Franciscan Routes in Coimbra – Left bank of the Mondego River
1. Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha
Founded in 1283 by Dona Mor Dias, a noblewoman from Coimbra, the Monastery of Santa Clara was initially a modest complex, consisting of a small church, cloister and dormitory. The initial works were interrupted by the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, who did not look favourably on the foundation of a new monastic house and filed a lawsuit with the intent of extinguishing this monastery. Years later, in 1314, the Queen of Portugal, Elizabeth of Aragon, future Holy Queen Elizabeth, became interested in rebuilding the monastery, ordering the construction of new buildings, of which the cloister and the church, consecrated in 1330, stand out. Housing the female branch of the Franciscan Order- the Poor Clares- the monastery received hight patronage from the Portuguese royal family. However, the frequent floods caused by the Mondego River led to constant architectural changes in the monastic buildings, until their final abandonment in the mid-17th century. After almost 300 years submerged in the river, the monastic complex was rescued from the waters of the Mondego and its ruins are now an integral part of the Interpretative Center of the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha.
2. Convent of São Francisco
In 1247, the Franciscans left Olivais to settle in the large Convent of São Francisco, on the left bank of the Mondego River. Located next to the current Santa Clara bridge, the name of the old Convent lingered in the memory as São Francisco da Ponte. The rise of the Mondego riverbed, responsible for successive floods and silting, forced the friars to build a new building in a safer location, at the foot of Santa Clara Hill. The Franciscans settled in the new Convent in 1609, which lasted until the extinction of the Religious Orders, in the 19th century. Having been bought at a public auction and converted into a wool factory, the convent has been owned by the Coimbra City Council since the end of the 20th century, which, by keeping what was left of the original architecture as possible, transformed it into the largest cultural and congress center in the Central Region of Portugal.
3. Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova
In the middle of the 17th century, the Poor Clares saw their dream of a new monastery come true, more sheltered from the banks of the river. This new building, sponsored by king John IV of Portugal, was completed in 1696 and would come to be known as the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova, with not only the nuns being transferred here, but also the two tombs of Holy Queen Elizabeth, which previously laid in the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha. In the lower choir, one can admire the medieval tomb of the queen, built by master Pêro. The other tomb, made of silver and crystal, was commissioned by the bishop of Coimbra Afonso Castelo-Branco, in the first quarter of the 17th century, and can be found at the altar of the Church of Holy Queen Elizabeth.
A visit to the left bank of Coimbra allows the visitor to discover the origin of the establishment of the Franciscan order in the city, and especially the female branch. These three monuments grant the visitor an understanding of the mendicant monastic reality in Coimbra, its origin and evolution, from the 14th to the 18th centuries.