Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. And so do we. It was over a hundred degrees, and the sun blazed down from a cloudless sky. The plaza was nearly deserted as we approached Batalha Monastery, and I was wilting. Still, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we couldn’t miss it.
Batalha Monastery, the ‘Monastery of Battle’, was begun by King Joao I to commemorate his victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.
I was glad I came.
In the cloisters, time stands still. The view hadn’t changed in six centuries.
Inside the church the stained glass softened the harsh sunlight.
A dramatic tomb for King Joao and Queen Phillipa of Lancaster depicted the royal couple with joined hands, symbolizing the alliance between Portugal and England. Surrounding bays contained the tombs of their four younger sons. I’d already seen so many tombs that week, and couldn’t muster the energy to snap a shot, although I was moved to photograph the stillness of the Royal Cloister.
I found the symmetry soothing.
And then I stepped into The Unfinished Chapel, where rests the tomb of their eldest son, King Duarte and his wife, Leonor of Aragon. Their final resting place was less monumental, and still uncompleted, without even a roof. Their chapel too was designed to house the tombs of their descendants, but that hadn’t happened either. Duarte and Leonor were its sole occupants.
Duarte’s story was also less remarkable than his dad’s. His reign was short, troubled, and plagued by poor choices. He preferred writing to war, and was likely better at it. He began The Art of Riding on Every Saddle, “…in accordance with the saying that writing books is an endless task, which I do for my own relaxation and entertainment…I am going to write…with the objective of improving the riding skills of those who decide to read my writings in good will…”
That book, like his chapel, was also unfinished. Duarte died young, swept away by the plague, leaving his wife to mourn. From that day on, she signed her name “the sad queen.” She lived only a few more years, her short regency also plagued with conflict. Sadly, she died in exile. But she rests beside her husband.
Their tomb, their accomplishments, and their lives might have been less glorious than those of their victorious parents. But their unfinished tomb is open to the sun and the breeze, the infinite sky. The sad queen and her husband, in gentle and loving repose, seem less a statement of diplomatic alliance than a forever snapshot of a loving couple, still tenderly holding hands after all these years.
I think I’d rather be remembered for my pen than my sword, and would rather be successful in love than in war, or even in my writing.
Still, plague notwithstanding, I’m going to finish my damn book.
All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck
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