An old tradition’s new meaning

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Sunday morning, I walked over to Lincoln Park to catch a glimpse of the annual Portuguese festa parade. In past years, I had watched the parade on the Holly Drive side of the Tracy Branch Library, and it had become an annual event for me. But this year, I had a special interest in one of the underpinning legends of the annual Holy Ghost Festa, sponsored by Tracy’s IPFES.

That special interest was sparked by my recent trip to Portugal; specifically, an afternoon visit to the small town of Estremoz in the Alentejo Plain. It was there in 1336 that Queen Isabel of Portugal died in a hilltop castle. Legends of her life, especially her many kindnesses to the poor, along with a few reported miracles, later brought sainthood to the queen, an unusual occurrence.

Over the years, I had known that Queen Isabel and her concern for Portugal’s poor to be one of the legends connected to the annual festa. I recalled talking to Mary Correia one day about the queen, her saint-like actions, and other festa legends.

Anyway, when our tour group arrived in Estremoz in April, we climbed the hill to the castle, and there was a statue of the Sainted Queen Isabel and the words “Pousada da Rainha Santa Isabel” near the front door of the castle.

The other tour members seemed mildly interested in the queen and her hilltop castle, but I said, “Wow, we’re talking big-time festa material here.”


Inside the castle, which has been made into a pousada — a small, high-end inn — we paused for a soft drink in a lavishly furnished lobby and then toured the chapel, which is lined with tiles depicting the life and recorded miracles of the queen.

A central scene showed her displaying roses from a basket. The story is that when challenged by her husband the king, Dom Dinis, about giving bread to the poor, she opened the basket to reveal only roses, not bread. Roses have adorned statues in her honor ever since.

The king’s crowning the poorest man in the kingdom on Pentecost Sunday at the queen’s urging — showing he was not such a bad guy after all — is another part of the legend.

So on Sunday morning, I watched closely as one of the floats carried a young woman depicting the queen with bread. Queen Isabel’s memory lives on every June in our town and festas all over California.

Waiting for the parade to arrive — it’s scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., but everyone knows it never does — I talked to several of the Portuguese faithful seated in chairs under the shade of the Lincoln Park trees. Many remembered Holy Ghost Festa parades of years gone past and shared a special bond to the parade that brought them back year after year.

Liana Garcia Gerhart told me she was queen of the 1969 festa and recalls marching in Portuguese parades all over Northern California that year. There were a number of very hot Sundays that year, she remembered.

Lisa Alegre Cracraft and Connie Martin Henson chuckled over their experiences marching in festa parades when they were high school students.

Sunday’s parade, which was stalled for a good 15 minutes at the intersection of Holly and Eaton while cars leaving St. Bernard’s Catholic Church after a Mass were flagged through, finally rounded the corner and headed to the church, arriving barely in time for the 11 a.m. Mass in Portuguese.

After that, it was sopas e carne at the IPFES Hall on West Ninth Street. Do you suppose Queen Isabel ever tried the meat broth and boiled beef

By Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus



Saint Isabel of Portugal

Born in 1271, Queen Isabel was married to King Diniz (or Dinis). King Diniz was ruling over Portugal when the Templars escaping from France came to him in search of sanctuary; later King Diniz would establish the Order of Christ with the same posessions and knights as the Templars, with the permission of Rome. His wife Isabel was extremely devoted to the Pentecost and the celebration of the Holy Ghost (where a child is put into the thrown as Emperor of the World, accomplishing the Fifth Age or Empire as related in the dream of Nabucodanossor explained by the Prophet Daniel). Like her great-aunt Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, for whom she was named, Saint Isabel of Portugal dedicated her life to the poor. She established orphanages and provided shelter for the homeless. She also founded a convent in Coimbra.
There are many versions of the story of Queen Isabel’s miracle of turning bread into roses, but they are all fundamentally the same. She is said to have been forbidden by her unfaithful husband to give to the poor. Having hid bread to give away in her apron, she encountered King Diniz, who asked her what she was carrying. Not wanting to let on that the contents of her apron were meant for the poor, she responded that they were roses. The bread was transformed into roses, and King Dinis, who could not understand how she could have possession of fresh roses in January, did not punish his wife. A similar legend is told about her great-aunt Elizabeth of Hungary.

Known for settling disputes, Queen Isabel was called the Peacemaker. When her son Affonso (or Afonso) declared war on his father, jealous of the attention being paid by Diniz to his illegitimate sons, she rode between the armies, reconciling the two sides. On another occasion, she rode to Estremoz despite being ill to keep the army of Affonso, by then Affonso IV, from fighting that of Castile. Affonso, angry at the mistreatment his daughter Maria was suffering at the hands of her husband, the king of Castile, had ordered an attack. Isabel stopped the fighting, but the exertion proved to be too much for her and she fell ill, dying shortly thereafter.

Isabel was buried in Coimbra. She was canonized in 1625 by Urban VIII, and her feast day is July 8. Many Portuguese and Portuguese-American organizations bear her name.


Order of Saint Isabel  (Ordem da Rainha Santa Isabel)

Created by John VI of Portugal on 4 November 1801, in recognition for the devotion of Elizabeth of Aragon, the Queen Saint. John VI invested Carlota Joaquina, his wife, as Grand Master of the order.

The Order is exclusively for dames and it distinguished catholic noble women. The total of members that this order could have was twenty-six.
In 1910, the Monarchy collapsed and the Republican Government abolishe the Order, however King’s Manuel II of Portugal wife in exile and after his death the Duchess of Braganza continued to used the order’s insignia of Grand Master.

The order’s sash is pale pink and has a white stripe in the midle. The crowned medallion as a picture of the Queen Saint giving money to a poor men and it is surronded by a frame with roses (alusion to the Queen’s miracle). The insignia’s motto is Pauperum Solatio.


2 thoughts on “An old tradition’s new meaning

    Most Popular Posts - July « Templar Globe said:
    August 1, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    […] 5. (-) An old tradition’s new meaning […]

    alexa said:
    June 5, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    i have to said that i go to the portgal amacan club they do the play about the holy gost i was isabel and so was a good queen and the king did not like how she feed the pour but so was a very good queen how she did that.

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