15 outubro 2009

Portuguese Presence in Atlas Obscura

Quinta de Regaleira is a UNESCO World Heritage site designed by Carvalho Monteiro. With the assistance of the Italian architect Luigi Manini, he designed the 4-hectare estate with its enigmatic buildings, believed to hide symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. The architecture of the palace evokes Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline architectural styles. The construction of the current estate commenced in 1904 and most of it was concluded by 1910.
The gardens are incredibly ornate. Set on a hillside, a multitude of fountains, grottoes, statues, caves, and ponds are connected both above ground via lovely paths and by a series of underground tunnels lit today by strings of Christmas lights. The grounds also include a chapel and an aquarium, built to look as if it naturally existed amongst the rock.

The Chapel is part of the larger Royal Church of St. Francis and was constructed by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century.
The history of the Chapel is a familiar tale. By the 16th century there were as many as 43 cemeteries in and around Évora that were taking up valuable land. Not wanting to condemn the souls of the people buried there, the monks decided to build the Chapel and relocate the bones.
However, rather than interring the bones behind closed doors, the monks, who were concerned about society's values at the time, thought it best to put them on display. They thought this would provide Évora, a town noted for its wealth in the early 1600s, with a helpful place to meditate on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death. This is made clear by the thought provoking message above the chapel door; "Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos," which translates to "We bones that are here, for your bones we wait."
The immediate view as you enter gives you some idea of the scale of the Chapel and the sheer amount of bodies that are interred here; some 5000 corpses. Included, in a small white coffin by the altar, are the bones of the three Franciscan monks who founded the church in the 13th century. Also included are two desiccated corpses hanging by chains from the wall next to a cross. One is that of a child.
The purpose of this chapel is made clear by a poem, written by Father António da Ascenção, that hangs from one of the pillars of the Chapel:

Where are you going in such a hurry traveller?
Pause … do not advance your travel;
You have no greater concern,
Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.
Recall how many have passed from this world,
Reflect on your similar end,
There is good reason to reflect
If only all did the same.
Ponder, you so influenced by fate,
Among all the many concerns of the world,
So little do you reflect on death;
If by chance you glance at this place,
Stop … for the sake of your journey,
The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.

(translated by Rev. Carlos A. Martins)

However, should all the death cause you to despair, at the end of the church above the alter reads the Latin phrases "I die in the light," and "The day that I die is better than the day that I was born."

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