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Isabella Queen of Peace

The saint of the month told by Oddone Camerana

"A holy woman", "a saint" this is how people are defined and remembered who carry or have carried the cross in silence, who have suffered hardships, abuse, harassment, injustice, torture without complaint and with a spirit of sacrifice.

This is a figure of the past, but also of the present, recognizable today in those who endure  adversity or who take over that of others taking on their load. Except that, with reference to the saint of this month, Isabella of Aragon (1271-1336), it is clear that holiness is something else and it would not occur to anyone to define Isabella a "female saint”.

The daughter of Peter III of Aragon and Constance, a descendant of Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily, Isabella was an aristocrat who practiced holiness with prayer, with religiosity, but also with a generosity proper to her status. Having become queen as the bride of Dionysus, King of Portugal, she did not in the royal court give up the good habits of an active holiness. Not neglecting the duties of a wife, she continued to rise early in the morning to go to  chapel to hear mass on her knees, receiving communion and saying the office of the Virgin and the dead. A contemplative spirit, she gave attention, however, to works of public necessity and there were, in fact, no churches, hospitals and monasteries, the construction of which she did not contribute to with royal generosity.

As well as as queen and a religious woman  Isabella’s sanctity had the opportunity to express itself as a mother. Giving her husband two children, Constance and then Alfonso, heir to the throne, Isabella manifested, in fact, her character and her mettle as an active and energetic woman not only heroically putting up with the illicit love affairs of her husband, but then taking care of the education of the children born of these, as if they were her own.

But it is in the role of peacemaker and reconciler that the virtues of Isabella took a heroic and shakespearian colouring, where the queen felt compelled to intervene in the fight that broke out between the son and his father, siding in favour of the latter, and being rewarded for this with confinement in a fortress. But this was not the only work of peace in which Isabella engaged. Other disputes, such as that between her husband and brother-in-law or between influential and ambitious court pages, witnessed to the efforts of  the Queen Saint directed under the inspiration of her sense of goodness and peace, to face up to opposing deployed armies, and to resolve obscure court intrigues and jealousies.

Ready to bend to changing situations and contexts in which she was to find herself, Isabella found the path of holiness even after the death of her husband. At that point Isabella renounced the world, she cut off her hair, took the habit of the Franciscan Third Order and walked as a  pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela, where she returned in the last year of her life after having in the meantime withdrawn into a monastery to pray, to converse with the nuns and to give hearings to the poor, the sick and sinners who had recourse to her. Not without ceasing to offer her capacity to mediate between  family members in dispute, as she tried to do with the son and nephew at war with each other, if she had not been prevented by a fever that led to her death.

In line with the spirit of the time and with the context in which she found himself, Isabella was the protagonist of miracles marked by courtesy and kindness, like that of the mutation into wine of a jug of water to remedy the penances and fasts in which the staff of the court close to her were taking part, or the healing obtained by touching the sick with her hands. There is also talk of an apparition of Mary who, to accommodate her next to her deathbed, Isabella asked that she be offered a chair.

But more spectacular and at the same time more connected to her action for peace was the miracle that took shape during the war between the illegitimate children of her husband Dionysius and the heir to the throne, the future Alfonsous IV, when Isabella stepped between the two deployed armies miraculously divided by a  barrier of light raised up in her wake.

Two portraits of Isabella exist related to her dual nature as a queen and a religious woman. In the first case she appears next to her husband with the crown then offered, along with other gifts, to the sanctuary to which she retired. In the second we see her in the habit of  a religious with the crucifix in her right hand while her left hand holds the veil in which are placed furnishings that she packaged for poor churches.

But what would Isabella be like today? How would she move in an environment so different from the one in which she had to operate? How could Isabella show her generosity and exercise her holiness? I confess that I find myself in some difficulty here. I feel the prevalence of feelings of remoteness, a sign of  the impoverishment in understanding the good and altruism today. The gestures, behaviour, choices of Isabella hardly serve to indicate the path of virtue.

It's already a lot if we avoid the risk of confusing sanctity with the temptation to submit oneself and with the inclination to obedience. Isabella does not tell us to imitate her, but to consult the inner “court” of our conscience. That's where you have to dig. Let’s hope we succeed.
Oddone Camerana, born in Turin in 1937, she worked for many years in the world of big business, and she has set most of her works within that world. These include L’enigma del Cavalier Agnelli (Serra and Riva 1985 Passigli 2011), La notte dell’Arciduca (Rizzoli, 1988), I passatempi del Professore (Einaudi 1990), Contro la mia volontà (Einaudi 1993), Il centenario (Baldini and Castoldi, 1997 finalist for the Premio Viareggio), Racconti profani (Passigli 1999 ), L’imitazione di Carl (Passigli 2002), Vite a riscatto (Lindau 2006). She ollaborates with "L'Osservatore Romano" and "La Stampa."

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