Organ Pipe at the Convent of Christ, Tomar

In 12 October 2017 I participated in a Symposium that took place at the Convent of Christ, in Tomar, a former Templar house later transferred to the Portuguese Order of Christ, where I presented a paper on 17th-century Franciscan plainchant in the Azorean island of Flores.

In the morning we had a wonderful guided tour to several of the many beautiful spaces of the convent, including the famous Manueline-style window, the cloisters and the convent’s beautiful church.

When visiting the church, especially the primitive Templar round part, I noticed a niche on the wall that suggested it could have been the place of an organ. Indeed, at the right side of the niche an enormous wooden pipe denounced this assumption (in the photo above it is seen in the left side, near the fake pulpit).

2017.10.12 Convento de Cristo Tomar (1)

It was actually the place of a former 16th-century organ that disappeared long time ago. Nothing is known from this instrument other than it was played by António Rombo from 1534 to 1536, probably a friar from the Convent that occupied the post of organist of the church, receiving in 1534 1970 reais for playing the instrument (Torre do Tombo, Livro Ordem de Cristo 23, f. 2r).

Fr. Hieronimo Roman in his Libro de la ynclita cavalleria de Cristo en la corona de Portugal (p. 35) says “tiene el choro horganos juzgados por las mejores piezas del Reino de Portugal pincipalmente el horgano mayor tiene particular ynuencion y es que estando de el lado de la Epistola en el choro, metido en la pared de la capilla mayor tine un caño que es el contravajo tan grueço como la buena viga ay en lo largo su proporcion […] pero es tan grande el estruendo y ruydo que hase que no se oyen los que hablan […]”. Fr. Roman writes in 1589, which proves that this instrument and its pipe already existed by that time. In a manuscript with payments made following works in the Convent 3180 réis were payed for carpentry works on the pipe of the organ (Torre do Tombo, Livro Ordem de Cristo 101, f. 37r).

The instrument was dismantled in early 19th-century during the French Invasions, that used the metal tubes. The wooden pipe having survived since it had no apparent value to the invaders.

2017.10.12 Convento de Cristo Tomar (2)

The pipe is enormous. It measures 11,42m long by 75cm exterior diameter. It would be attached to the 16th-century organ. Next to the instrument’s location there was an annex that was called casa dos órgãos (house of the organs) which housed the bellows that supplied air to the instrument (with a direct link to the pipe). It was demolished in the 1940s. It is suggested that this pipe would have sounded a note that served as base for plainchant singing, although this sounds unlikely (O Templário, 885, December 7th, 2005).

5 Comments on “Organ Pipe at the Convent of Christ, Tomar

  1. I too, as an Organist /tourist spotted this pipe, and looking round this incredible painted space could find no trace of any organ to which it could have been attached. Most Iberian organs of the 15th/16th cent have only vestigial pedal divisions, or none at all, so this pipe presented a real conundrum!
    Arter reading Peter william’s “European organs” where he touches on early 16th cent use in alternatum he mentions the use of “Drones” sort of bagpipe effect for special occasions. I am fairly confident that this pipe is a survivor from an early organ, subsequently being considered too large to remove.

    • Could this pipe have been used in crusade battles by the Knights Templar?

  2. I saw this pipe on 2/25/18. I was told it was used by the Knights Templar for crusade battles. Could this be true?
    I am commissioning an organ piece for St. Elizabeth Church in Marburg Germany. Can someone calculate the frequency for me. I want to duplicate the sound.

    • Dear Don, the pipe begins to appear in sixteenth-century documentation of the monastery and it is believed by researchers that it must date from around 1530-50, so it’s higly improbable that it would have been used as a crusade instrument. Some researchers argue that it could have been used for a specific repertoire practice at the chapel, although no music has survived that could comprove this hypotesis. The acoustic characteristics of the pipe have been given in an article (in Portuguese) that I hope it would help.