Convento São Francisco de Mértola
In 1980, a Dutch family, the Zwanikkens, came across the Convento and eventually purchased the buildings and its grounds. Over decades they have sensitively restored it- transforming the rotten landscape and crumbling chapel into a home, nature preserve, artist-in-residence and guest accommodation. Much of the space is open to the public on appointment , to share with the community and visitors who have special interests in nature, art and developing self-awareness skills.
District records from 400 years ago show that the Convento was built to house relics of the Cross of Christ and a fragment of his purple robe. From 1612 to 1834 it provided accommodation for an abbot and twelve monks adhering to the Franciscan religious code.
Far older than the Convento is an original chapel and a deep well on the grounds go back to Roman times.
At the highest outdoor point there is an archaic circular stone floor. Some speculate this could have been a place for threshing grain or may have held some spiritual significance. Designed as a radiating star, its mid-point marks the exact centre of the surrounding hills. An Iron Age wall forms a boundary between the summits of these uplands from where the site of the stone circle and later the Franciscan monastery, could have been seen.
Records from 1753 describe the Miracle of Mértola when a statue of St Anthony, housed inside the Convento’s church, was observed to cry. Witness statements contemporary to that time, were published in Lisbon providing testimony of the event.
After the disillusion of all religious orders in Portugal in 1834, the Convento fell into a state of disrepair and eventually dereliction.