Batalha Monastery, Portugal
After navigating some very interesting twists and turns filled with medieval charm through the town of Batalha in central Portugal, we halt in front of a massive structure. Bathed in the glow of an afternoon sun, the monastery stands majestic, bones and flesh of someone’s imagination and beautiful enough to pull at one’s heart strings. Santa Maria da Vitoria or Monastery of Batalha.
The sheer architectural scale has taken me aback. This was created in the middle ages? I approach closer my eyes lingering in dazed fascination on the exquisite stone lacework of the balustrades along the top of the walls. Since the church is situated on a plain, we did not see it as we approached from the Lisbon-Leiria road. Nothing had prepared me for this.
If only stones could speak…
Sometimes they do. You have to quiet your mind in order to be able to hear.
Once again, the might of Spain comes in arrogant quest for more and more of our territory, Portugal’s villages hugging the beira (border) will diminish; swallowed whole if something is not done quickly. We pray day and night seeking deliverance.
It is the eve of the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, August 14, 1385. We are drawn up on the battlefield of Aljubarrota. We knew this was going to happen. Too many skirmishes at the beira forcing us to flee our ancestral homes, our fields laid to waste, our children hungry. But, our faith in our King Joao 1 remains high for he has been on his knees through the night praying to Saint Mary. Why should we be afraid?
My lord, a high-ranking knight in the royal army, is good to me because he knows I am honest and will do all in my power to see to his needs. He rides a great Lucitano three years old with flexibility throughout and freedom of movement. I care for this horse personally for he carries a most noble load. My lord tells me not to discount the small horse for they are quicker and smarter. I think I know what he means for this one is all of that and more.
Well, we routed our enemy. Memory of that fateful day will remain with me until I die. We were gravely outnumbered yet we won.
Our King Joao 1 has promised to build a monastery in Batalha in tribute to Saint Mary for granting us victory over the King of Castile. It will be handed over to the Dominican friars who having left town will need a place to live and carry on their prayers and meditation.
I hear work on the monastery has begun. Each time a village is established along the beira, a church is built. People are starting to live in these villages for that is the only way to safeguard our land.
I have asked my liege lord to relieve me of my duties for I desire to enter the Dominican Order. It is highly unusual. At first, he demurred, a glint of amusement in those war hardened eyes. Possibly imagining me, only half a man with downy cheeks kneeling in prayer at all times of day and night. I will never know how it happened but I heard myself chanting in a language I did not recognize. Afterwards, my lord took me aside and asked how I came to know Latin. I do not know, I said, only that I must go where I am called. My heart says to live the rest of my life as a monk devoting my time in reading, praying and looking after the soil. We must heed the transforming power of our dreams.
King Joao 1 of Portugal signed his last will on October 4, 1426. Among many clauses and testaments there was one striking feature. He specified his reason for building the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria or the Monastery of Batalha and his motives behind handing it over to the religious community of the Dominicans. In this way, he fulfilled his promise to Saint Mary made on the eve of the battle with the King of Castile that if he won, a Monastery would be built. The Dominican Order was devoted to Our Lady Mary; hence the Monastery was given to this Order.
Keep well…Keep smiling.
Purabi Sinha Das
(This is the third piece in a series recounting my time in Portugal).
#amwriting #traveltowrite #fascinatingbatalha #mywritinglife #traveltellstory
This is our third day in Lisbon; the first two spent in absorbing the sounds, smells, various nuances and life of the city. Now we are ready to venture out and what better place to begin than the pilgrim site of Fatima?
To tell the truth I know very little about this place, a town situated to the north of Lisbon and considered to be one of the holiest sites to Christians. I do want to know more, though, ever since I visited Montserrat in Spain where Mary, mother of Jesus had appeared to a shepherd boy.
Our car driven by a courteous Portuguese gentleman arrives on time and we climb in, ready to be entertained and marvel at sights we are sure to encounter along the way. The roads are well maintained, traffic keeping a steady pace, and most drivers are polite. Along the way cruise ships materialize on the shimmering waters of the Tagus and to my amusement I detect a Disney cruise line ready to disgorge their load of tourists.
How could I have known that this will be one of the most transformative journeys of my life?
It’s sunny, comfortably warm with some clouds on the horizon which is giving me cause for worry. When I mention I’d forgotten to pack raincoats we are assured there is no rain on the day’s forecast. There are different routes from other Portuguese towns leading to the Sanctuary of Fatima and since it is also part of the Camino walk, pilgrims from Santiago de Compostela in Spain arrive here to finish up their Camino walk.
Ahh, I understand, Portugal and Spain are neighbours. It’s natural the sacred Camino walks should converge at some point. I feel the beginnings of a certain excitement, quite different from what I had been feeling so far, for this is powerful touched with a sense of healing which only a weary heart can recognize. Our journey to Compostela in Spain had been so filled with wonder yet I had known even then that I am supposed to journey further. So, this is it. The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary in a small town called Fatima, in Portugal.
On the 13th. of May 1917 Mother Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field called Cova de Iria in the village of Fatima. She instructed them to return on the 13th. of every month. It is said that in October Mother Mary calling herself Lady of the Rosary revealed the three secrets of Fatima, relating to peace and world events to Lucia, one of the three children.
It’s 21st. of May so we have missed the great pilgrimage.
I falter for one second, the Basilica is enormous, very different from its humble beginnings and what my mind had pictured. Standing at the bottom of the steps I am feeling insignificant. However, my initial hesitation changes to firm resolve and I begin to ascend the steps leading into the Basilica.
This is why I came, to feel for myself the special feelings that can only be aroused when the heart is seeking. The Basilica is beautiful its walls decorated with ornate carvings, the altar housing precious objects and paintings. Fortunately for us there aren’t too many tourists so we get to actually sit in one of the pews and let our gaze rest in reverence upon the altar. At last, a sense of peace is beginning to descend upon my restless spirit when out of habit my hands start to root around in my purse for the notebook, I stop and fold them back onto my lap. There is no need to write I tell myself for this moment will be imprinted upon my heart.
They were tending sheep when the Virgin Mary appeared. I wonder what must have gone through their young minds. Were they afraid? Or simply curious? Like children anywhere, they might have been dazzled by the aura of glory shining around Mary, Mother of Jesus. Perhaps even wanted to touch that light.
At this point, I have to give in to an overwhelming desire to check out the tombs of the children and I rise from my seat to wander over to the corner where they are situated. They were so young, Jacinta and Francisco, passing away at 9 and 11 respectively. And also, poor. But then didn’t our Lord seek out the poor and the innocent? The camera in my hand clicks. Then I walk quietly out of the Basilica.
Their cousin Lucia to whom the Virgin Mary spoke entered the Dorothean convent to learn to read and write as instructed by Our Lady and became a Carmelite nun. She died at age 97 in the year 2005.
In the far distance, my eyes fall on a group of people making their way, on their knees, to chapel. The chapel is situated exactly where the children saw Mother Mary. It’s a long walk under a relentless sun. Mass is about to begin so I hurry to take my place, clutching the rosaries I had picked up earlier. From where we are standing, almost at the edge of the crowded chapel, of a sudden the tall figure of a priest comes to view so I approach him to bless my rosaries. As mass is finishing a couple in bridal dress is escorted to the front where they are joined by priests. We couldn’t witness the wedding for lack of time but I would have loved to.
There is a lovely story about this place. Back when under Moorish occupation, it is said there was a beautiful princess named Fatima after whom the place was named. When Christian forces reconquered Portugal and Spain the princess Fatima married the Spanish Count of Ourem, converted to Catholicism and changed her name to Ouerana. However, the town continued to be called Fatima.
Keep well…Keep smiling
(This is the second piece in a series recounting my time in Lisbon)
#amwriting #lovetotravel #lovetolearn #travelstories
Life during this time of global pandemic isn’t easy. But the good news is that although most of us might still experience sheer helplessness from time to time, we are in most part a bit more educated about the whole thing.
It was the afternoon of March 12, 2020 and I was folding laundry clothes – one of the most mundane of household chores – when the radio gave a shrill beep to announce breaking news. We were in lockdown! Just like that the life we had known and taken for granted would change for all of us. I continued with my task although flooded with a sense of bewilderment and then I remember walking from room to room not quite sure what to do next. What does a pandemic mean? Most of us had never lived in one; just read about it. As humans we are so geared to “doing” so for me not to be able to do anything at that momentous hour was appalling – I had to be up and about just to rid myself of this dread spreading slowly in my mind. But what could I do?
We are reaching the one-year mark of the pandemic caused by COVID-19.
Each one of us has had to come to terms living a new way of life. When the going gets really tough I remind myself that I can still communicate with family and friends through technology and perhaps the odd porch visit where we stand masked and at a distance of six feet from one another.
I walk every day seeking solace from the art of nature and I am filled with wonder at what I find. It liberates my mind from fears of the unknown at the same time sustains and empowers me to share what I find hoping to bring some of that wonder into someone’s life. I have learned to love what I have within myself – to be myself – for doesn’t nature carry on fulfilling her duties no matter what? Yes, nature teaches to temper fear with hope. And, yes, emotions can impact our physical health. For this reason alone, I might add it is important to live, feel, hear, see and taste the moment. Like the dance of sunshine through a lacy foliage, tink, tink, tink of a radiator, whoosh of air released from a vent, song of melting snow rushing into the sewer, whiff of woodsmoke caught in the tail of a sudden breeze, distant chirping of a lone bird, taste of warm bread that makes the tongue do a jig of happiness. These are moments worth their weight in gold.
Stay safe and keep well. Continue on your quest of momentous discovery!
Purabi Sinha Das
#pandemicdiary2021 #amwriting #writingcommunity #poetryinnature #natureheals #hopeisheretostay
#writinglife #beautifulmoments #moments
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