If you stand within the thick granite walls of the medieval town of Trancoso, in the mountains of the Centro Region, you would never guess that one of Europe’s great love tales began here. The king D. Dinis (1261-1325) was a renaissance king long before the renaissance. He was the first European leader to drop Latin as the language of the court in place of vernacular tongue. He empowered dozens of towns with charters, built a string of innovative castles to defend the frontiers, invested in improving agriculture, and planted a vast pine forest near the royal palace in Leiria that still stands to this day. But a great king deserves a great queen, and D. Dinis was to wed a princess from Aragon whom he had never met. But her portrait showed a sensitive, lovely young woman with green eyes, green as the pine trees he so loved.
So, even without meeting her, he knew he loved Isabel. As she made her long journey to sunny Portugal, he could not wait in the capital in Coimbra, but rather, he rode to Trancoso, a day’s journey from the boarder, and waited. When they met, he was awe struck, and vowed to himself to woo his bride so that she would him too. And thus, they became friends, and then fell much in love.
It was Isabel’s overwhelming generosity and concern for the poor that D. Dinis most admired. From their palace, perched high above the Mondego River in Coimbra, she could look down at the Poor Clair’s Convent, built at the river’s banks. In winter, the river would flood the convent, causing damage and discomfort, and the queen would quickly pay for repairs. The level of her help reached a point that the royal treasurer had to protest to the king that his ambitious plan to refortify the frontier was endangered because of the expense the queen was throwing at the convent. D. Dinis knew he had to rein her in, and rehearsed a long stern talk, but when the time came to tell her, he found himself muttering something about the treasury, and to stop spending money on rebuilding a convent that should never have been built on a river bank in the first place.
Months passed, Isabel heeded his words, and then a winter flood in January washed through the convent of the Poor Clair’s nuns. Isabel knew she couldn’t use royal founds, so she took her own gold and jewels in a box, and walked down to the convent to offer it to help the nuns. Dinis sat at his window –when he saw his bride holding a box under her cloak and walking to the river, he followed her progress, and then realized what she was doing.
The king called for his horse, and made off to the river.
He caught up with his wife at the gate of the convent. For the first time she saw anger in his eyes. He dismounted, walked to her and demanded to know what she was holding under her cloak?
Isabel knew she had no way of explaining this to her husband, who was beyond reason. She prayed for assistance.
“I bring roses, my lord.”
“Roses?!? Do you think I would believe that any rose could bloom in this cold month?” he scoffed.
“But, they are roses!” She exclaimed and opened her cloak, to reveal divine roses.
The king knew this was a miracle, and dropped to his knees, asking her forgiveness.
D. Dinis was man of his word, and he granted his wife the revenue of several towns so that she would have her own funds to help the needy. The first town he granted her was Trancoso, the second was Obidos – a charming town near Lisbon.
And not too many years past, Isabel was canonized, and become the patron saint of Coimbra. Every June the city celebrates her with a huge parade bringing her statue from the New St. Clara Convent (yes, they moved it to the top of hill!), where the queen’s remains are buried, across the river to the city for a blessing. And from the Azores to the North, Rainha Santa Isabel remains Portugal’s favorite saint.