Manuel Amado The Little Arrábida Convent 1998

Written for the exhibition
The Little Arrábida Convent / O Conventinho da Arrábida Fundação Oriente, Casa Garden, Macao, 1998

I got lost from the others while we were all running and laughing in and out of the cells. I had lingered inside one of them, wondering against which of the walls the cot could have stood, and also whether the monk would have been able, when lying down, to see the distant sea through the small square window. When I came out, nobody was in sight; the sound of voices had faded in the afternoon peace.    

I went on, stepping on the irregular slabs of narrow, warped alleys, which glided following the escarpment.    

I stopped by a corner, recognising the stairs that would certainly lead me to the rectangular patio, already quite close to the exit. I remember that, once in that patio, I would find on my right the doors of the refectory and the kitchen; and that by going through the kitchen I would reach another patio, with a rounded shape and unevenly paved, where many of the paths in that labyrinth made for lives of penitence and meditation led.   

However, I remember that if I had turned left down there, I would have found one of the chapel entrances and the mouth of the dark, slightly curved and cork-lined tunnel that would take me to the yard’s gate, the obligatory ingress for convent visitors. Outside, by the gate, the marble sentinel-monk would be pontificating as always, flat against the wall, arms crossed, blindfolded and gagged, a sturdy padlock on his heart. 

I decided to climb down the stairs and then turn left towards the exit. Before taking the tunnel, I went to investigate the corridor, and at its end I entered the main chapel.  

While walking by the altar, with its modest, faded wood carvings, I glimpsed, through the sacristy’s door, the shadow of someone standing still. I went on, stepping lightly, so as not to disturb any meditation or intimate reading.  

In the sacristy, I found a tall window through which the afternoon sun came in gently, settling on the floor and lightly lapping at the wall. At the back there was an old trunk with drawers. I had been mistaken; no one was there. I lingered, looking through the pane at the dizzying flanks of the ridge that, down below and far away, dipped into the sea’s greenish blue.