The Quinta Today
Backed by an olive grove and forest, the sturdy granite walls of Quinta do Convento de São Pedro das Águias overlook endless ribbons of grapevines that lace the slopes down to the Távora Valley below. An ancient Roman bridge, rebuilt in the Middle Ages, spans the river; an indication of the long history behind this property.
Upon entering the gates to the ancient walled complex, birdsong and the soothing sound of water trickling into stone water tanks fills the ornamental gardens. Enter the cloistered courtyard of the ancient monastery that gives our quinta its name, these gentle sounds are replaced by the echoes of cool mountain water splattering from the central stone fountain.
Although the monks are long gone, this peaceful space invites reflection and contemplation, along with a glass of wine.
In Portugal, the terms convent and monastery are largely interchangeable and our property has long been referred to locally as Quinta do Convento de São Pedro das Águias.
The origins of the Monastery of São Pedro das Águias
The history of our monastery (or convent) is steeped in legend and dates back to the days when Christian knights were ferociously driving the ruling Muslims from their lands and claiming territory for what would become the country of Portugal as we know it.
While historians agree on certain aspects of the story, other details are still open to debate.
What’s in no doubt is that two noble warriors, possibly Templar Knights, made their way south from Guimarães to the lands around Lamego to fight against the resident Moors in the early 11th century. Having conquered the rugged lands of Águias, they built themselves a castle, called Castelo de Cabriz, from which to continue their defeat of the Moors.
These brothers, Dom Rausendo and Dom Tedon went on to found the very first Monastery of São Pedro das Águias, a short distance from our quinta.
The old Monastery of São Pedro das Águias
A small but finely preserved Romanesque chapel marks the location of the first Monastery of São Pedro das Águias. According to the legend, a Muslim hermit had already built a primitive mosque on this site. Upon seizing the Águias territory, Dom Rausendo and Dom Tedon set about converting the religious site to a Christian one, dedicating it to São Pedro das Águias.
In one version of events, they installed some Christian hermits who were fleeing persecution at the hands of the Moors, one of whom was called Gelásio. Said hermits rebuilt the place of worship following Christian principles, planted olive trees and guarded the perimeter day and night. Another version claims that they brought Benedictine monks from Guimarães to occupy the hermitage, one of whom was the Abbot Gelásio.
The legendary love story
Abbot or hermit, Gelásio plays a key role in the legend of Ardinga, daughter of the Muslim Emir of Lamego. Whether she had actually exchanged glances with Dom Tedon or simply become infatuated through the tales of his daring exploits is unclear. Either way, her love for him grew so strong that she escaped her father’s castle in the dead of night, accompanied by a trusted servant, determined to marry her beloved, who happened to be away battling infidels at the time.
On their way across the treacherous landscape to Cabriz Castle, the two women came upon the hermitage of São Pedro das Águias, less than a league away from Dom Tedon’s home. Having explained her quest to Gelásio, he persuaded her to convert to Christianity.
Despite Ardinga’s baptism, the anticipated marriage never took place. Her enraged father, Al-Boazan, was in hot pursuit and upon finding her, he strangled her and tossed her body into the River Távora. A lone, pale rock in the middle of the river marks the spot where she landed. Locals say that when this “Penedo or Cova da Moira” stone is covered by water, it will be a particularly rainy year.
Dom Tedon’s reaction to Ardinga’s death varies in the telling of the tale. One version claims that the heartbroken warrior had her mutilated body buried on the spot where the chapel of São Pedro das Águias now stands and elevated the hermitage to monastery status. Another says that he turned his inconsolable grief into angerand perished heroically in combat against his sworn enemies in Paredes. According to the Cister Chronicle of Frei Bernado de Brito, the principle source of information about the early years of the São Pedro das Águias Monastery, the hermitage became a monastery upon Dom Tedon’s death.
From old to new monasteries
Restored in the 1950s, the chapel of the old monastery is a gem of Romanesque architecture, yet it emphasises the restrictive nature of the location. As is typical for Christian churches, the main entrance faces west while the nave points east. Perched on a narrow ledge overlooking a steep drop to the Távora River, the beautifully carved doorway to the chapel is a mere metre away from the rugged rockface and only accessible via a narrow archway. Despite this single file access and therefore limited exposure, the tympanum and capitals of the doorway are rich with decorative symbolism including some satirical figures.
The limited space and unsuitability of the surrounding landscape for agriculture meant that site was far from ideal to support a growing and fully functioning monastery. Two of Dom Rausendo’s great grandsons founded the ‘new’ monastery, known as São Pedro de Távora or São Pedro-o-Novo, at the end of the 12th century. Their sister donated lands and the monks moved from the original monastery to their improved facilities where they could be self-sufficient.
From black to white habits
The first monks of São Pedro das Águias belonged to the Benedictine Order and it’s not clear at exactly which point they swapped their black robes for the white habits and austere religious practices of the Cistercian Order. The change may have occurred when they moved to the new site or possibly beforehand.
Over the centuries, the new monastery at São Pedro das Águias fell into serious decline to the point where visiting pilgrims wrote about the shocking conditions they encountered in the 16th century. Due to a shake-up following the Council of Trent, the monastery was completely rebuilt in the 17th century in the newly fashionable Baroque style. Under the subsequent patronage of Queen Maria the Pious, the religious complex flourished until the 1834 state edict that abolished and confiscated all Portuguese monasteries.
By 1836, the monastery had been looted by the local population and partially destroyed in a fire. Stones from the ruins were used to build some of the structures you see today. The few remaining documents and contents were sold off a few years later.
One thing that the raiders were not able to take is the statue of St. Peter, which remains in the niche of the church to this day. Legend has it that when the mob attempted to remove it, the ground began to shake. This terrifying event lent weight to the notion that if the saint’s image were removed, nothing would escape intact and so he has been left in peace ever since.