Portugal, a country often criticised by other equally culpable nations for its propensity to corruption in public life, can at least claim a daughter whose body has remained incorrupt for nearly 700 years.
Without having recourse to cosmetic surgery or embalming processes the body of Stª Isabel (Elizabeth) remains in tact and continues to be venerated by the faithful at Stª. Clara’s New Monastery in Coimbra.
Isabel was born in 1271 and later on in life married Diniz, the King of Portugal. She devoted herself to caring for the poor, building various orphanages and also sheltered accommodation for the homeless.
In life, as well as after death, miraculous happenings were attributed to her. Part of her daily routine was to walk the streets of Coimbra distributing bread to the hungry. And, in spite of having been forbidden to do so by her unfaithful husband, she continued in secret to care for those in need.
However, on one particular occasion, whilst concealing bread in her large apron for distribution among the poor of the city, she was confronted by the king. Resigning herself to his wrath Isabel let go the apron strings whereupon hundreds of roses tumbled onto the cobblestones. To this day visitors to Stª Clara’s New Monastery throw bouquets of roses onto the sanctuary to commemorate the event.
In addition to her work for the poor and destitute Isabel was also a great mediator. On several occasions she intervened between various warring factions bringing peace and earning for herself the title “Peacemaker” among the population.
It was after one such intervention in 1336 at Estremoz in the Alentejo, that she died. Some days later her body was transported in the searing heat of the day to Coimbra for burial. After officially being declared a saint by Pope Urban VIII in 1625, her incorrupt body was laid in a silver casket and placed above the main altar in Stª Clara’s New Monastery where it remains to this day.
The incorrupt body of St Isabel defies all medical and logical explanation. The Catholic Church recognises it as being a miracle. It is one of the oldest incorrupt bodies in the history of the Church. On certain occasions, including Vatican appointed Holy Years; the right hand of St Isabel is exposed for veneration by pilgrims.