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.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Travanca played a relevant part in the economic, political and religious control of the region, either by donations or the zealous administration of its assets.
The institute was then part of the Terra de Sousa, and remained in the county of Ribatâmega, despite being chartered by D. Teresa in 1120.
It stood out in the 14th century for having contributed with the high sum of 1800 Portuguese libras for the special tax in favour of the Crusades.
This Monastery was managed by the triennial Benedictine abbots until the late 15th century being, thereafter, subject to the commendatory abbots whose commendations ended in 1565.
Of these abbots, we now know the name of at least seven, all holders or children of holders of greater nobility in the kingdom as D. João de Castro, D. João de Faria (and his son, Afonso), D. Gonçalo Pinheiro (bishop of Tangier) and D. Fulgêncio, son of D. Jaime, the Duke of Braganza.
After this period, the Monastery returns to the management by abbots appointed every three years by the community, coinciding with intense constructive and reconstructive activities until its dissolution in 1834.
After this date, the Monastery fell into the darkness of oblivion, returning to life in the early 20th century, through the restoration works carried out by the DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] and the installation of a hospital unit in its spaces. Already in the beginning of the 21st century, it acquired new functions, this time to educate “the men and women of tomorrow”.
Although the monastic dependencies date back to the 11th century, the Church was built in the 13th century, standing out within the context of the Portuguese Romanesque heritage by its eccentric dimensions and the importance of its sculptural ornamentation in the capitals.
Also noteworthy is the extraordinary tower right next to the Church. In the Middle Ages the tower was seen as a symbol of safety and, in the absence of castles, the Church represented the best fortress.
Regardless of the function it was intended to, the religious nature and an alleged military willingness are, in these cases, inseparable. It is also for this reason that the tower of Travanca must be understood as an element of manorial assertion, i.e., of the power of a family over a region.
On January 17th, 1916 the monastic set is classified as National Monument, recognising the historical and heritage value of this Monastery for Portugal.
11th-12th Centuries – Foundation of the Monastery of Travanca;
13th Century – Construction of the Church;
1320 – Income of the church and Monastery are taxed in 1800 Portuguese libras to assist the Crusades;
Until 1492 – Ruling period of the perpetual abbots;
1492-1565 – Ruling period of the commendatory abbots;
1568 – Status check on the Monastery, according to a visit ordered by Cardinal D. Henrique;
1572-1834 – Ruling period of the triennial abbots;
1678, May 17th – Date that marks the rebuilding of the monastic quarters (according to Francisco Craesbeeck);
1720, December 10th – Date of the brief papal decree granting privileges to the altar of the Virgin of the Rosary;
1716-1813 – 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;
1834 – Termination of monastic life and subsequent nationalisation of the congregation’s estate;
1916, January 27th – The Monastery is declared a National Monument;
1939 – DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] publishes its Bulletin no. 15, dedicated to the restoration project of the Romanesque Church of Travanca;
2010 – Integration of the Monastery of the Saviour of Travanca in the Route of the Romanesque.
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.
Regular guided visits