What really went on in the secret initiation well of Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, all those years ago? You can almost hear the initiates scurrying about with trepidation, as you descend the spiral staircase to the caves below.
Freemason and entomologist António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro bought the Quinta da Regeleira estate in the late 19th century and transformed it into a monument to the esoteric.
The estate is populated with symbols linked to masonry, alchemy, tarot mysticism and other mysterious groups, such as the Rosicrucians. Indeed, the cross of ancient order of the Knights Templar is depicted at the base of the Initiation Well itself along with a Rose of the Winds – both signs of Carvalho Monteiro’s links with Rosicrucianism.
A system of forking tunnels meets you at the base of the well. Claustrophobia sets in as the apparent exits are found to be mere portholes to the outside world. After a few dead ends, the exit finally emerges.
Secret societies are notoriously, well… secret about their rituals and initiation practices and there seems to be no reliable evidence about what happened during Carvalho Monteiro’s initiations. It is possible however to see a symbolism in the descent to the underworld and rebirth into the light.
Back in the blinding Portuguese sun, an elegant garden of winding paths is revealed . Sculptures are spread throughout the grounds. Ornate towers almost recalling Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights emerge from the treetops. The Regaleira Palace looms beyond, dotted with gargoyles and yet more mystical symbology. Further downhill, the path leads to an enchanting grotto.
Despite the throng of tourists, I felt a sense of calm in the gardens. Strolling about, I marvelled at the eccentricity of the place. The Castle of the Moors, a medieval structure, sits atop the Sintra Mountains and is visible at points, further enhancing the atmosphere of ancient mystery.
There are lots of theories flying around about the reality of masonic rituals, ranging from clear conspiracy to personal testimony. Secret societies tend to enforce a vow of silence however, so little survives of the events that transpired in the Initiation Well of Quinta da Regaleira.
Now the place has come under the control of the local authorities, it seems those days are long gone. There is however, something inscrutable and mysterious that remains. After all, who knows what really goes on when the gates close to the public every evening?