This is the curious story of Maria Adelaide.
In 1835 Maria was born in Porto where she attended a local boarding school until she moved to the nearby city of Vila Nova de Gaia to live in a convent.
The convent was situated by the riverside, that and the fact that this was an enclosed building caused humidity levels to be very high. As a result Maria contracted tuberculosis and was advised to leave the convent.
In hopes of improving her health she returned to Porto but instead of the expected relief, her condition deteriorated. Now the doctors’ advice was to move close to the sea to an area with plenty of pine and eucalyptus trees.
The launderer of the convent that Maria previously attended was kind enough to get word out to some of her friends in her home town, a place by the beach that fitted what Maria was looking for.
In May of 1876 she moved from Porto to Arcozelo where her condition seemed to improve rapidly, so much so that she was once again able to do what she loved most, embroidering and baking, which she used to raise money for people in need.
Only 9 years later, in 1885, a sudden cold aggravated Marias condition and soon after she died. But her death was only the beginning of a story that would still be told almost two centuries later.
The plot of the cemetery in which she was buried was sold to a new owner almost 30 years later, in 1916. He decided to have all the corpses removed from the site and have them reburied somewhere else.
To the gravedigger’s surprise, when they uncovered Maria Adelaide, it seemed that her body was not decomposing and instead they found her with her clothes intact, looking like she was simply sleeping and smelling strongly of roses.
After this very curious discovery the men thought it would be best kept a secret and to avoid further complications they decided to wash her body in chemicals and bury her in a common grave without anyone noticing.
That didn’t work out for them though. The people in town heard the rumours and one Sunday morning, during mass, an angry mob of villagers demanded the body be brought back to the surface so they could see for themselves.
Maria’s remains were brought back up and still showed no signs of decay and so the people deemed her a saint who was blessed with a miracle. They took her out of her coffin, washed and dressed her and then displayed her in a coffin with a glass cover so that she could be seen by everyone.
But this still did not seem enough for a saint, so the next step, in 1921, was to build a chapel that was just for Maria Adelaide, now Santa Maria Adelaide. After that still seemed too little, they decided to knock it down and replace it with an even bigger chapel in 1924.
That chapel was finally considered to be a worthy resting place for the folk saint, but her resting was less peaceful than expected. In the same year the chapel was built, a giant explosion occurred, 6 years later in 1930 and in 1931 two robberies were attempted. In 1981 yet another robbery came about which left the body damaged, breaking two fingers on her left hand. And as if that was not enough, in 1983 a man with a hammer tried to destroy her corpse.
Despite all that Maria’s body remains intact, displayed in the Capela Santa Maria Adelaide in Arcozelo. She was never officially recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church and so she remains a folk saint, and a very popular one too, she received so many gifts from visitors over the years that she has her own museum right next to the chapel exhibiting all the presents and offerings.
One of the more common items you will find there is wedding dresses. Women promise their dresses to Maria in return for marrying the right man. By now the museum has so many wedding dresses that they lend them out for free to brides who cannot afford to buy their own dress.