Tavira Churches

Antigo convento de Nossa Senhora da Piedade (ou das Bernardas)

Once extinct in 1862, the convent of Our Lady of Mercy was sold at auction and converted into flour milling, starting then a process of gradual distortion of the building.
Six former convents make conventual architecture one of the most expressive domains of Tavira’s artistic heritage. Of these, the convent of Our Lady of Piety was one of the worst resisted the historical events that struck religious institutions from the 19th century. A large succession of calamities, between partial destruction, disafetation of property, effects of earthquakes and other causes, significantly deped the most visible marks of the monumental profile of this former convent, surely the most important architectural enterprise launched in the Algarve region in the sixteenth century. Tavira of the first half of Five Hundred, of the important population increase, of the prosperous trade with North Africa and new lands of the “Discoveries”, saw the founding of this convent in 1509, at the initiative of King Manuel I, in thanksgiving for the lifting of a Moorish siege of Arzila. Two decades later, it was with the construction practically completed – within the manueline’s artistic form – that it was delivered by D. João III to the Bishop of the Algarve, D. Fernão Coutinho. This prelate, in turn, gave it to nuns of the Cistercian order, who remained there until the 19th century. As a convent building it was the largest in the Algarve and the only one of the Cistercian order in the south of the country. In plan it presented the form of a double square interrupted, with two floors, in which one side, to the North, corresponded to the church. It is a characteristic common to other female convents and, particularly, to the convents of the Order of Cistercian: the architectural sobriety, with the very purified exteriors, as if it were a fortress. Another particular feature is the absence of axial portico in the church. The public door of the female churches is located, as in the present case, on the side façade. This position takes place throughout the universe Portuguese, constituting a distinctive mark of the female cloister. It justifies decorum and rigid claustral discipline. The faithful thus directed towards the altar are obliged to avoid eye contact with the nuns accommodated in the choir at the rear of the temple. After being extinguished in 1862, the convent of Nossa Senhora da Piedade was sold by public auction and converted into a milling plant, beginning at that time a process of gradual mischaracterization of the building. Recently received works of adaptation to private condominium.

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