The tombs of Pedro and Inês

Time at last for the final installment of the Alcobaça Monastery series! If you are just now joining us, the series started with a wallpaper, continued with a tour of the church, and then toured the monastery.

But before I start putting up photos, you should take a moment to go here and read the tragic love story of Dom Pedro, King of Portugal, and his soulmate Inês de Castro. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Great story, isn’t it? So you can imagine my anticipation at finally getting to see the tomb spoken of in that centuries-old text. Of course, it’s not just the tomb of Inês there now; Pedro also commissioned his own tomb, carved in the same manner but telling a different story. He made sure that when he died, he would be laid to rest beside his love. For a very long time, the two tombs sat side by side in the transept of the church, but later they were moved to opposite sides. This is definitely better for viewing — remember the busload of tourists I mentioned? While they were crowded around Pedro’s tomb, I went to that of Inês and had it all to myself. And when they began streaming toward me, I walked around and had Pedro to myself. In reality, though, they were designed to lie side by side, because the carvings in each tomb complement those in the other.

And the carvings are astounding. Truly breathtaking. I’ve seen a lot of tombs since moving to Europe, but never anything like these.

First, just to orient you in the church:


Here we’re standing at one end of the transept, looking toward the other. Nearest us is the head of Pedro’s tomb, and you can see a crowd of tourists around the tomb of Inês at the other end. They may not be side by side any longer, but they still face each other.

Let’s start with Inês.

Ines tomb left side

This is the left side, showing six of the twelve Bible scenes that are carved into the long sides of her tomb. On top is Inês herself, in full queenly regalia with a crown on her head. Six angels hold her in their gentle hands. At the bottom, her tomb rests on half-human, half-animal beasts: these are her assassins.

Ines tomb right side

Here is the right side. Of course the first thing you notice is the jarring damage on the bottom corner. In fact, that is only the most easily visible damage; the tomb as a whole has been battered and beaten. As I mentioned in my post on the church, the Alcobaça Monastery was looted by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to burning the priceless medieval contents of the library, the French troops also looted the tombs. It seems they weren’t happy with the contents, so they smashed and destroyed many of the carvings.

When you look more closely, and see the incredible intricacy of these marble carvings, the damage becomes monstrous.

damage closeup

You might also note, when you look at the previous two images of the tomb, that only three of the angels holding Inês have intact wings.

Ines tomb head

The head of the tomb shows the Crucifixion — and unlike most Crucifixion scenes, it features not just Christ but also the two thieves. Unfortunately, this panel is damaged quite heavily.

Ines tomb head (closeup)

The heads of all three crucifixion victims are gone, as are all but four of the busts who looked down upon the scene from above.

But it is the foot of Inês’ tomb that is the showstopper.

Ines tomb foot

It’s the Last Judgment, with the fortunate ascending to heaven while the rest tumble into the pit of hell. At top center is Jesus, presiding over the separation of souls. But the best part is up in the top right corner, where Pedro and Inês look down upon the entire scene from their box seats.

(Side note: I have no idea what’s going on with Flickr’s algorithms, but photos that have perfect exposure on my photo editing software look dark and off-colored on Flickr. This one is the worst; the color is actually a light tan, but it looks black and white here! Very odd.)

On to Pedro’s tomb.

Pedro tomb right side

Where the tomb of Inês has Old Testament scenes on its long sides, Pedro’s has scenes of the life of St. Bernard. Where hers sits atop the bestial visages of her assassins, his is supported by lions. On the top, Pedro lies in state, crowned and holding a scepter, while six angels hold him as they do Inês. Only one of the six escaped the French troops unscathed; the others all have broken wings.

The opposite side of the tomb shows the worst damage of all.

Pedro tomb left side

One does hope that the men responsible for this contracted an extremely unpleasant, ultimately fatal gastrointestinal disease.

There is a showstopper on Pedro’s tomb as well, this time at the head. He commissioned a Wheel of Life, with concentric circles.

Wheel of Life

The inner circle shows his relationship with Inês as Fate had her way with them. Starting at the 7 o’clock position, Pedro and Inês are posing informally, as lovers. They rise up the Wheel of Life (or perhaps Fortune?), passing through a slightly more formal lover’s portrait at 10 o’clock and topping out at 12 o’clock with a very formal royal portrait. Unlike the previous two, where they are touching, in this one they sit separately, dressed in finery.

It all goes downhill from there, as they fall down the other side of the Wheel. First they are separated, then they come further apart, and at 6 o’clock they are in a tragic heap, destroyed by Fate.

The outside circle represents Pedro’s life, starting at 7 o’clock where he is a toddler on his mother’s knee. At 9 o’clock he is a student at his books, at 10 o’clock he meets Inês, and at 12 o’clock he is a prince on a throne, on top of the Wheel and the world.

Most of the downhill side is given over to horrifying images of losing Inês. At 1 o’clock she is knocked to the ground while an assassin plants a boot on her stomach; at 2 o’clock the assassin is pulling her head back by the hair; at 3 o’clock the knife is being drawn across her throat; and at 4 o’clock she is beheaded, with her head lying on the floor at her feet. (The original story I’d read had her being stabbed, but clearly that was not the case. This is so much worse, especially considering that it apparently took place in front of her children.)

At 5 o’clock Pedro is getting his revenge, as an assassin’s heart is cut out with a dagger. Finally, at 6 o’clock, Pedro lies in a tomb as an old man. Inscribed on the tomb are the words, “Até ao fim do mundo,” meaning “Until the end of the world.”

And the tomb of Inês shows that end of the world…with the two lovers reunited and lifted above it all.

It is impossible to view these tombs and not feel a twinge in one’s heart for the suffering of the lovers. Their very existence shows Pedro’s undying love for Inês, and even though they have been looted, bashed and battered, they are still here, telling their stories — 650 years later.




About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in history, Portugal, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The tombs of Pedro and Inês

  1. Cathy White says:

    Absolutely stunning, and a wonderful descriptive dialogue to go with it . Thank you. What was it about the French and desecration, didn’t they use the Sphinx for target practice?

    • oregon expat says:

      That one is a myth; the nose of the Sphinx was gone long before Napoleon’s army got there. (An early 18th-century etching shows the nose missing, and it predates the Napoleonic Wars by 60 years.) But it’s certainly true that they caused horrific damage in Portugal.

  2. HCarvalho says:

    It is said that Shakespeare used Pedro and Inês story as the basis for Romeo & Juliet

  3. Ana_ñ says:

    I enjoyed this last installment as much as the rest of the series: wonderful photos, interesting narrative, informative videos… I feel like I have been in Alcobaça Monastery!

    The work of the tombs is exquisite. It has been a pleasure following all the details in the photos along with your explanations. I observe in Ines’ tomb scenes like “The Escape to Egypt” (Mary with the baby on a donkey) or “Jesus carrying the Cross”, and that makes me think that all of them are from the New instead of the Old Testament.

    All the damage done is very sad. Apart from brute soldiers out of control, deliberate destruction of images has been a part of war and revolution since the beginning of the times. By images, I mean representations and symbols of the enemy, its culture and power. Some times these images are considered art, maybe centuries after they were created, but other times they never acquire that category (for instance, the iconic fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue, without artistic value, I would say)

    Cathy, there are French in this occasion, but many other nations have devastated lands and carried the fruits of looting, you only have to make a visit to some of the great museums in the world. And more horrific are the crimes against humanity that, in spite of the Geneva Convention, continue today. Systematic raping, and atrocious acts that we watch in the news, including exceptional scandalous cases in which soldiers of “civilized nations” are involved.

    • oregon expat says:

      I thought I’d gotten the “Old Testament” bit from the monastery’s brochure, but in fact it doesn’t refer to the carvings on the sides of Inês’ tomb. Therefore, that came from one of the several websites that I read while researching the post. (I am whatever you would call the opposite of a Bible scholar, and thus had to depend upon the knowledge of others for that aspect.) So, it seems that my source was incorrect. Thank you for catching it; I’ve edited the post.

      Your comment on the artistic value of Saddam Hussein’s statue made me laugh, but then I got to thinking about how modern warfare has changed the age-old standard of destroying an enemy’s treasures. In Iraq, the invading army didn’t loot the priceless treasures of the National Museum in Baghdad — that was done by the Iraqis themselves. My wife still feels that loss as an almost physical pain; in her field it was nothing less than catastrophic.

    • Cathy White says:

      Ana, sorry about the French remark, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that only the French committed such acts. When I was visiting the Pyramids our guide did say the French had taken pot shots at the Sphynx, so perhaps they did some additional damage?

      • Ana_ñ says:

        Cathy, you were there, amazing, isn’t it? I sure hope to return someday. 🙂
        No doubt, armies at war always make damages.

        If you are interested, this short article by Tom Holmberg shows references of the Sphinx without nose before the French expedition, dismantling the myth of Napoleon’s troops shooting the nose off the Sphinx. (

        Some excerpts from it:

        “There is a tradition among the Arabs of the Pyramids that all the scars of time and the wounds of a hundred wars, which the Sphinx carries, were inflicted by Napoleon’s soldiers, who used its mystifying and majestic countenance as a target. That, however, is only a legend for the tourist. Long before the discovery of gunpowder, the Arabs had laid iconoclastic hands on the beard of this god of the desert…” Though the Arab guides may have spread this tale, this myth has been perpetuated over the years by countless teachers the world over who have passed this bit of “history” on to their students.

        “Over the centuries the Great Sphinx has suffered severely from weathering…Man has been responsible for additional mutilation. In 1380 A.D. the Sphinx fell victim to the iconoclastic ardor of a fanatical Muslim ruler, who caused deplorable injuries to the head. Then the figure was used as a target for the guns of the Mamluks.”

        “The charge against Napoleon is particularly unjust because the French general brought with him a large group of “savants” to conduct the first scientific study of Egypt and its antiquities.”

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