Gravura de D. Dinis e Dª Isabel. 1791.  Da série Lusitanorum Regum Icones Ordinis Temporum Expositae. Lisboa, Biblioteca Nacional.

King Diniz and Queen Elizabeth of Portugal Engraving 1791 From the series Lusitanorum Regum Icones Ordinis Temporum Expositae Lisbon, National Library

Princess of Aragon, Queen Elizabeth was born in 1270. She married King Diniz by procuration in the city of Barcelona, February 1281, but the royal couple was only received in Coimbra in October of the same year. An immediate empathy was established between the city and the Queen, who would later become its patron saint. The philanthropic and conciliating character of the Queen manifested itself almost immediately. The episodes of her miracles and her role as a mediator in the disputes between King Diniz and his half-brother, the Infante Afonso are well known. In 1319 and 1324, she served as an intermediary to bring peace between her husband and their son Afonso. Later in her life, when she learned of the dispute between the future King Afonso IV and his grandson, Afonso XI from Castela, she traveled to Estremoz in a final attempt to reconcile them. Queen Elizabeth falled ill in Alentejo, and died on the 4th of July 1336, without successfully concluding her mission for peace.

Retábulo da Rainha Santa

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal Altarpiece mid 16th century Coimbra, MNMC 11268

This small altarpiece is considered to be the first Portuguese ex-voto, and was commissioned by a Canonical Professor, as a token of gratitude to the Holy Queen for curing his niece, a nun from a monastic community located in Celas, who suffered from paralysis. The painting depicts the Holy Queen with the roses and her miracle, as well as her devotion to the sick and the poor. In the background there is an overview of Coimbra in the Renaissance Period, where the Royal Palace and the Monastery of Santa Clara can be easily identified.

Pormenor do túmulo da Rainha Santa Isabel, 2º quartel do séc. XIV.  Coimbra, Mosteiro de Santa.

Stone Sarcophagus of Queen Elizabeth. Detail. 2nd quarter of the 14th century Coimbra, Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova

The Holy Queen was buried in Coimbra, in the Monastery of Santa Clara, according to her written will, in a beautiful stone sarcophagus carved in the 14th century by Master Pero and later, during the 17th century, she was transferred to a new sarcophagus carved in silver and displayed inside the main chapel of the new Monastery of Santa Clara.

Túmulo da Rainha Santa Isabel. 1614. Coimbra, Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Nova.

Silver Sarcophagus of the Saint Elizabeth of Portugal 1614 Coimbra, Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova

After being officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, the mortal remains of the Holy Queen were transferred to her new and final address. A new silver sarcophagus was commissioned in 1614 by the Count-Bishop of Coimbra, Afonso de Castelo Branco. Today, the sarcophagus is located in the vicinity of the main altarpiece, in the new Church of Santa Clara in Coimbra, next to the venerated image of the Holy Queen, executed by Teixeira Lopes in 1896. Her image as a Holy Queen became inseparable from the image of the benefactor that founded several monasteries, as well as the protector of those in need, loved during her lifetime and worshiped as a saint from the moment of her death. Officially, her consecration took place with the beatification, April 15th 1516, by Pope Leo X, and her canonization is decreed by Pope Urban VIII, May 25th 1625. After the death of King Diniz, in 1325, and before settling in the palace enclosed to the Monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra, the Queen held a pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostela. According to the tradition, Queen Elizabeth offered liturgical objects, jewels and religious vestments to the Apostle St. James and received from the Archbishop of Compostela the pilgrim’s staff, shaped as a tau, which now belongs to the Saint Clare Fraternity.

Báculo e bordão de peregrina. Século XIV (1º quartel). Coimbra, Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Nova.

Pilgrim’s Staff 14th century (1st quarter) Coimbra, New Monastery of Santa Clara

When the sarcophagus of the Holy Queen was exhumed in 1612, with the purpose of collecting evidences for her canonization, the pilgrim’s staff, offered by the archbishop of Compostela in her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 1325, was found next to her body. In the course of the 17th century the piece was placed in a silver vessel, and it is now kept by the fraternity devoted to Saint Elizabeth of Portugal.

Gravura da Rainha Santa Isabel

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal Engraving 18th century Coimbra, MNMC 12198

The widowed Queen adopted the habit of the Order of Saint Clare without taking the vows, departing from her adornments. By her will, some of the adornments she owned were transformed in religious ornaments and liturgical objects and offered to several churches, and many of her jewels were gifted to the queens of Portugal, Castile and Aragon.

The Monastery of Santa Clara of Coimbra was included in the Queen’s will as the recipient of several donations, and among them her private chapel and all its liturgical objects. These objects were kept by the Nuns until the last of them died, being then transferred to the Treasure of the Cathedral and from here to the so called Museu das Pratas; in the 20th century they became a part of the initial collection held by the Machado de Castro Museum, with the exception of the pilgrim’s staff.

Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha. The Monastery of Santa Clara of Coimbra
Foto: © DRCC. José Augusto

Colar de ouro. Século XIV (1ª metade). Coimbra,  MNMC 6037.

Gold Necklace
14th century (1st half)
Coimbra, MNMC 6037

The legacy of Elizabeth of Aragon, composed by six pieces, constitutes a true small treasure within the panorama of medieval sacred metalworks. This necklace made in golf and enriched with precious stones and glasses is an exception because it is an object of personal adornment According to the legend, the Clarissa nuns would lend this necklace to the sick to help them with their cure, and it was particularly favored by women in childbirth.

Relicário de coral. Século XIV (1ª metade). Coimbra, MNMC 6036.

Coral Reliquary. Detail.
14th century (1st half)
Coimbra, MNMC 6036

This reliquary combines the excellent properties found in the naturally irregular shape of the coral with several techniques of silversmith work, bringing together guilt work and the repeated use of enamels. The reliquary displays the heraldic symbols of Portugal and Aragon, and it seats on top of two figurative lions. In the extremity of this piece was the now lost depiction of the Calvary, with the images of Christ, the Holy Virgin and St. John. The tripartite shape was chosen as a reference to the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Pomenor de relicário. Século XIV (1ª metade). Coimbra, MNMC 6034.

Detail of the Reliquary. Detail.
14th century (1st half)
Coimbra, MNMC 6034

This rare figurative sculpture of Our Lady and Child is unique both for its size and for the ornamental work and gems it displays. It is a free standing sculpture that rests on three lions, and, once again, the heraldic symbols depicted in the enamel work of the belt are a statement of power.

Cruz Processional de jaspe

Processional Cross . Jasper and silver.
14th century (1st half)
Coimbra, MNMC 6035

A magnificent hexagonal node, silver displaying the coat of arms of the Queen, stands out in this processional cross in blood jasper and silver. The theme conforms to Christological catechism — in one side we find the Calvary, and on the other side we find Christ surrounded by the Tetramorph, the symbolic depiction of the four evangelists.

Two crosses in quartz complete this group of pieces. The first cross recalls Venetian rock-crystal work and its iconography has a strong Byzantine influence: the episode of the Slumber of the Virgin on one side and the Calvary on the other. The carving of the crystal is very similar in the second cross. Its plates, in silver gilt, depict an ensemble of biblical figures, underlining the spiritual value attached to this unique piece. The coat of arms of Aragon is not included in these pieces, but we believe that they may be connected with the role of Saint Elizabeth, a unique historical figure in Portugal, as a sponsor.

Cruz processional de cristal de rocha Cruz processional de cristal de rocha Processional Cross. Quartz Processional Cross. Quartz
14th century (1st half) 14th century (1st half)
Coimbra MNMC 6040 Coimbra MNMC 6075