The Miracle of the Roses

The legend of the Miracle of Roses is one of the best known in Portuguese Popular Culture, and it is undoubtedly one of my favorites. After our last visit to Sabugal, where this miracle supposedly occurred, we decided to investigate a little more about this legend and “discovered” a curiosity, to say the least … funny … but we will explain it a little later.

Queen Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

The Miracle of the Roses is the most famous of the many miracles credited to Queen Saint Elizabeth (Rainha Santa Isabel in Portuguese), also known as Elizabeth of Aragon. Born in 1271 in Zaragoza, Aragon, Elizabeth has always been enthusiastic about her faith. Elizabeth of Aragon became Elizabeth of Portugal after her marriage to King Denis, of Portugal.

The marriage was arranged when Elizabeth was only 10 years old, but it took place only 7 years later in 1288 when Elizabeth was 17, and Denis was 26.

Elizabeth (of Portugal now) maintained her youth religious practices and her mission to help the poor and sick. These habits and his reputation are certainly helped to originate his legend.

Isabel also actively participated in politics. She was an important conciliatory element of peace during negociations of Alcanises Treaty between Portugal and Castile in 1297. In 1323 she was important to restore peace during the civil war and still in 1336, avoiding a new war between Portugal and Castile ( now between his son Afonso IV of Portugal and Afonso XI of Castile). For all this, a few other actions, she’s sometimes called “the peacemaker”.

She was beatified in 1516 and later canonized in 1625.

Queen saint Elizabeth of Portugal
Queen Saint Elizabeth Statue in front of Santa Clara Monastery in Coimbra

Miracle of the Roses Legend

According to the legend, Queen Elizabeth used to go out early in the morning with bread and other supplies to give to the poor and disadvantaged. Warned of the weight that this practice was having on the royal treasure and that these activities are not very decorous, King Denis decides to check it out for himself and on a cold, winter morning follows Elizabeth.

After noticing that Elizabeth carried something hidden in her lap, he surprises her by asking where she was going so early, to which Elizabeth responds to the convent. Not satisfied with the answer, Denis insists on questioning:

– “What are you taking there?”

To which Elizabeth replies with the famous phrase:

– “Roses, my lord!”

Denis, with the certainty that it would be bread and other alms, says:

– “Roses? In January? How you dare lie to me?”

Forced to show her lap, Elizabeth lifts her cloak, and at the same moment, to the amazement and buzz of everyone, the bread she carried is transformed into beautiful winter roses.

The King, surprised by the roses, apologizes to the Queen and allows her to continue her way. The people who had gathered knew perfectly well that the queen was taking bread and alms as it was her custom, and that only a miracle could justify the event began to treat her as Queen Saint Isabel.

Legend of the Miracle of the Roses
Miracle of the Roses painting in the old cathedral of Coimbra

Where did the miracle of the roses happen?

There are many versions about the miracle of the roses of Queen Santa Isabel of Portugal and several possible places where they may have happened. The two most commonly mentioned sites are the Castle of Sabugal and the monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra. But Tomar, Alenquer, Leiria, and Estremoz also claim to be the site of the miracle.

Story of the Miracle of the Roses
Tomb of Queen Saint Elizabeth in Santa Clara-a-nova Monastery, Coimbra

Other Miracle of the Roses Legends

The miracle of roses, like all legends, has many versions, but in all of them, the base is the same: the transformation of bread into roses after the queen was surprised by the king. As we said above, the place where it occurred also varies, but the most curious part is that this miracle occurred several times throughout Europe.

In fact, there is even the very curious legend of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, who, after being surprised by her husband while taking alms/bread for the poor, turns them into roses. The best part (and the one that really surprised us) is that this Elizabeth from Hungary is the aunt of Elizabeth of Portugal. So it seems that this ability to work miracles was a family thing!

In addition to the two Elizabeth, queens of Portugal and Hungary, Saint Zita in Italy, Saint Casilda in Spain, Saint Roseline in France, and a few others transform bread or alms into flowers, usual roses after being surprised by a power figure.

Legend of Queen Elizabeth
Statue of Saint Elizabeth in Estremoz

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