Quinta da Várzea Estate
QUINTA DA VÁRZEA ESTATE
We don’t know for certain at which moment in history the Quinta da Várzea estate, situated a few kilometres to the northeast of the Monastery, came into being as yet another piece of land belonging to the Dominican community of Batalha. The author of The ‘Couseiro’ (a notebook used during the Inquisition) or Memories of the Bishop of Leiria, which he wrote during the second half of the 17th century, stated that this was a land of grain mills, plots and an olive press and, furthermore, that the religious subjects of Batalha used to go there “for holidays and for therapeutic reasons, for weeks or days granted by the prelate”, adding later that on the estate “there is usually a religious subject dressed in his habit, either a layperson or convert, who looks after the mills and the land, keeping everything including the tithes in order”. The Quinta da Várzea estate was to all intents and purposes an extension of the convent enclosure itself.
Since the beginning of the 16th century, there have been references to marshland (Portuguese: ‘várzea’) at Maceira, to friars’ windmills on the waterways of Maceira or simply in Várzea, which may be one and the same as the property which we know today as Quinta da Várzea, by then already belonging to the Dominican community of Batalha. This estate to the west ends at the stream which begins near Maceira and which flows into the river Lena. Until the end of the 1960s, there were still the remains of two windmills at Quinta da Várzea.
In 1535, a leasing contract was signed between the convent of Batalha and a knight of the royal house, relative to a windmill and its respective lands in Várzea, the latter being obliged to build houses, an olive press and a bread mill at which the Monastery would mill all its grain. This was probably the first indication of the development of a series of infrastructures which would later be added to the dependencies belonging to the friars.
In the ‘Couseiro’ it is also written that, for the purposes of housing the friars, the estate has ‘cells and other housing; and is a very pleasant setting in the summer because it has a lot of water, and on its land a small chapel in honour of Saint Gonçalo’. No remains of the mills exist, whereas we can still recognise the structure where the ‘cells and other housing’ were found, as well as the Chapel of Saint Gonçalo nearby. The exact moment when, and for whichever motive, the friars of Batalha decided to keep Quinta da Várzea exclusively to themselves is not known.
Among the buildings that remain, even if in a dilapidated state, of note are the domestic dependencies of the Chapel, spaced a few metres apart. Those on the ground floor were comprised of a small press, a cellar and stores and, on the upper floor was where they would have lived. A simple analysis is sufficient to conclude that the outmost-lying structure, vaulted on the ground floor with an exterior staircase and a portico, is also the oldest, most probably commissioned by Nicolau Salgado, the noble who took over the rental of the property in 1535. Crosswise to this there is another multi-storeyed structure, comprising of a small dormitory with cells separated by a corridor, giving onto the older core via a stone archway. Its characteristics help us to date the dormitory to some time in the 17th century. A concerted enlargement round the back appears to have taken place in the time when the Quinta da Várzea belonged to the Mouzinho de Albuquerque family, after the extinction of the monastic community at Batalha in 1834.
Also from this period is the narthex of the Chapel of Saint Gonçalo. On the interior of this small shrine, long since desecrated, the altar can still be seen, though it is stripped of its magnificent covering which was carefully removed to the Parish Museum of Leiria-Fátima in1992, after successive acts of theft and vandalism had begun to seriously compromise the heritage of Quinta da Várzea. This is an altar frontispiece and two lateral panels in painted tile work, dating from the 17th century. The frontispiece imitates an Oriental textile intended for the same purpose, consisting of a fringed pelmet and grotesque embroidered strips which edge a composition depicting plants and animals. In the central medallion, the inscription “.S./GONCALO/DAVARZIA” can be read. The lateral panels show floral arrangements in large vases, flanked by small parrots.
The Quinta da Várzea estate was acquired in public auction in 1837 by Luís da Silva Mouzinho de Albuquerque, the first person to be responsible for the restoration of the Monastery of Batalha, reverting back to the church when it was acquired by the Diocesan Seminary of Leiria in1969.