I go down through the steps and well-maintained green area. I no longer look at the church from above but, rather overwhelmed with its Baroque structure, I gaze at it towering above.
In 1098, thanks to Count Henrique and his wife, Teresa, who donated the land to the monks, Santo Tirso’s monastery became the richest and most significant in the whole country.
I go inside. The rows of wooden benches are empty. The echo of my steps fills the air. Polychrome statues hold their insignias, pointing their painted eyes up towards the sky or looking down, silently searching for believers.
The glory days of the order of São Bento are still visible in rich and good quality polychromes on the vault, and gilt-wood altars, like the one in the presbytery where holy Mary, together with a small group of putti, is reaching the gates of heaven.
I leave the church through the cloister. It seems to be forgotten. The surrounding area is very messy. Burned plastic candles disfigure the beauty of this place. Plastic bottles stuck in the niches of the cloister show that we are in a time when nature has been ruined by human behaviour.
But it wasn’t like this before, when the Benedictines took care of this place. Their gardens and orchards were famous, as well as all the healing mixtures they prepared using only natural ingredients. They were trying to be independent from the outside world, yet never stored crops, preferring to give them to others. According to their idea of life, they fully trusted God, who was supposed to take care of them no matter what.
What remains from the old life of the monks are forgotten gardens that wait to be rediscovered. I imagine them in full blossom, with the smell of ripe apples, sweet roses, and herbs that could heal most illnesses and soothe the pain.
On the bank of the river
I leave the monastery and follow the road down to the river. It’s a perfect place to transfer to the world of calmness. On the other bank, the monastery, with its big garden, towers over the hill. After the bend of the Ave, a big vineyard stretches on the little hill, giving an idea of how this place may have looked when run by the monks.
The vines have their first grapes, which have started to ripen in the sun. Little constructions that look like garden pavilions appear regularly on the way, providing shadow for grape pickers and giving them access to the fresh water from the river.
On the water, an arthropod makes circles that diverge from its small legs, becoming larger and larger, then disappearing on the surface. In the silence of the late afternoon, the vineyards, rivers, and the monastery create an indescribable landscape.
Art of looking into the future
While all around you can still hear the echoes of the old times, the modern era marks its presence on each corner of this town. Santo Tirso is dotted with over 50 outdoor sculptures, scattered around the city.
Close to the train station is the building of Santo Thyrso Factory. It was created during the industrial revolution. As one of the biggest textile producers for years, Santo Thyrso was a place of hard work for seamstresses. In the ’80s, the noise of spinning machines was interrupted, and the factory was abandoned. In 2010 it got its new shape. Nowadays, it’s a creative centre, a space to rethink textiles, where younger-generation brands such as less.buyless give a new, more sustainable approach to fabrics and fashion.
Through the old memories of the town enchanted in the walls of the Baroque abbey, medieval cloister, and the romantic vibes of the D. Maria II park, Santo Tirso looks brightly forward. Surrounded by the trails in the natural areas, full of stunning wildlife, tied with the ribbon of the river, a spectacular feeling is created of a veiled yet progressive town which draws from its past, respects the present, and proudly looks into the future.