Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery) reminds me of the sculpted sugar egg my Nono gave me for Easter when I was small. The lacy delicacy of the iced petals and ribbons was too exquisite to eat. The monastery’s carven archways, putti, columns, alcoves, and pious icons are as minutely intricate in white stone as the frilled egg was in sugar. They fill me with the same vague infusion of anxiety and delight—that human hands could create tiny universes in sugar or stone, and that my own hands hold potential harm to their Creation.
In the cloister, there is a thrilling absence of symmetry. Every column, arch, rib, and medallion is a spirited individual: different scrollwork, flora, and seals adorn each. A small boy speeds his model car along the white paved raceway of the cloister wall. The noise is nails on the chalkboard of my Antiquarian’s soul, but as Mamãe carries him away, his shrieks hurt me more. Maybe that toddling race was his unique prayer to an automotive god.
Sitting on a cool bench, notebook on knee, I imagine away the visitor-hoards and absorb the stillness of stones. The monastery is a survivor, unbroken by the apocalyptic earthquake that leveled most of Lisbon in 1755. The sun-slick corridors of the cloister echo with memories of monks’ footsteps.
I conjure my father, at my age, a young Jesuit writing his manifesto on the back cover of his paperback bible. We sit together, in quiet meditation with the wise, old stones.