In the 13th century, in the kingdom of Aragon, a princess was born who would remain in the history of Portugal forever.
Isabel, also the name of her aunt, Saint Isabel of Hungary, sister of her paternal grandmother, was most likely born in Zaragoza in the Kingdom of Aragon on 11 February 1270. She was the daughter of D. Pedro the Great and Dona Constança of Sicily. On her father’s side, blood from Hungary was flowing in her veins, while on her mother’s side she descended from Manfredo of Naples and Sicily and from Dona Brites de Savoy, her grandparents. The girl, firstborn, among several siblings, was delicate and very beautiful and since childhood, lived a good part in Barcelona, demonstrated a taste for prayer, the candid power to generate affections and reconciliations, naive kindness and promising intelligence. These virtues triggered in several Royal Houses in Europe the strong desire to have her as queen.
In 1279 D. Dinis ascended the throne of Portugal, a cultured monarch, poet, grandson of Afonso X, the Wise. The young king was nineteen and considering, among several other reasons of state, he chose to choose for his queen, Isabel, the daughter of the king of Aragon. Isabel had three suitors, however it is D. Dinis who will have her by the Portuguese throne. The bases of the nuptial contract were signed on April 24 1281.
The wedding took place, by proxy in the city of Barcelona, after a copious epistolary exchange. Just two months later the bride and groom met for the first time in Portuguese lands.
The queen received a significant donation from her husband: Óbidos, which she loved very much, Porto de Mós, Abrantes and 12 more castles.
It was in the city of Coimbra that Queen Isabel began a life full of magnanimity and sanctity with her court. Mother of Constança and Afonso, future king Afonso IV, pious, of supreme charity and devout, the life of the queen remained linked to acts of complacency, of favor through alms, offerings, care, with which she dedicated herself to the poorest.
At the same time, their pleas and diplomacy spread harmony and peace between kingdoms, relatives as well as between husband and son.
The marriage with King D. Dinis lasted about 44 years and only the death of the monarch in 1325 separated the royal spouses. When she remained widowed, D. Isabel wore, from that date, the humble habit of the religious of Santa Clara, and established her residence in Coimbra in the Paço that she had next to the Monastery of the Poor Clares. She survived her husband just over ten years, and in December 1327 she made her second will in which she dedicated her body to a tomb in the Church of the Santa Clara Monastery in Coimbra. Between the Palace and the Convent, the queen combined the duties of the Crown with devotion and piety, followed by days of prayer, works of charity, fasting and fatigue that time does not appease.
In June 1336, the queen was informed that her son was going to fight in combat with his grandson D. Afonso IV of Castile. King Afonso IV and his court were already in Estremoz, D. Isabel, mother and grandmother, aged 66, undertook a long and painful journey of dozens of leagues between Coimbra and Estremoz. The journey was tiring and exhausting, the Queen arrived very ill and died on the 4th of July 1336.
The next day, the king, complying with his mother’s latest determinations, ordered the transfer of the body to Coimbra.
Queen Dona Isabel was esteemed by the people for her works of charity, in death the same people began to venerate her remains, worshiping him believing in miracles and in her holiness. King D. Manuel asked the Holy See to beatify Queen D. Isabel, granted by Pope Leo X in 1516. In the 17th century, the tomb was opened, declaring who saw that the queen’s body was uncorrupted and with an aroma of flowers. The queen was holy. In May 1625 Pope Urban VIII solemnly canonised Queen Dona Isabel, changing her name to Queen Saint Isabel. When the coffin was transported from the Monastery of Santa Clara Velha to Monastery of Santa Clara a Nova, after the waters of the Mondego had completely flooded the old convent, the tomb was opened again and, to the amazement of all, it was verified that the body remained uncorrupted and that the smell was still the scent of flowers.
The miracle of roses
A legend said that the king, already irritated by her always walking with beggars, forbade her to give more alms. But one day, seeing her sneak out of the palace, he went after her and asked what she was hiding under his cloak.
It was bread. But she, distressed to have disobeyed the king, exclaimed:
– They’re roses, sir!
“Roses, in January?” He doubted.
With her eyes down, Queen Saint Isabel opened her lap – and the bread had turned into roses, as beautiful as they had ever been seen.