This was the second destination on our small group tour in a Mercedes van, there were 8 of us plus driver /guide.
Batalha is a small town amidst the hills of the Leiria area. It lept into the history books after a gigantic battle when the smaller Portuguese army against all odds defeated the Castillian hordes (Spaniards) at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.
What provoked the battle? Well the King of Portugal died without any heirs! However he had an illegitimate brother who in an Abbottesque moment declared himself King! But King Juan of Spain cried foul and declared war! Now the King of Spain was revered by the populous as somewhat of a suave, nimble and noble man who cut an awesome figure in the bull ring! Indeed his ballet like movements and pirouettes where he would, in a blur, turn 180 degrees on the head of a pin were legendary.
But his elevation to almost god like status around the Taverna of Madrid was his signature movement in which as the bull’s horns were within millimetres of his groin, he execute a complete 360 degree turn which absolutely confused and disoriented the poor bull. It was folklore that when performed perfectly even the entire Spanish audience were confused! His nickname in spanish was “Turn-bull the Terrible”.
The spanish King before “Turn-bull the Terrible” was regarded as the great pretender (intentional lowercase). King António had as a prince been of great concern to his parents – he excelled at sports impaling several of his playmates at jousting before the age of 10, but was severely retarded in terms of language. In the 21st century we would describe this as autistic although in the 13th century court it was a given that he was simply plain dumb! His parents, despairing for the future of the monarchy, negotiated with the Friar of a Cistercian Order of Monks for a term of several years of monastic life. The Cistercian Monks take vows of absolute silence. The young prince should have been a “sandal-in” to succeed.
Unfortunately within the year he was removed back to the Palace when he appeared to have no self control, pacing around the cloisters chanting in a monotonous repetitive way which made no sense to his elders much less his peers.
But back to the impending battle! Not surprisingly the illegitimate Portuguese usurper was terrified and he fell to his knees praying to the Virgin Mary for deliverance. (The practice of falling on one’s knees and praying for salvation is known as “pyne-ing” in Portuguese).
And the rest is history as they say!
As a thanksgiving for his miraculous victory the now legitimate Portuguese king decreed that on the site of this great battle a cathedral and monastery be built and named the monastery in her honour – Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória.
Rather unfortunately (there were problems with the building and construction unions even in the 12th century) it took more than 200 years to complete and whats more is still unfinished!