Monastery of the Mónicas

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Monastery of the Mónicas (Mosteiro das Mónicas)
Monastery of Saint Monica
Monastery (Mosteiro)
Official name: Mosteiro de Santa Mónica/Mosteiro das Mónicas
Named for: Monica of Hippo
Country  Portugal
Region Lisbon
Subregion Greater Lisbon
District Lisbon
Municipality Lisbon
Location São Vicente
 - coordinates 38°42′54.9″N 9°7′49″W / 38.715250°N 9.13028°W / 38.715250; -9.13028Coordinates: 38°42′54.9″N 9°7′49″W / 38.715250°N 9.13028°W / 38.715250; -9.13028
Architects unknown
Materials Mixed masonry, Limestone, Wood, Wrought and cast iron, Marble, Azulejo
Origin 1585
 - Initiated 1 January 1586
 - Completion 1586
Owner Portuguese Republic
For public Public
Visitation Restricted
Easiest access Travessa das Mónicas
Management Instituto Gestão do Patrimonio Arquitectónico e Arqueológico
Status Unclassified
Listing Included in Special Protection Zone of the Voz do Operário (IPA.00003037)
Monastery of the Mónicas is located in Lisbon
Monastery of the Mónicas
Location of the monastery within the municipality of Lisbon
Wikimedia Commons: Mosteiros das Mónicas

The Monastery of the Mónicas (Portuguese: Mosteiro das Mónicas), located in civil parish of São Vicente, municipality of Lisbon, was a Portuguese nunnery dedicated to the mother of Augustine of Hippo, Saint Monica.


A view of the former-Monastery and prison establishment of Lisbon

In 1585, a monastery was established dedicated to the religious Order of St. Augustine, through the initiative of D. Maria de Abranches, on lands and buildings of her father, D. Álvaro de Abranches, Captain-major of Azamor.[1] The first rock was laid on 1 January 1586 and the first nuns began arriving on 11 October of the same year.[1] The Cenobitic monastery included 100 devotees, with the three principal founders coming from a building in Évora, dedicated to Menino Jesus. The convent chapel was consecrated in 1586.[1]

There was an attempt by the religious to enlarge monastery's area, to the Rua da Infância in São Vicente and contiguous lands, in order to expand the building and convent's vegetable garden.[1] It was partially successful. This was at a time when the monastery was growing progressively: by 1707, there were already 277 nuns living at the site.[1]

But, before 1680, Manuel João Fonseca had executed the retable dedicated to Nossa Senhora do Rosário.[1][2] At the beginning of the 18th century, paintings attributed to Bento Coelho da Silveira were also completed.[1]

The convent suffered considerable damage following the 1 November 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and was partially in ruins, with many of the modern areas of the structure, namely the new dormitories (with berths for 300 people).[1] At that time there 192 nuns living onsite. In the 6 August 1759, Memórias Paroquiais, signed by the São Vicente parish priest, Francisco José de Matos, the building continued to be referred to as a monastery and were occupied by lay nuns without a patron saint.[1]

The conventual church included alternating altars on either side of the nave, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, John the Baptist, Our Lady of Pain and Our Lady of the Conception, while opposite, St. John, St. Anthony and St. Nicholas. The main altar included images of St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Monica and Thomas Aquinas. At the time there were three chaplains, two paid 80$000 and one 60$000 stipends for their services.[1]

In 1811, the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Piedade was founded situated in Costa do Castelo and later at the hermitage of Senhor dos Passos. On 8 August it was transferred to the monastery's church.[1]

A large fire destroyed the dormitory oriented towards São Vicente in 1820.[1] The spaces were not reconstructed.

By 1833, the church (with space to hold 600 faithful) included eight chapels, altar and images of St. Monica, St. Augustine and another saint dedicated to the order, two chapels flanking the presbytery, and housed the Irmandade dos Escravos do Santíssimo (Brotherhood of Blessed Slaves).[1]

On 8 May 1834, the religious order were extinguished across Portugal, yet, many of the nuns persisted at the site until there deaths.[1]

From 9 December 1870, the convent began to be a possession of the State; King Luís in the following year (15 June 1871), referring to a law creating the Casa de Detenção e Correção da Comarca de Lisboa, established an institution for males, in order to remove from the penal system 18 year old minors, those condemns to a correction prison, 14 year old minors condemned to prison, minors jailed by administrative authority or by request of parents.[1] The same law authorized a budget of 6:000$000 to accommodate the ends of the detention house and fix the building of the former convent of the Lay Sisters of St. Augustine, denominate the "Mónicas".[1] Public work was initiated to adapt the old convent on 16 February, using prisoners from the Limoeiro prison, under the direction of engineer José Honorato de Campos e Silva. This project was concluded sometime after 12 October 1871.[1] On 19 October, young prisoners detained at the Aljube prison began living at the institution. On 20 October 1872, the building was inaugurated and exceeded the projected cost by 30$372: 32 people from Limoeiro entered at the time of its "official" opening. A school was established to minister to the imprisoned youth, primarily basic (obligatory) instruction and music, while youth were obligated to work in the vegetable and scenic gardens.[1]

In 1903, the male prison was moved to the Convent of Cartuxa de Laveiras, in Caxias, and the old nunnery was destined to shelter female prisoners. In 1912, the now female Escola de Reforma de Lisboa (Reformatory School of Lisbon) was abandoned, and reinstalled in the older College of São Patricia, in Costa do Castelo.[1] On 16 April 1918, a decree created in the former-convent dependencies, the female Civil Prison of Lisbon to intern women, due to over-capacity at the prison of Aljube.[1] The assumption at the time was that the old convent was adequate for the purpose, since it was used a prison for minors, required little work and included a large courtyard and dependencies that could permit the installation of the population at Aljube.[1] By December 1937, the population at the old convent included 200 inmates, and would eventually reach 300.[1]

On 27 April 1939, the Minister of Justice (Rodrigues Júnior), during the sequence of a report to reorganize and decongest the prisons at the time, informed the Minister of Public Works that central jails in Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra (even after improvised adaptions) were not sufficient to accommodate the population incarcerated.[1] There were hygiene and comfort issues at all the institutions. An example of this was at the Mónicas, with could house 200 prisoners, was occupied by 294. The need to conclude the public works at the Colónia Penitenciária de Alcoentre (Alcoentre Penitentiary Colony).[1] A similar report was issued on 7 July 1939 by the CCP for the MOPC that covered the state of the Portuguese prisons and stating the imperative of executing the 1936 Prison Reform.[1] In it the nature, number, capacity and situation of many of the prisons were identified, and was approved by the Minister, including a plan for constructing new institutions, the development of the first Plano das Construções Prisionais (Prison Construction Plan), published on 24 May 1941.[1] The text included the detailed description of the function and installation of these establishments, and constituted an important document, a snapshot of the situation in 1939. It further established an obligatory authorization, by the Minister of Public Works and Communication (through the Commission for Prison Construction) to construct new buildings or reconstruct existing buildings.[1]

On 2 November 1941, the DGEMN approved the proposal of Horácio Novais to execute work on the "historic" prisons of Caxias, Limoeiro, Mónicas, Monsanto and Alenquer, for 2.700$00.[1] The Sub-Secretary of State for Public Works authorized 190.000$00, from the confers of the Conselho Administrativo das Cadeias Civis Centrais de Lisboa (Lisbon Central Civil Prison Administrative Council), in small installments, for urgent repairs at those prisons. Work at the Mónicas prison, a unique circumstance in the group, began on 31 July 1944.[1] Yet, in 1953, the construction of the Cadeia Central de Mulheres in Tires, permitted that prison population at the old convent be transferred from the old building. The building continued that to be part of the Ministry of Justice, and would eventually function as female block for the jail of Lisbon (one of three sections at the site), with space for 150 prisoners.[1] The 2,705 square metres (29,120 sq ft) space, that includes the old cloister (which was used as internal recreational space), includes bunks and isolation cells. On the first floor spaces were reconstructed to allow the operation of a daycare for prisoners, with a patio and terrace.[1][3] Maria Branca dos Santos, more commonly referred to as "Dona" Branca (1902–1992), was one of the last female prisoners (known chiefly for maintaining a Ponzi scheme in Portugal between 1970 and 1984) to be housed at the famous convent.

In 2005, the jail was part of the Regime Aberto Voltado para o Exterior (Open Regime Aimed at the Exterior); RAVE was a program of the prison system of Lisbon, oriented to promote post-prison acclimation.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af Vale, Teresa; Ferreira, Maria; Agarez, Ricardo (2005), SIPA, ed., Mosteiro de Santa Mónica/Mosteiro das Mónicas (IPA.00005071/PT031106510339) (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: SIPA –Sistema de Informação para o Património Arquitectónico, retrieved 9 February 2016 
  2. ^ Ferreira, volume II, p.541
  3. ^ Os Serviços Prisionais Portugueses, pp. 40-41


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