As long as the world is running

“In the neurotic, rushed Europe, Portugal remained a corner of attraction and charm. […] The humanism of the Portuguese […] lives together in harmony with their Christian tradition and tolerance. In general, the elegance of their way of thinking and expressing themselves – regardless of social class –, which can be well described only with the word “generous”, clearly highlights this fortunate difference to the mutinous and brutal societies of other countries.”

Alcobaça, January 2015

Katia Guerrero: Até ao fim

These Portuguese kings were quite strange figures. How else could it be, if even the first one was Hungarian. For example, they were capable of such unusual things at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, like reading, and one of them went even further. Don Dinis learned to write, which was held in quite low esteem in the period. He wrote wonderful chivalry and love songs, cantigas in ancient Portuguese, he translated from other languages, and he composed the gesta of the deds of his grandfather, Alfonso el Sabio, the wise king of Castile. Alfonso was also a strange figure. Before and together with Rudolf von Hapsburg he was also King of Germany, and he started to standardize the Castilian dialect.

And Don Dinis’ grandson, one of our story’s heroes, Pedro, loved. Loved and still loves – the present tense is no mistake, as you will soon understand – a woman, like no one else in this world, and this love prompted him to things, elevated him so high and dropped him so low, like perhaps no one else in this world. The true story of this love, as if it were a Shakespeare play, at once shows the wonders, goodness and dark depths of the human heart, and is still present in the Portuguese spirit, metaphors and daily speech.

The spring sky of Portugal is wonderfully blue. It could not be any different in 1340, when a new, carefully planned dynastic marriage was prepared between Pedro, the Crown Prince of Portugal, and the Castilian Princess Constança. The first marriage of the Crown Prince was not successful. In lack of a much-anticipated successor, Pedro divorced his wife, the Castilian and Aragonese Princess Branca. The new election, Princess Constança seemed a perfect party from every personal and political aspect.

In the delegation there was also Inês de Castro, a Castilian noble maid of honor, who according to contemporary memoirs was a delightfully beautiful, attractive and nice person, so the bright blue sky did not have to help too much so the Crown Prince fall in crazy love with her, and his feelings be reciprocated. The marriage with Constança was made in August. Inês also remained at the court.

Inês de Castro. The Spanish women who reigned after her death, 1944. Directed by Leitão de Barros. Starring Alicia Palacios, Antonio Vilar and María Pradera

At that time the institution of royal and princely lovers was common, and in later ages it was even a honor to be the king’s concubine. It was, however, quite uncommon that two people loved each other so much, to the amazement, jealousy, envy and rage of their environment. King Alfonso soon chased Inês from the court, but the couple’s relationship was not interrupted.

In 1345 Ferdinand, the later Don Fernando was born, and Princess Constança died quite young, at the age of twenty-five or thirty. Pedro had his sweetheart brought back. He placed her in the Santa Clara convent of Coimbra, and they lived together quite openly and happily. They had three sons and a daughter. In 1345 he probably also married her in secret.

Alcobaça, January 2015

Their this-worldly happiness, however, could not be fulfilled. Countless variations can be read as to what intensified the hatred against the couple, from the strengthening of the Castilian influence to the overturning of the order of succession to the throne. I myself think that hatred was the main motor: the court could not bear the harmony of two happy persons. This hatred brought its fruit. Don Alfonso accepted the – false – accusation of high treason against Inês, and sentenced her to death. Pedro, who was well aware of the extent of hatred, quite inexplicably did not take any precaution, even after he was warned of the danger. Thus on 7 January 1355, today six hundred sixty-one year ago, when Pedro went to hunting, it was easy to three “noble” lords, Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves and Diogo Lopes Pacheco to kidnap the twenty-five or thirty-year-old Inês, and to murder her in Coimbra, the Garden of Tears, in the presence of Don Alfonso.

Eugénie Servières: Inês de Castro begs for mercy at the feet of King Alfonso, 1822

Karl Briullov: Death of Inês de Castro, 1834

As to what Pedro must have felt at the news, is apparent from his subsequent deeds. He almost caused a civil war against his father, and only by the intervention of the Archbishop of Braga he reconciled with the probably terminally ill Don Alfonso, who died in 1357. Don Pedro took the throne, and from then on we can recognize in every his deed the vengeance of a man who almost lost his mind of pain.

The three murderers sensed the danger in time, and fled to Castile. Pedro, however, could reach that in 1361 the Castilian monarch released him two of them, Coelho and Gonçalves. A terrible fate awaited them.

Detail from the film Inês de Castro, 1944. Directed by Leitão de Barros

The king announced his secret marriage with Inês, and subsequently declared her Queen of Portugal. He had her corpse digged out, dressed her in royal regalia, and had her sat on the throne.

Detail from the film Inês de Castro, 1944. Directed by Leitão de Barros.
In the role of Don Pedro, Antonio Vilar

The murderers had to appear before the skeleton, bend knee, and kiss her hands. Then Pedro made them bring to Porto, where he had their hearts publicly torn out.

Pierre-Charles Comte, The coronation of the dead Inês de Castro, 1849

During his reign, Pedro took care of his people, and laid the foundation of all what a few years later meant the centuries old maritime and world power of Portugal. However, he compensated the horror with other horrors, cruelties, violations of right and violence, and according to the memoirs, he often found refuge in wild parties and roistering.

And yet, at the end of his ruined this-worldly life, he did two things that cannot be told without emotion. The third, escaped killer, Diogo Lopes Pacheco asked for mercy. He must have been tortured by saúdade, which chases away those living in Portugal, and calls back those living far of their homeland. And Pedro pardoned him. In 1365 Diogo Lopes was allowed to return to Portugal. He lived thirty more years, surviving all the actors of this story. He will be a diplomat in the service of Don Fernando, he intervenes again in the king’s marriage, he has to emigrate again, he is pardoned again, again he can return…

Tomb of Inês de Castro, Alcobaça

For the Portuguese, it is natural, that the body will rise again. You cannot watch without emotion in the vaults, next to the coffins those practical or beloved everyday objects, which were important to the deceased, and which he or she will certainly need at the resurrection. Pedro, at the age of only 47, sensing the end of his earthly life, ordered his final resting place to be in the Monastery of Alcobaça, which had been under construction since 1178. He wanted to rest in front of his sweetheart, “as long as the world is running”, so at the resurrection it should be her, Inês de Castro, whom he glimpses the first.

His will was fulfilled, and the two sarcophagi have stood against each other motionless for about six hundred fifty years, as one of the most important monuments of the country, where here has been no serious war for about a thousand years, and where millions and millions of material and spiritual monuments connect the living present with the living past. As long as the world is running.

In January I was for the first time in the monastery, already knowing the story of the couple. The sun was beautifully shining, the sky was incredibly deep blue, and the first flowers were blossoming.

The Mass was still being celebrated in the monastery, so we had to wait an hour before we could go close to the two sarcophagi behind the main altar. Everything came alive, and I immediately understood and felt how Pedro loved and still loves this woman. The barriers did not let me in reality, but in thought I caressed the two sarcophagi. Let it be so: the two coffins will open, and the happy couple will see each other again, for they have incessantly loved each other ever since – as long as the world is running…

Amalia Rodrigues: April

1 comentario:

Atlantico Ocidental dijo...

Thank you for telling the story of Pedro and Inês. Always nice to re-read it again especially through a foreign perspective.

A couple of corrections, if I may, regarding the Portuguese spelling of names:

- it should be Afonso, instead of the Spanish Alfonso
- similarly, the name of the fado singer in the first link is Katia Guerreiro, not Guerrero

I do congratulate you on getting the correct Portuguese spelling for Inês, instead of Inés ;-)