Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 14, 2013

Still

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
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Still


Responses

  1. I love this… what a magnificent place so well photographed…

  2. What a beautiful place. Such a touching recount of a moment in history. :)

    • Hi Suz,
      Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing your very kind response.

  3. As always, a lovely post :-)

    • Hi Footsy,
      As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks so much for your generous response! I wish you a Happy New Year!

  4. Beautiful post, Naomi. What will be our monument? A book, a child, a place in the sun that says we were here. Will what we love be known when we no longer are?

    • Dear Scilla,
      That is an excellent question. My mother will be loved and remembered by her children and even her grandchildren, who know her through the stories I have told them, although she died before they were born.
      I can probably expect that the same will be true for me. I do hope my stories and books will touch a few lives and “bookmark” the small contribution I have made after I am gone.
      You have raised a lovely family who, following in your footsteps, are creative, intelligent, socially aware and active, and who will remember you as the same, and with love. I also expect you will one day “bookmark” your place in posterity.
      Best wishes for the New Year, dear friend!

  5. Ahhh, these beautiful Gothic’s churches… where time has stopped, immobilized between the soft light that penetrates as sensitive hand through the small windows…
    Serenity :-)claudine

    • Dear Claudine,
      Thank you for the visit, and for your thoughtful comments.
      I wish you and your family all the very best for the coming New Year!
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  6. Stunning post. Adore the photos.

    • Thanks so much! Best wishes for the New Year!

  7. Poor Duarte, what a life. And how beautiful and melancholy that his wife signed her name ‘the sad queen’ for the remainder of her life. But that image of their tomb statues holding hands in the sun is so sweet and happy.

    • Hi Letizia
      Those are the details I found most intriguing about this post. Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing your response. Happy New Year!

  8. What a lovely romantic story! Capped by that poignant open tomb! So glad you went Naomi! :-)

    • Dear Madhu,
      Yes, I’m so glad I decided to go after all. Thanks so much for the visit, and for taking the time to share your response. Best wishes for the New Year!

  9. Beautifully chronicled and amazing pictures! I really enjoyed this post Naomi.

    • Hi Beth,
      Thanks so much for the visit, and for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you and your family for the New Year!

  10. WOW. The architecture is unbelievable and seems to have thumbed its nose at time. I’m in awe of your photos and especially like the open tomb and the joined hands of husband and wife. Makes you want to cry to read of such a connection. :-)

    • Dear Tess,

      Thanks so much for the kind response. I was lucky enough to stumble upon that tomb, and I was moved by, as I hadn’t been by the much grander tomb inside, to photograph it. Their story was so much more compelling to me.
      Thanks for the visit. Happy New Year!

      • You are sooooo welcome Naomi and Happy New Year to you too.

  11. I’m thinking of all those gifted, hardworking stonemasons who chipped away bit by bit with their tools by hand, to carve such beautiful and detailed ornamentations on those buildings.
    I loved what you said about it being better to be remembered for the pen than for the sword.
    Speaking about stories, I’m intending to start a guest storyteller slot on my blog. I would be thrilled if you went first, Naomi, with some short tale. Email me if you’re interested (you can find my Email address via my Gravatar).

    • Dear Sarah,
      It’s really incredible to think of all the labor that went into these buildings, in the days before cranes and electric tools. Thank you for thinking of me as a guest teller–I will be in touch to learn more about it. If I have a worthy tale to share, I’d be pleased and honored. It sounds like a great idea.
      Best wishes for the New Year!

      • Great. I’ll reply to your email.

  12. What a great place to visit, Naomi. Gorgeous photos. I especially love the “sad queen and her husband” holding hands under the open sky. What a moving image it is.

    • Dear Sylvia,
      Thank you for stopping by, and for sharing your response. I think that is my favorite image and story of this post.
      I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and I wish you all the very best for the coming New Year!

  13. Beautiful — glad you braved the heat and shared the warmth and the love story.

    • Dear Mary,
      Thank you so much for sharing your response. As a storyteller, I am not surprised that you were touched by their love story–it held great appeal for me too.
      Merry Christmas, Mary, and a very Happy New Year!

  14. Great photographs and great architecture… Thank you dear Naomi, love, nia

    • Dear Nia,
      Thank you so much for sharing your response. It is always good to hear from you. Wishing you a Happy New Year!
      Love,
      Naomi

  15. These photos really do capture the essence of the theme still. Was there really no one there? You said it was hot, but it really does look deserted. Good luck with your book :)

    • Thank you for the visit, and for your good wishes. Sometimes I can be patient and wait until the crowd at a tourist attraction lulls, and rush in to snap a quick picture. That day, there were very few people there, because of the heat and the time of day, I think.
      Best wishes for the New Year. I look forward to another year following your blog!

  16. Beautiful. (And thank you for braving the heat) ♥

    • Dear Paula,
      I am almost always regret not doing something must more than the things I did do. Thank you for your visit, and for your encouragement. I loved your blog about Santa Claus today–it started a really interesting and passionate discussion at our house. My kids loved your closing story!
      Best wishes,
      Naomi

      • Awww….so sweet…. cyber hugs to you and yours ♥ Onward to 2014! ♥

  17. This was definitely worth wilting over. I think most UNESCO sites are. Your pictures are spectacular. I’m glad you didn’t miss it so you could share them here. :)

    • Hi Juliann,
      Thanks so much for the visit. I think you are right about UNESCO. We have been to some of them, and every one was a winner in our opinion. And thank you so much for your interest.
      I hope your holidays have been good, and I wish you a very Happy New Year!

  18. You can’t tell that it was that hot – your pictures are beautiful!

    • Thank you, Meg! I think one of the reasons there was no one around was because they were smart enough to stay out of the heat! Thanks for the visit, and the very kind words. Best wishes!

  19. What a great post! You are a great writer, Naomi! Writing a book is SO hard, but so much entertainment, too. I’m not sure my latest try is much good, but it sure is fun doing it. You have so much talent. Finish the book!

    • Thank you, Marsha! I appreciate your visit, and your perspective. I wish you the best of luck with your novel–I read the description in one of your posts–and I look forward to reading it. Happy New Year!

  20. Great pictures….. superb…

    • Thank you so much. I appreciate your visit, and your taking the time to share a response. Best wishes for the New Year!

      • Thank you ..wish you too a Very happy New Year

  21. There are worse things than being better at writing than at war ….
    Both the photos and their stories are well done.

  22. Good thing that these sites are protected. We won’t see the like built again and they’re so beautiful and peaceful, so full of grace. I’m sure there’s many a lost art involved as well. When the redid the capital building in Sacramento – which isn’t that old compaired to these – they had to find ways to mimic work that was done originally. There were no artisans with the skills and no records of how the work was done.

    Lovely, lovely photos. So appreciated.

    • Machu Picchu is an incredible treasure. It is interesting to think about the lost arts to which we owe the Pyramids, the great cathedrals and ancient mosques and grand palaces and monuments of the world. One reason we don’t see such magnificent buildings any more is because we don’t have the kind of power and resources the ruling class and the church once had, including mandatory tithing and pressed or slave labor to dedicate toward this kind of project.
      Then again, I remember walking down a little lane in Enmore Green in Dorset and coming upon a thatcher who was replacing the thatch on the roof of a cottage that was four hundred years old. I chatted with the owner, an elderly woman, who said that thatchers were getting harder to find as people either updated or tore down old buildings. I asked if she ever thought about modernizing, and she said the place had lasted this long without tampering and she intended to hang on to her little bit of history.
      I love travel for the way it pulls you out of your ruts and makes you thing about other times, places, cultures, ways of life and ways of thinking.


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