“All things human hang by a slender thread; and that which seemed to stand strong suddenly falls and sinks in ruins” Ovid
Convento Nossa Senhora de Desterro – our Lady of Exile Convent
This is a once beautiful – now derelict – 17th century Franciscan convent situated on a hill overlooking Monchique. We had previously been intrigued by this old stately building – obviously ruined and derelict – as you have a great view of it from the wide viewing gallery situated on the opposite side of the city – but we had never ventured to actually find it before!
Well with the lure of this blog post and a gap in my photo gallery – we decided to brave the climb to explore the Convent … and here’s the warning – it’s a STEEP long climb! You follow signs like this one – which always make me smile – if you aren’t old and stooped when you start this climb – you will be when you arrive!
The climb takes you up and out of the main houses – and then into the most picturesque little woodland walk with fantastic views back over Monchique. It is almost British in its woodland feel – with shady trees and windy little path (and it is quite rocky and steep in places – not for the faint hearted!)
What we didn’t realise until a couple of weeks later is all the controversy that is currently surrounding this building! (More about that later!). We arrived at the top and initially thought it was all closed off and abandoned – it is certainly an imposing – and sadly neglected sight – but you can still get a feel for how majestic and wonderful it would have been when it was in its full splendour:
We were greeted by an older Portuguese gentleman – who looked quite astonished to see us – and acted as if he hadn’t had ‘visitors’ for a long while. We had no idea who he was, but he insisted on showing us around, via a little side door that led into a stunning old courtyard. In our broken Portuguese and his enthusiasm, he explained how old the convent was – drawing the dates in the soil for us!
And then he left us to explore! It was a truly stunning moment when we started to look around – the climb was definitely worth it as we stumbled into old atriums, chapel, refectory and lots of smaller rooms – all now in a ruined state, but still holding their own charm and history.
And the light streaming through the open roof made for some different photographs.
The courtyard was beautiful – and full of chickens, flowering trees and fruit:
The old refectory still had the remains of what would have once been a stunning tiled centrepiece on the wall depicting Leonardo da Vinci’s the Last Supper:
And there are still old tiled crosses visible on the walls – that apparently made up part of what was known as the Via Sacra – the Sacred Way – a religious prayer path within the convent walls.
As we left the old man gave me a flower plucked from the magnolia tree and was effusive in his praise – and pride – for the old building.
Outside it was sad to see the ruined building decaying and sprayed with graffiti and red painted signs, and we marvelled at how beautiful it would have been when it was first built.
The history of this convent has been detailed by the Algarve Resident newspaper in this article National Monument Abandoned
“The convent of Nossa Senhora do Desterro, Our Lady of Exile, was founded in 1631 by Pêro da Silva, who later became the vice-Roy of India. According to legend, the founding of the convent was due to a promise made by two sailors at sea who swore to build a church at the first site of Portuguese land. The legend also says that the founder brought with him a small ivory image of the Saint (sic), which the monks venerated after his death as a relic until in 1834 it was hidden to save it from the strong winds before being recovered by a local lady. Our Lady of Exile’s image is currently stored at the hermitage of S. Sebastião”
And upon further research we also discovered that Pêro da Silva is believed to have been buried at the convent; and that the magnolia tree was allegedly brought back from India by the Viceroy and is thought to be the largest in Europe! (Wonder if I can take a cutting from my flower?!)
And that was that – we thought! Until a couple of weeks later – when we read this article in the Resident:
“Monchique’s 17th century Franciscan Convent … which has been “abandoned by the authorities and left to be squatted by a family who has lived there for 36 years”
The Algarve Resident visited the site recently and can confirm that the monument has fallen into a serious state of decay and disrepair.
Graffiti has gradually spread around the walls of the building with messages painted in red suggesting that visitors should keep away. Words such as private, family and dog can be read in English.
We tried to speak to the family by knocking on a side door to the convent but no one answered. Access to the inside of the convent was virtually impossible with doors and windows bricked up and dense vegetation blocking entry.
They have set up a petition which states: “It’s urgent that the authorities preserve the convent and make it safe for people to visit as well as provide better conditions for the resident family, the natural guardians of the building.”
You can find the petition via the link here – and as the petition states
“The Convent of Our Lady of Exile is a place alive with soul”
It would be such a shame to see it fall into further disrepair and ruin.