Jerónimos is the masterpiece of the Manueline style, the Portuguese twist to late Gothic. Construction of the church and cloisters for the Hieronymite religious order began in 1502 on the orders of Dom Manuel I, in thanks for the divine favour bestowed through the Discoveries and to commemorate Portugal's maritime prowess. The site had previously housed a chapel dedicated 50 years earlier by Prince Henry the Navigator. The west-facing entrance to the church is obscured by a 19th-century extension that now houses the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, but the sculptural relief of the south lateral entrance still captivates.
The hierarchic pile of stonework saints is topped by the image of St Mary of Bethlehem (Belém), patron saint of the church and monastery. Immediately inside the church are the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões. Jerónimos is famed for the quality of light that sweeps into the nave during the day: a visit during a choir performance is enough to make the wicked long for redemption. The exquisite cloisters, designed by master architect Diogo de Boytac and completed by João de Castilho, are often the setting for concerts and other events. Boytac is also thought to have overseen the construction in 1514 of a pretty hermitage uphill, the Capela de São Jerónimo (guided visits, Wed only, can be booked at the monastery).