Space and Organisation
The first monastic buildings at Batalha are not the oldest there for us to see. Considering that the main monastic structure – the church – took more than fifty years to build, it is not difficult to conclude that there had to have been other arrangements for the Dominican community to whom the monastery was given in 1388. We already know of the existence of a previous temple, which was ultimately demolished in the 1960s and went by the name of Santa Maria-a-Velha. This was the first monastic church that would most certainly have accommodated the needs of the friars. It was located to the northeast of the monastic nucleus being built there.
The pantheons were not part of initial project, this being solely the church, the sacristy, the Royal Cloister and its dependencies: chapter house, dormitory, refectory and kitchen. The northern façade of this complex had originally been conceived as an exterior wall. Nevertheless, certain questions still await a response: where were provisions and firewood kept? Where were the library, the apothecary and the infirmary? Why do we still insist on locating the dormitory within the ample space used as a cellar during various centuries? We know that at that time, common dormitories were not the custom in preaching communities.
The first enlargement of the monastic space took place during the construction of the Cloister of King Afonso V in the third quarter of the 15th century, and would certainly have added latrines and storage space on the ground floor, as well as cells, a library and further dependencies on the upper floor.
A second and final enlargement would happen a century later, with the construction of a cloister for the main gate and another for dependencies such as the gatekeeper, livery and stables on the ground floor, a dormitory and confessional chapel, library and guesthouse on the upper floor. This transformation of the convent space followed a period of intense intellectual study at Batalha which resulted in the newly-acquired status of university, inspired by the Counter-Reformist Catholicism popular at the time, a dedication to the separation of duties in an atmosphere of rigorous isolation. The upper floor of the Cloister of King Afonso V came to house, on the north side, the cells for the converts and, to the west, the house for the novices with their own chapel. At this time the original dependencies added to the Santa Maria-a-Velha may have disappeared, while the church continued to function right till the last days of the Dominican community in Batalha. The church then became annexed on one side to the new buildings and to the outer wall on the other. The main gate had a side entrance, located within a porticoed structure, which gave onto a reception hall that eventually directed people to respective parts of the convent: the adjoining classroom intended for the local population, the confessional chapel and Prior’s dependencies, and the guesthouse.