The Siege of Lisbon
The Siege of Lisbon is largely regarded by historians as the sole triumph in the effort to conquer, colonize, and spread Christianity in Moor territories during the Second Crusade of the 12th century, and the Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça has since stood as a symbol proving the long-lasting success of this conquest. The victory in Lisbon was made possible when self-appointed siege leader, Afonso Henriques persuaded Catholic Crusaders to aid his expedition to recapture Lisbon from under Muslim rule. The successful reconquest, or reconquista in Portuguese and Spanish, led to the commencement of the Portuguese monarchy with Afonso Henriques being crowned as the first king in 1139. King Afonso I initiated his nobility by establishing the Alcobaça Monastery and gifting it to the Cistercians in gratitude for promoting the reconquistas and in an effort to further expand the power of the Catholic Church.
The Cistercians’ monastic way of life focused on simplicity and immaculateness emulated in the building’s unmodified, authentic abbeys has given the monastery strong artistic and historical significance since its construction in the early 12th century to present day. As the Portuguese monarchy continued the legacy of colonization and extended the scope of Christianity, the Alcobaça Monastery received influences from a variety of cultures. The blending of diverse ideas, people, and art developed into a combination of classic Gothic, Romanesque, and Medieval styles vividly displayed in the monastery’s architecture. With its construction coinciding with the founding and evolution of the Portuguese monarchy, the Monastery of Alcobaça holds an unparalleled connection to the kingdom of Portugal and its people, which is notably reflected in the conception and execution of its architectural style.
The Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça, or Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça in Portuguese, is a Cistercian monastery complex situated in Alcobaça, a town positioned directly above Lisbon, modern-day Portugal’s capital and the setting of the Christian Crusaders’ momentous conquest. The founding of the Catholic monastery is rooted in the successful Siege of Lisbon and subsequent commencement of the Portuguese monarchy. Before Afonso Henriques was inaugurated as Portugal’s first king in 1139, he was merely just the self-appointed, but determined, leader of the operation to reconquer Moor-controlled Portugal. During the challenging expedition, Afonso was particularly appreciative of the Cistercians’ significant contribution to the reconquista of his country. In his book chapter, “The Siege of Lisbon and the Second Crusade” Author Alan Forey shares a detail consistent in historians’ chronological narratives and uncovered letters supposedly exchanged between Afonso and his brother, Pedro, that reveals “Pedro spoke to Afonso Henriques about miracles wrought by St Bernard, and the Portuguese ruler promised to give the whole district, if he gained it, to the Cistercians and to found a monastery there.” (Forey, “Portuguese Studies: The Siege of Lisbon and the Second Crusade” 3.).
Once crowned, King Afonso I followed through on his vow and founded the Monastery of Alcobaça in 1153. The complete construction spanned from 1178 to 1252; the lengthy duration of the building process explains how the monastery’s architecture is able to exhibit multiple decades of Portugal’s constantly-evolving artistic styles and culture. While the Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça represents the successful Siege of Lisbon and subsequent commencement of the Portuguese monarchy, above all it represents the history of the people. King Afonso I dedicated the Monastery of Alcobaça to St. Bernard and other spiritual leaders and members of the Cistercian religious order out of gratitude for the aid and encouragement the Crusades received. However, he was unknowingly making history by establishing one of the earliest structures that incorporates the Cistercian Order.