|The nunnery of the Order of Saint Bernard, dedicated to Our Lady of Conception was founded in 1518, on the initiative of the bishop of Guarda, Jorge de Melo. Linked to the French monastery at Claraval, it retains its original layout with the vegetable gardens in accordance with Cistercian rules on self-sufficiency.
In artistic terms, attention goes to the delicate renaissance work on the entranceways and the storied tiles in the porchway dated to the 17th century and attributed to the Spanish master Gabriel del Barco.
Inside, the single nave is shaped with impressive vaulted arches featuring the shields of the Melo family. On the side of the Epistle (to the right), there is the sumptuous tomb of the founder featuring the very best of renaissance craftsmanship and attributed to sculptor Nicolau Chanterenne. There is the tomb arch with a recumbent statue overlain with a retable depicting scenes from the lives of Saint Joaquim and Saint Anne (believed to allude to the sinful and heretical life led Jorge) set off by the Virgin crowned with angels. Furthermore, there are the tiles painted by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes in 1739.
After the prohibition of religious orders in 1834, the church remained open for service and served as the chapel for the Diocese Seminary, relocated there in 1883. In 1910, the convent was turned into military barracks and the Church was used as the Municipal Museum. This was subsequently transferred to the former Diocese Seminary building in the 1960´s. The former outbuildings remain in the service of the National Republican Guard as a Training School although the church has been restored and is open to the public.
Image by Rui Ladeira in "Alentejo- Tesouro Escondido de Portugal"