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PhD Honoris Causa Ceremony at the University of Coimbra

After the XXI IALM Congress, on 31st May, at 10.30 am, at the University of Coimbra (www.uc.pt) – one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe, founded in 1279 – an event involving the award of an Honorary PhD to Professors Ângelo Fiori (from Italy), Bernard Knight (from Wales), Bernd Brinkmann (from Germany) and Enrique Villanueva (from Spain), will take place. If you would like to participate in this very special ceremony, there will be congress buses leaving from Lisbon at 7.00 am (31st May) and returning the same day (arrival at 7.00 p.m.). It is necessary to register [for yourself and your companion] on the Registration Area of this site, if you wish to take advantage of the organised transport and/or attend the official ceremonial lunch on Sunday (31st). All Professors that plan to participate in the Honorary Degree ceremony should bring their academic gowns.


The Honorary Doctorate (Honoris Causa) ceremony is a fascinating secular ritual that observes a very strict protocol. Firstly, professors assemble in the King John Library (Biblioteca Joanina), where they put on their academic gowns. Then, the procession begins, heading towards the Great Hall (Sala Grande dos Actos or Sala dos Capelos), where the ceremony takes place.

This procession is led by the Armed Guards (“Archeiros”), followed closely by the professors, in pairs, with the most junior at the front. The various faculties proceed in order of antiquity with the most modern first: hence the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education leads, followed by the Faculties of Psychology and Education, Economics, Pharmacy, Science and Technology, Medicine, Law, and finally Humanities. Then come the speakers, the beadles, and the page, who bears on a silver platter the cap, ring and book that will be presented to the new Honorary Doctor. Next in line are the Secretary of the University, the Rector, the candidate (who also wears his academic gown, but without the cap, which will only be donned during the ceremony) and the president of the governing board of the candidate’s faculty. Special guests and guards bring up the rear.

Once inside the Great Hall (“Sala Grande dos Actos”), the professors take their places around the room in the same hierarchical order. The ceremony begins with speeches proclaiming the candidate’s merits, and then the hooding is performed. Finally, the candidate takes his place next to his peers at the side of the room. The ceremony ends with the Academic Hymn.


The University of Coimbra

The University

The University of Coimbra is one of Portugal’s most prestigious higher education establishments. This fame is due not only to the quality of the courses taught at its eight Faculties, but also to advances achieved in pure and applied research in various areas of knowledge. These have attracted worldwide recognition, reflected in the position it holds in international rankings.

This University is far more than a mere icon of Portuguese culture. Its policy of constant improvement has ensured high quality research and teaching, and enabled it to pursue an active role in business and industry. It has also participated in many pioneering international partnerships developed for the advance of science and knowledge.

University History

The University of Coimbra dates back to the 13th century, only one century after the birth of the Portuguese nation. On 17th November 1288, a supplication was made to Pope Nicholas IV for the founding of an institution of higher learning (known as Estudo Geral). The document, of which only a transcription is known, was signed by the abbots of the monasteries of Alcobaça, Santa Cruz in Coimbra, and S. Vicente in Lisbon, and by the heads of 24 other churches and convents in the kingdom, which together would be responsible for running the new University. The Pope finally ordained its founding in August 1290.

The Iron Gate (Porta Férrea)

The Iron Gate was the first important architectural project to be undertaken by the University after acquiring the building that was to house it in Coimbra.  It takes the form of a triumphal arch with a double façade (in the tradition of the military fortress), decorated with sculptures that evoke the four original faculties (Theology, Law, Medicine and Canon-Law) and the two monarchs that played a particularly significant role in its history (King Dinis, who founded the University, and King John III, who transferred it to Coimbra).

Paço das Escolas

The idea that most people have of the University of Coimbra, in Portugal and around the world, is largely based upon the cluster of buildings known as the Paço das Escolas that surrounds the university quadrangle (Pateo das Escolas), overlooked by the famous Clock Tower. These buildings contrast sharply with those erected in the 20th century under the dictatorship of the ‘New State’ (Estado Novo).

It was the Paço das Escolas that brought together the various faculties in 1544, after the University had finally settled in Coimbra (in 1537) after some three centuries of oscillating between Coimbra and Lisbon. During that early period, the Estudo Geral (when in Coimbra) had functioned first in a building known as Estudos Velhos, located more or less where the Main Library is to be found today, and was thereafter distributed around various other locations, such as the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Paço das Escolas itself.

University Clock Tower

The current clock tower was erected between 1728 and 1733, based on a design by the Italian architect, Antonio Canevari, replacing an earlier one built by John of Rouen in 1561.  In addition to the clocks, it also houses the bells that regulate the ritual functioning of the University.

At present, the University Clock Tower may only be viewed from outside. However, projects are currently under way to open it up to visitors, who will soon be able to climb to the top, from where there is a breathtaking view across the city of Coimbra.

Via Latina

Via Latina is the name given to an elegant colonnade, erected on the terrace of the 16th century palace in the second half of the eighteenth century, and which is reached by a grand staircase. It was designed to facilitate access between the Vice-Rector's court, the Grand Hall and the main University areas.

King John Library (Biblioteca Joanina)

The King John Library was built in the 18th century during the reign of the King John V, after whom it is named.  The main Baroque doorway is crowned by the royal coat of arms, and inside, there are three large rooms divided by decorated arches, all in the same Baroque style, executed by Portuguese artists. The walls are covered by two-storey shelves, in gilded or painted exotic woods, and the ceilings are elaborately painted, the work of the Lisbon artists Simões Ribeiro and Vicente Nunes. The library, which contains about 250,000 volumes (including works of medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canonical law, philosophy and theology) is a National Monument of priceless historical value, and is one of the University’s main tourist attractions.

The Great Hall, Private Examination Room and Arms Room

The Great Hall (Sala dos Capelos) is still used today for various the Great Hallacademic ceremonies. When the building was a Royal Palace, this was originally the “throne room”; it was then remodelled in the second half of the 17th century to what it looks like now. In the early 18th century, the chairs were reupholstered and the walls decorated with paintings of the Portuguese Kings.

Nearby, you have the opportunity to explore other rooms, including the “The Private Examination Room” and the “Arms Room”. The Private Examination Room was once part of the royal wing of the palace, a royal The Arms Roomchamber where the monarch would spend the night. It was also the room where the first meeting was held between the vice-rector D. Garcia de Almeida and the University professors on 13th October 1537, the date of the final transfer of this institution to Coimbra.

The Arms Room, which was also part of the royal wing of the old palace, houses a full array of arms (halberds) belonging to the Royal Academic Guard. These are still used today by the Halberdiers (guards) on formal academic occasions, such as Honorary Degree ceremonies, the rector's investiture, the official opening of classes, etc.

St. Michael’s Chapel

This charming chapel is situated near the King John Library. It was built in the early 16th century (replacing an earlier 12th century one) in the colourful Manueline style, and has a beautiful pipe organ that is still used every Sunday during mass. The altar is also richly decorated with gold leaf, which glows brightly when the light floods in through the ample windows. Saint Michael's Chapel is also used by members of the academic community for the celebration of religious ceremonies, such as weddings or masses in honour of the dead.