Franciscan Routes in Coimbra – Right bank of the Mondego River

Franciscan Routes in Coimbra - Right bank of the Mondego River

1. Monastery of Santa Cruz

Founded in 1131 with the patronage of Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, this monastery was the headquarter of the Order of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine in Portugal, and one of the most important cultural centers in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. In 1220 the relics of the Five Franciscan Protomartyrs, brought under the influence of Infante D. Pedro, son of King Sancho I of Portugal, arrived at the Monastery of Santa Cruz of Coimbra. Fernando de Bolhões, who in that year had taken the priestly order as Canon Regular, felt irresistibly attracted by the Franciscan spirit. He leaves the opulent Canons Regular monastery to go and live in the poor hospice of Olivais, exchanges the habit and white murza of Canon Regular of Saint Augustine for the Franciscan burel and changes his baptismal name – Fernando – to that of António and, in July of 1220, he leaves Coimbra for his preaching journey, dying in Padua in the year 1231, and being canonized in the next year by Pope Gregory IX.

2. Old Cathedral of Coimbra

Constructed by order of king Afonso Henriques in 1162, this cathedral was the headquarters of the bishopric of Coimbra and the city’s main temple until 1772, initially having been the chosen site for the reception of the relics of the Franciscan Protomartyrs. Inside, one can admire a canvas representing Our Lady delivering the Infant Jesus to Saint Anthony of Padua.

3. Machado de Castro National Museum

The place nowadays occupied by the Machado de Castro National Museum was, almost two thousand years ago, the site chosen by the Romans to implant the forum – political, social and economic center – of Aeminium, name given by the Romans to Coimbra, having been transformed in the Episcopal Palace of Coimbra during the medieval period, where the bishops of Coimbra lived until the Portuguese Republic was established in 1910. It is now one of the largest museums in the country, where various elements of devotion to Saint Anthony are kept, from different eras and in different types of materials, and where it is kept the reliquary urn ordered by abbess Catarina D’Eça (1444-1521) to house the relics of the Franciscan Protomartyrs in the monastery of Lorvão.

4. Church of Santo António dos Olivais

Since the beginning of Portuguese nationality there has been a chapel invoking Saint Anthony the Great, located at the top of Olivais hill. In 1217-18, queen Urraca, wife of king Afonso II of Portugal, lent this chapel to the Franciscans that had just arrived in Portugal, who settled here. Next to the chapel of Saint Anthony the Great, the Franciscans founded a humble hermitage. In 1219, Friar Otto landed here with four companions (Friar Berardo, Friar Pedro, Friar Acúrsio and Friar Adjuto) on their way to the mission in Morocco and to death, as they were the first Franciscans sacrificed to the faith of Christ, beheaded by the Amir al-Mu’minin, Abu-Jacub. After leaving the Monastery of Santa Cruz, the reborn Friar António, who was preparing to leave for Morocco, following the example of the Franciscan Protomartyrs, lived for a short time in the hermitage formerly occupied by them. After the canonization of Saint Anthony, in 1232, the modest convent of Olivais of Coimbra, in memory of the great thaumaturge, changed the invocation from Saint Anthony the Great to Saint Anthony (of Lisbon/Padua).

Final Note

By visiting the right bank of Coimbra, the visitor is transported to the foundation of the kingdom of Portugal. The journey of Saint Anthony of Padua, right henchman of Saint Francis, starts in the Monastery of Santa Cruz, where the young Fernando will be touched by the faith of the protomartyrs, forever changing his life and ways. In the Old Cathedral and the National Museum Machado de Castro, the visitor can find artistic inspirations based on the life of Saint Anthony, which will culminate in the Church of Santo António dos Olivais, where Anthony spent some time before departing on his spiritual odyssey of evangelization and preaching. In this church the visitor will be able to see “azulejos”, paintings and other forms of art that will tell the entire narrative of the saint Anthony life, documenting that his history began in Coimbra.

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