THIS MONTH’S TRAVEL SECRET: A generous queen becomes a saint
The university city of Coimbra, in Portugal‘s Centro Region, is the site of one of the greatest love stories of this country’s long history and where the remains of a woman now revered as Queen Saint Isabel are buried. The town celebrates this saint each year.
King Dom Dinis, who ruled from 1261-1325, saw a portrait of Isabel of Aragon and knew he loved her even before they met, just prior to their arranged marriage. They met in walled town of Trancoso, where they did indeed fall in love with each other. The king loved Isabel’s generosity and concern for the poor and she became his queen.
From their palace perched high above the Mondego River in the elegant city of Coimbra, Isabel could see the Poor Clair’s convent, precariously perched on the riverbank below. Each winter, the convent would flood and each winter Queen Isabel came to its rescue, paying for repairs to the building. She spent so much of the royal treasury on the convent’s troubles that the king’s treasurer had to protest—there would not be enough to fund the king’s ambitious plans to fortify the country’s frontiers if Queen Isabel kept it up. So, the king admonished her and asked that she not spend any more of the royal treasury on the convent that should not have been built on the river bank in the first place. Months later, the winter floods came again to flood the convent. Isabel, not wanting to break her promise to the king, took her own gold and jewels down to the convent, in a box hidden under her cloak. The king sat at his window, saw his Queen walking toward the river and suspected immediately she was going against his word. On horseback, he caught up with her and demanded to see what she carried. She prayed for help, knowing the King was by now beyond reason.
“They are roses, my Lord,” she answered.
The king, of course, would not believe roses would bloom in the cold month of January.
“But, they are roses!” Isabel exclaimed. She opened her cloak and revealed roses to him.
The king recognized this as a miracle, dropped to his knees and begged Isabel’s forgiveness.
The king then granted the queen the revenues from several towns so that she would have her own funds for helping the poor. She was granted the towns of Trancoso and Obidos, near Lisbon.
Isabel was canonized and soon became the patron saint of Coimbra. Every even year in July the city celebrates its saint with a huge parade, and a statue of her is carried down from the new St. Clara Convent—now built safely high on a hill. Queen Isabel was buried at the convent she helped so often. She is celebrated in story and song to this day. In fact, when a popular comedy show in Portugal poked fun at her a few years back, the public outcry was such that the network took it off the air. And, if you are in the charming city of Coimbra, checkout the Quinta das Lagrimas (now an inn)– home of another legend, that of Pedro and Ines.