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Art for Mediatation - June 2019


Giovanni Odazzi (Rome 1663 –1731), Blessed Theresa and Sancha, 1725, oil on canvas, Rome, Church of Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi

In Rome, a few steps from Piazza Navona and very close to the more famous Church of St. Augustine, there is a small church of the Portuguese nation, dedicated of course to St. Anthony. In it there are several paintings representing Portuguese saints and blessed, including the one we propose here, which depicts two sisters, both nuns, both blessed. Let us dwell on Theresa.

Blessed Theresa of Portugal, at the time known as princess Teresa Sanches de Portugal, daughter of Sancho I, second Portuguese ruler, was born in the city of Coimbra in 1176 and, in 1191, married her cousin Alfonso IX, king of Castile and Leon, to whom she gave three children: Sancha, Dulce and Fernando. In 1198 this marriage was declared null and void because of the relationship between the two spouses, and in 1200 Theresa retired to Lorvao, in the Benedictine convent that she had founded and that she had later transformed into a Cistercian abbey.

After the death of her father, Sancho I, in 1211, Theresa was to inherit, according to the king's will, the castle of Montemor-o-Velho and everything related to that possession, including even the title of "queen," as she was the lady of that castle. The new sovereign, Alfonso II, her brother, wanted to centralise all the power in his hands and did not accept the will, thus preventing Theresa, and the other two infant his sisters, Mafalda and Sancha, taking possession of the titles and incomes due to them.

When Alfonso died in 1223, his successor, Sancho II, solved the crisis by allowing his aunts to receive the incomes, while retaining control of castles and towns.

Finally, both Theresa and the sisters were able to return to their convent. Not only that, because in 1229 Theresa decided to consecrate herself to the Lord and became a Cistercian nun. She was thus able to spend the rest of her days with about three hundred sisters in the Portuguese monastery of Lorvão, where she died on 18 June 1250. Her mortal remains were placed there, next to those of her sister.

The canvas by Giovanni Odazzi, whose quality is not excellent in some aspects, nevertheless succeeds in showing us the essence of this woman who, after several trials that life reserved for her, has finally come to the final choice of the Lord, whom seems to be indicated to her by her sister Sancha. The second element that stands out from the painting is the monastic habit: not only the two sisters in the foreground, but also other figures in the background are wearing it. In the painting there are only nuns and angels, almost as if to tell us that a convent, where the Lord is sought, is a corner of Paradise!


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