<p>(by Juntas, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)</p>
  • Europe /
  • Portugal /
  • Tomar

An itinerary that aims to discover Tomar, a small town with a strong connection to the ancient Templar Order.

Convent of Christ
Charola do Convento de Cristo, Tomar (by Turismo En Portugal, CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Convento de Cristo, Charola (by Concierge CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Convent of Christ's inside
(by Xiquinho Silva, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Heritage place of interest.
Heritage place of interest.
Cemetery cloister (by Lusitana CC BY-SA 3.0 WikiCommons)
Door to a spiral staircase in the Cloister of John III at Convent of Christ (by Alvesgaspar, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Floor plan of the convent (by Gorivero, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Charola do Convento de Cristo, Tomar (by Turismo En Portugal, CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

The castle’s famous round church (“rotunda”) was erected in the second half of the 12th century. Like other Templar religious buildings throughout Europe, this church followed the design of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which the Crusaders mistakenly believed to be Solomon’s temple. The Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, also in Jerusalem, was also used as a model.

Notably, Prince Henry ordered the construction of several cloisters and other buildings in the convent. He also sponsored urban improvements in the city of Tomar itself.


Another famous person connected with the Order of Christ was Manuel I, who became master of the Order in 1484 CE and king of Portugal in 1492 CE. Under his reign, there were numerous improvements to the convent, especially the addition of a new nave to the circular church and decorations made with paintings and sculptures.

Manuel I’s successor, John III, demilitarised the order, turning it into a religious order with a rule based on the teachings of Bernard of Clairvaux. He also ordered the construction of a new cloister in 1557 CE, one of Portugal’s best examples of Renaissance architecture.

In 1581 CE, after the Portuguese succession crisis, the Portuguese nobility gathered at the convent and officially recognised Philip II of Spain (Philip I of Portugal) as king. This was the beginning of the Iberian Union (1581-1640), during which the Kingdom of Portugal and Spain were united.

Today it is possible to admire the church’s interior, finely decorated with Gothic/Manueline sculptures and paintings added during a restoration promoted by Manuel I beginning in 1499. The pillars of the central octagon and ambulatory walls have polychrome statues of saints and angels under a sumptuous canopy, while the walls and ceiling of the aisle display Gothic paintings depicting the life of Christ. The illustrations are attributed to the work of Manuel I’s court painter, Portuguese Jorge Afonso, while the sculptures are by Flemish artist Olivier de Gand and Spaniard Hernán Muñoz. In addition, a mosaic depicting the martyrdom of St. Sebastian by Portuguese painter Gregório Lopes was created for the round church and is currently on display at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon.

However, the Knights Templar, after their demise, soon ceased to be the subject of chronicle attention. The Order was forgotten as early as the 14th century, and its abrupt end did not arouse attention for a long time. It was not until many centuries later, during the Enlightenment period, that the subject of the Templars came back into vogue, and the fame of the ancient knights was submerged in legends concerning secrets and mysteries said to have been handed down by chosen ones from antiquity.

Today this complex stands in memory of ancient times when the Templars formed the largest and most secretive organisation in the Mediterranean. The artistic detail and religious symbolism combined with the predominant military connotation of this convent give us an insight into this ancient Order, which still fascinates scholars with a curious combination of history and legend.


1. Church Santa Maria do Olival

2. Gualdim Pais’ Statue

3. The stronghold

4. Convent of Christ