The history of Tarouquela provides an excellent insight into the artistic traces left by the different periods in this once monastic Church. Although the foundation of the Monastery of Saint Mary of Tarouquela dates back to the 12th century, its Romanesque traces lead us to a later chronology, likely from the early 13th century.
The architecture and ornamentation of this Romanesque Church illustrate the best kind of work made in this region. The sculpture shown on the portals, crevices, capitals, corbels, tympanum and chevet, attest an artistic richness that, above all, intends to convey a symbolic message.
Part of this sculpture is intended to have a pedagogical mission, i.e., to convey God's message: in Medieval Times, the church was associated with the earthly image of the House of God. In this sense, the Church of Tarouquela clearly demonstrates, through its shapes and sculpture, the catechetical mission that Romanesque buildings attained in our territory.
The ornamentation of the chevet's sculpture, both outside and inside, embodies one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture within the Portuguese territory. Despite having undergone expansion works in the Modern Period (17th/18th centuries), in order to receive the main altar, it takes advantage of Romanesque stonework, as evidenced by the abundance of stonemasons' initials.
Inside, we should highlight the presence of Benedictine themed sculpture - animals with an apotropaic function (protection from evil); two men with a single head; the serpents; the mermaid; a man between two birds; the palmettes from Braga and the geometric ornamentation.
Another interesting element is the Romanesque consecration altar and its corresponding tabernacle, embedded in one of the chancel's blind arcades, on the Epistle side. The triumphal arch's decoration should also be highlighted, as it features the depiction of outraged animals.
The corbels are also unique and represent human weaknesses such as, for example, the exhibitionist, that is, a squatting man holding his genitals. On the left elevation, there is a female representation with exposed genitalia.
However, what has been attracting the most attention is the main portal's layout. Its composition reflects a very complex ornamental programme, being considered as one of the most curious examples of Portuguese Romanesque sculpture.
In this space we must highlight the work of the capitals, but it's the so-called dogs of Tarouquela that surprise us the most. They are placed on the imposts, on each side of the portal and may be described as a pair of four-legged animals with nude human bodies hanging from their jaws, attached by the legs. With a clear apotropaic nature, they show a desire to ward off evil forces.
Adjoining the Church's right elevation we find the funerary Chapel of Saint John the Baptist (the current sacristy), which was established by Vasco Lourenço in the late 15th century.
Until 1980, we could still find some graves inside the Church, which we may currently see on the outside. We do not know who the buried people are, however, some symbols found in the sepulchral lids give us some clues such as, for example, the representation of a sword and an abbess' crosier.
Although the current image of the Church's interior is mainly a result of restoration works carried out in the 1970s, the truth is that the building once had five altars. Today, we may only see the main altar and another one, located on the nave's left side, both fitting into the Baroque aesthetics.
In the collateral altars (stone altar tables), we should highlight the minor traces of mural painting, displaying interesting Manueline decorative bars.
The medium-relief sculpture of the enthroned Virgin breast-feeding Baby Jesus, dated back to circa 1500 and manufactured by a Brussels workshop (or in Malines), is a remarkable work.
This representation of Saint Mary Major, placed on a corbel in the main altarpiece, on the Gospel side, combines the medieval hieratism of the majestic pose and a virtuosity that seems to appeal to modern piety.