylindrical frustum.
In terms of decoration, the topic used on the portal will also be a little repeated all over the building: birds with entwined necks, a human figure designed as an atlantean and the intertwined snakes. Faced with such beauty, it is not surprising that Carlos Alberto Ferreira de Almeida has considered this portal as a unique specimen of the very best in the Romanesque sculpture of this region.
Note that, probably, whoever entered the Church in the mid-16th century, would previously pass by the three-nave galillee.
In the north façade, we find the portal intended for public service. Here, we gaze upon capitals that follow the decorative motifs of the main portal: the intertwined snakes, the mermaid and the birds with entwined necks.
Inside and despite the changes endured in modern and contemporary times, the Romanesque spirit can still be felt, with the affirmation of granite on the walls and pillars. The three naves are defined by four flights, where the aisles (side naves) are lower than the central one.
The Church boasts a chevet consisting of two vaulted apsioles with a semicircular plan, flanking the chancel, nowadays deep and rectangular, outcome of an expansion carried out during the Modern Period.
We also highlight the thematic variety of the capitals decorating the interior. Of all of them, we must draw you attention to the capital whose theme is “Daniel in the lions’ den” and which sustains the “formeret” (wall rib) of the last flight, near the apse and on the Epistle side.
Although, in essence, it remains within the Romanesque spirit, the Church of the Saviour of Travanca adapted to the growing needs of the monastic and secular communities, and regulatory guidelines arising from the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
In this regard, we highlight the prior existence, in the middle of the nave and occupying the central flight, of the high choir with stalls and organ, accessed by the outside through the tower (and later through an opening on the south wall) that bordered the cloister; the construction of a middle choir; placement of altars and side altars, in a total of seven; enhancement of one of the columns separating the central nave from the south aisle for the construction of a pulpit; the plastering of the Church; ceilings coated with white stucco and walls covered with mortar.
However, the aforementioned transformations are no longer in this religious space. The restoration interventions triggered by the DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] during the 30s withdrew all the listed items.
If the north side portal was intended to public service, the south one would serve the monastic community. Currently, it gives access to the sacristy. This is already mentioned in 1568, but with smaller dimensions. This space, today, more than a sacristy, presents itself as a local museum consisting of a diverse collection featuring images of Saint Amarus and Saint Benedict of Nursia.
Returning to the exterior, special mention should be given to the tower. It stands on the north side of the Church, displaying a quadrangular plan. Its quite narrow portal opens at ground level, aspect which proves that the military nature is, in this tower, purely technical, because should it be an area with a military purpose, the access door would be one floor above, only accessed though a movable ladder.
Embedded in the thickness of the wall, the tower portal features no columns or capitals, concentrating its decorative elements at the level of its two arcades that rest solely on imposts.
The archivolts feature an ornamentation exposing affronted animals along the voussoirs of the exterior archivolt. In the internal archivolt, we see a model used in this region and that is the topic of the so-called beak-heads, which we may find in Cárquere (Resende), Fandinhães (Marco de Canaveses) and Tarouquela (Cinfães). The tympanum bears the representation of the Agnus Dei, while erecting a pattée cross.
At the time of the interventions carried out DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments], in the 30s of the 20th century, the tower was also subject to the same principles applied in the church. In the tower, the goal was to highlight its alleged military nature, demolishing the tower-belfry that had been added, in the chemin de ronde, in the Modern Period.
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Rota do Românico
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Website: Rota do Românico
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Rota do Românico / Route of the Romanesque
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