Flor da Rosa - the home of the Knights of St John

Sunday, May 4, 2014, 20:55

Of all the places I'd like to take you in Portugal – and there are many – today I've chosen somewhere a long way to the south of where I live; to the Alentejo, the land 'alem do Tejo' or 'beyond the River Tagus'.

The landscape here is about as different from the Minho as any you could find in Portugal. Instead of granite mountains, pine-clad and aflame with golden broom, spiky gorse and purple heather, there are rolling plains carpeted with delicate white, yellow or purple wild flowers amongst groves of cork oaks and olive trees.

Alentejo flowers

For the rest of the story, click here.

In the Minho, the land is divided into smallholdings, each with its house and kitchen garden; towns lie only a few kilometres from each other; and in between there are numerous villages and hamlets. The Alentejo is dominated by 'latifundios', vast empty estates, often owned by absentee landlords and managed by farm labourers. (It is no accident that the Communist Party has a strong base here!)

And so, at long distances, atop occasional gentle rises, you will find only a scattering of small, white-washed towns and hamlets. One of the villages, near the small town of Crato, is called Flor da Rosa – I'm sure I don't really need to tell you that this means rose flower. You might wonder at the name as roses are hardly common around here but there is a good reason. The Monastery of Santa Maria da Flor da Rosa was built as the home of the Knights of St John - also known as the Knights Hospitallers – whose original headquarters, after they were expelled from Jerusalem, was the island of Rhodes and Rhodes, so the story goes, was once known as the Island of Roses with a rose as its emblem.

Monastery of Flor da Rosa

Built in 1356 by Friar Álvaro Gonçalves Pereira, the monastery still stands, four square, solid, castellated and forbidding despite periods of abandonment and ruin. And here, after a storm, are we too because Flor da Rosa, has put its chequered history behind it and is now a Pousada where you can stay in far more comfort than the knight-monks of yore can ever have dreamed of. Shall we go in?

On the right, is the austere gothic church dominated by the founder's huge sarcophagus with a simple stone altar at the east end.

Church, Monastery of Flora da Rosa

In stark contrast to the plain, severe, unadorned gothic architecture, however, was the colourful life of the inhabitant of that tomb. His very birth must have come as a surprise to the Catholic faithful of the fourteenth century since Álvaro was the son of Gonçalo Pereira, 97th Archbishop of Braga! He joined the Order of St John at a young age and fought so bravely in the maritime battles against the Turks at Rhodes that he was made Prior of the Hospitallers in Portugal. So, perhaps you are thinking, you can hardly claim that his father's sexual incontinence made him colourful. Very true. But his life seems to have been a case of like father, like son. Despite marriage being prohibited to the knight-monks, Prior Álvaro managed to father 32 children, one of whom, Nuno Alvares Pereira, may be considered the saviour of Portugal as he defeated a Spanish invasion at the crucial battle of Aljubarrota. He built a monastery at Batalha - an echo of our own Battle Abbey - in thanks for the victory and, after the death of his wife, became a monk, living an abstemious and holy life. Nuno Álvares Pereira was proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Here he is, dressed as a knight, by the side of the main road in Flor da Rosa.

Statue of Nuno Alvares Pereira

To return to the great church; let us imagine the brothers chanting plain song in the nave as knights, clad in mail half-hidden by a surcoat emblazoned with an eight pointed cross, came for a blessing before setting out for battle in Malta in1565. This is not some Game of Thrones fantasy I am putting before you. Portuguese knights were present at the Great Siege, amongst the small company of 700 Hospitallers, who, with only 8,000 soldiers, almost unbelievably held out against a force of 40,000 Turkish besiegers sent to destroy them by Suleiman the Magnificent, thus halting the advance of Islam in Europe.

Further in we shall pass a cloister with a Maltese Cross in the pond, recalling the arms of those early owners, before coming to the Reception, where we can reserve a comfy, modern room. There are no bleak cells with hard beds here today.

Cloister Flor da Rosa Monastery

I don't know about you, but after the long drive through the cork oak groves and the dreadful January weather, I need a restorative coffee. Where better could we have it than in the bar-cum-lounge set in one of the later additions to the mediaeval monastery which was built in the Manueline style?

Bar-lounge Flor da Rosa Monastery

How do you like that lovely twisted column?

Flor da Rosa is one of a number of Pousadas which offer discounts during the low season, which we took advantage of last January. At other times, you can buy a 'Pousada Passport' which allows you to stay at a discount for five nights either in one or several Pousadas. Older guests can benefit from the 'Golden Age' passport. A special deal including a hire car is also available.

http://www.pousadasofportugal.com/offers.html

I shall introduce you to other historic Pousadas later. For the time being, why not check out my post about the one at Manteigas; January in the Serra da Estrela – and a warm welcome at the Pousada de Manteigas?

If you have used the passports or enjoyed a stay in a Pousada do let us know. If you are a Portuguese speaker, please feel free to write in your own language. O que é importante não é a língua; é a contrubuição!

 


Julie Dawn Fox wrote:
Monday, May 5, 2014, 15:14
I recently heard about a bishop from Trancoso who fathered 299 children, 18 of them by his sisters. He was sentenced to be dragged through the streets and be dismembered but was posthumously pardoned by the king for his services in populating the area!
Adriano Carapeto wrote:
Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 13:55
Flor da Rosa !!! Good memories! Some ygo, I used to visit Monte da Pedra, a local village just a a uple of miles from Flor da Rosa,where I would chose for accomodation the beautiful Pousada Hotel in Flor da Rosa. I have some friends who are originally from Monte da Pedra and in XMas and July (Monte da Pedra and Crato local festivities) we would all meet there for a long weekend.
Non stop eating petiscos and drinking wines and beer (imperial and the mini bottles). I still wonder how we manage to spend the days eating and drinking, visiting the local cafes and meeting friends who would gather at the village for the special celebrations. The food is amazing, and you would be surprised how there is always a new dish you havent tried yet. The local residents are so friendly that you feel at home. I definitely recommend a visit to this region and enjoy the amazing landscape, gastronomy and its people.
Margaret Bradley wrote:
Saturday, May 10, 2014, 10:22
Hi Julie, That really does sound like a 'Game of Thrones' story - both the incest and the punishment! When I next get to Trancoso, I'll have something new to investigate. I just love these anecdotes, don't you? They make history come alive. Thanks for posting that.
Margaret Bradley wrote:
Saturday, May 10, 2014, 10:33
Hello Adriano, you, of course, would be interested in all the local dishes. I hope your food enterprise is going well. I'm glad you told me about the festivities at Monte da Pedra. One day maybe we'll go there though the Alentejo is a long way from home for us. In Flor da Rosa we ate at a tiny simple restaurant almost opposite the statue of Nun' Alvares Pereira and, as so often happens in Portugal, the food in the 'tasca' was just fabulous - simple, abundant, tasty and so reasonably priced. I love the rolling open landscape too - especially in spring when the flowers are just stunning. I remember England like that in the 1950s when I was a child but herbicides have destroyed those fields of red poppies amongst the corn and the carpets of buttercups and daisies in the meadows. Portugal is lucky that the cork oak groves are still full of wild flowers. I hope you get back to drink 'imperiais' there now and again.
Jeff wrote:
Friday, April 29, 2016, 11:57
Does anyone know the name of the abbot during the early 16th century?
Margaret Bradley wrote:
Sunday, May 1, 2016, 14:56
Hello Jeff, I've tried putting into a search engine phrases such as "List the the abbots of Nossa Senhora de Flor da Rosa, Crato" but got nowhere. I imagine you need to go to a history of the Knights of Malta to find the answer to your question. May I ask what your interest is in this specific part of the history of the monastery? Sorry not to be able to help. Maybe someone else can.
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