Throughout the second half of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth century a series of transformations combined to trigger the emergence and expansion of the Romanesque style. A greater political stability is then followed by a slow but significant demographic growth.
At the same time, two phenomena evolve in Europe that are fundamental to the understanding of the emergence, development and expansion of Romanesque architecture: the monasticism and the cult of the relics.
The foundation of the Monastery of Cluny, in Burgundy, in 910, marks a turning point in the history of Western monasticism. The power of this Monastery has contributed to the consolidation of a few principles of unity which are on the basis of the artistic language that was then common in Europe, i.e., the Romanesque art.
The cult of relics and pilgrimages are aspects that go beyond the religious and devotional phenomenon. These reveal themselves as factors of exchange and sharing of knowledge, thus becoming the driving forces of artistic creation.
In fact, it was the religious factor, more than any other, that contributed to the Europeanization and the dissemination of the elements that define the Romanesque concept, although there are constructions of civil, profane and military character which are significant for the evolution and affirmation of Romanesque architecture.
The building system that characterises Romanesque architecture become defined little before the mid 11th century. It is in the regions of Burgundy, Languedoc, Auvergne and the Southeast of France, and in the peninsular kingdoms of Navarre and Castile that the true originality of Western artistic creation may be found in this period.
The Romanesque in Portugal
The Romanesque style arrives in Portugal in the late 11th century within a broader phenomenon of cultural Europeanization, which brought the Cluniac monastic reform and the Roman liturgy to the Iberian Peninsula. The arrival of the religious orders of Cluny, Cister, the Clerics Regular of Saint Augustine and the Military Orders should also be seen within the process of the Reconquest and the organization of the territory.
The conquest of Coimbra from the Moors in 1064 by Fernando Magno de Leão gave sounder security to the Northern regions. This period is marked by demographic growth, clustered occupation of the territory and more structured habitat.
The expansion of Romanesque architecture in Portugal coincides with the reign of King D. Afonso Henriques. At this time, the works of the Sees of Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto began and the Monastery of Santa Cruz of Coimbra was built.
Being a predominantly religious architecture, the Romanesque is much associated with the diocese and parish’s ecclesiastic organization and with the monasteries of the several monastic orders founded or rebuilt in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The Romanesque architecture in Portugal is mainly concentrated in the Northwest and the centre, being coeval with the period in which its habitat is structured, with all the parishes and an entire religious and neighbourly organization of villages. The expansion of the Romanesque style does not exactly correspond to the Reconquest, but to the territory re-organization. The dioceses are divided into parishes which form, between the Rivers Douro and Minho, a very dense network.