Tuesday, 9 June 2009

CORK CONVENT from a Sketch by Capt. Elliot.

Drawn by C. Stanfeld, Esq. A.R.A.,

from a Sketch by Capt. Elliot.

Here impious men have punished been ; and lo !
Deep in yon cave Honorius long did dwell,
In hope to merit heaven by making earth a hell.
Childe Harold, canto i. st. 20.

" This convent or hermitage is partly burrowed between the rocks which serve as vaults to the church, sacristy, and charter-house, &c. and partly built over the surface. The subterraneous apartments are lighted by holes cut obliquely in the rocks, and lined internally with cork to guard against the humidity. Hence it is called the Cork Convent. It is inhabited by about twenty hermits, of the most rigid order of St. Francis. They are governed by a prior, and live chiefly on fish, fruit, and bread; each has a separate cell, about the size of a grave, furnished with a mattrass; yet one of their community who lately died, named Honorius, thinking the meanest of these cells too luxurious a habitation, retired to a circular pit at the rear of the hermitage, not larger than Diogenes' tub—for it is but four feet diameter—and here, after a residence of sixteen years, he ended his peaceful days at a good old age. The floor of it is strewed with leaves, which served for his bed; and the rugged stone which he used alternately as a pillow and a seat is still to be seen there. These instances of self-denial shew us into what a narrow compass all human wants might be reduced, and evince the truth of the poet's assertion,

" ' Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long.'—Goldsmith"
Murphy's Travels in Portugal.
The Convent of the Santa Cruce de Cintra, or the Convent of the Holy Cross of the Cintra Rock, which perhaps is better known to the generality of readers by the appellation of the Cork Convent, is thus alluded to by Lord Byron: " Below, at some distance, is the Cork Convent, where St. Honorius dug his den, over which is his epitaph." ~

" As we," says Kinsey, " rode up to the rude portico of the convent, which is composed simply of two rocks forming a pointed arch by their approximation, the guardian of the fraternity overtook us, and, according to his request, made at the moment that he saw me taking notes of the building, I add the name of the worthy brother, Fr. Francisco da Circumcizao, and with the more pleasure, as he politely restored me my cambric handkerchief which he had found in following our steps upon the road. The brethren, eighteen in number, are of the Franciscan order, and subsist chiefly by alms. On the first landing-place, leading to the entrance-door of the convent, and to the left, there is a pretty fountain of clear water, surmounted by a rudely carved image of Nossa Senhora da Roca, and placed between two large tables of stone, which are surrounded by seats for the weary pilgrim to repose upon. The umbrageous canopy of a wide-spreading cork-tree gives to this vestibule a dim religious light, as well as a most refreshing coolness, and we lingered there in conversation for some time before the monk could induce us to visit his flower-garden, his ponds containing golden fish, his rills of mountain-water, and the narrow paths climbed with difficulty from the masses of rock fantastically scattered about in the surrounding thicket. On either side of the vestibule there is a chapel, with a small confessional in it, at once a source of piety and reverence.

We descended into the subterranean chapel, which is the largest, from a smaller one upon the upper floor. We observed over the high altar a figure of our Saviour, with a glory and crown on his head, apparelled in a crimson robe of silk, and leaning upon a cross, which his long tresses of hair partially concealed.

The Passion is represented on the side walls in Dutch tiles, and the images of St. John and St. Francis appear to be regarding the holy subject with intense interest. On the outside of the altar railing, and to the left hand, is the tomb of St. Honorius; and contiguous to it, as the place of greatest distinction, the cenotaph of D. Alvaro de Castro, the founder of the convent in the year 1564, and under the papacy of Pius IV.
" After hearing Francisco chant the Asperges me, Domine, and expressing our admiration of his fine deep bass voice, as well as of the curious pulpit, let into the wall, of his own invention, and of which he appeared to be very proud, we inspected the narrow cells of the convent, which are nothing more than cavities in the rock, and are lined with cork, and closed with cork-doors, as a defence against cold and humidity. In winter, however, such is the dampness of the situation, that the very rocks which are seen projecting into the cells run down with water; the blankets become saturated with moisture, and every little article of furniture is soon reduced to a state of decay.
" The spirit of Honorius seems to have deserted the fraternity in these latter days, who appear to prefer any discipline to that of enduring the painful inconveniences of a residence, either in winter or summer, within the precincts of this retreat; and Francisco was the only monk who presented himself on the occasion of our visit. After sharing his loaf of coarse bread, served up to us in huge slices upon trenchers of cork—having tasted his Colares, and listened to his long recital of the inimitable excellences of Honorius—we looked into the den wherein the devotee had entitled himself to a high rank on the calendar of saints by thirty-five years of a debasing penance, and in which there is scarcely sufficient room for the reception of the human body; yet where the anchorite, by his self-inflicted torments, ' hoped to merit heaven by making earth a hell.'"

Finden's illustrations of the life and works of Lord Byron
William Brockedon,
Illustrated by William Finden, Edward Francis Finden
John Murray, 1833
vol. II

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