In the Middle Ages, a widow woman couldn’t do a lot. If she belonged to a low social class, she had to survive as she could until the day of her death. On the contrary, if she was part of a wealthy class, to get in a convent was the best. But if the widow was a queen, the best choice was to found a convent herself. And this is what did Elisenda de Montcada.
Elisenda was the daughter of Pere de Montcada, Lord of Aitana and Great Seneschal of Catalonia, the major officer in palace , and of Elisenda of Pinós, from a family of barons. The Montcada were one of the great lineages of medieval Catalonia and have been in the position of Great Seneschal for more than 200 years.
They could only ascend in one way. And that way was related to the royal family.
Until death do us part
Elisenda, the fourth and last wife of James II, had a very discreet and pious life, and it seems she was very beautiful.
We already talked a few days ago of James II, when we said that he had been the introducer of Gothic art in Catalonia. Despite the age difference, Elisenda (30) and Jaume II (55) were married in the Cathedral of Tarragona on Christmas day 1322.
Their wedding was not easy. Papal bulls had to be requested, in order to celebrate:
- one because they were married only a month after the death of Mary of Cyprus, the former wife of James II,
- the other because they got married on Christmas Day, which was forbidden in those times.
- And a third one because of by third or fourth degree consanguinity, as the Montcada lineage was very close to the royal family.
Elisenda was very right with the calculations. In 1326 construction began on the monastery which was inaugurated with a solemn mass on May 3, 1327. Six months later, King James died.
Despite not becoming a nun, Elisenda retired to live there for the rest of her life. She died in 1364, 37 years later.
Her remains were buried in a tomb that is preserved in its original location. On the wall that separates the church from the cloister. It is a two-sided tomb.
One of the sides is visible from the church. There you can see Elisenda dressed as a queen, with the coat of arms of the crown of Aragon. She even wears the royal ring and is accompanied by two puppies at his feet, symbolizing fidelity.
The other side, visible from the cloister, depicts us dressed as a nun, with no sign of her earthly power.
It is unlikely that any of the two sculptures in the tomb were a portrait, because she died in 1364 at the age of seventy-two, and instead Elisenda’s face shows us as a young, very beautiful woman.
A legendary, impossible, or unexplained love?
The legend says when Elisenda was a girl, a page of the Court told her to marry him, and she replied that they were too young. When they got older, the boy asked her again to marry, and she replied that her rank did not allow her to marry on a page, so the boy went to war and out of courage, won titles and honors. He asked for her marriage again, and Elisenda replied that the king had asked for her hand. He went to war again, and when he knew that the king had died, he returned and asked Elisenda to marry, again, but she replied that a queen can’t get married again, and that she would enter in a convent.
The man became a friar, and after a few years, went to visit the monastery. When the janitor nun opened him the door, he said she was the queen’s confessor. The nun told him that she could bless her, but he could not confess her because she was already dead.
This legend was surprisingly published as a comic in 1956 in the History and Legend collection, in Catalan and edited by Hispano Americana de Ediciones, with a commitment to politically innocuous content and a limited number. The Civil Governor of Barcelona, Felipe Acedo Colunya, was against it and wanted to ban it, and he went to speak to the Ministers Council, so the minister Arias Salgado, asked the publisher to stop the post. So the publisher had to publish the missing comics in a foreign publisher.
When you come to Barcelona, reserve some of your time to visit the Pedralbes Monastery. In addition to Elisenda’s tomb you will discover other jewels such as the cloister or its wall paintings. And if you want to visit it with us we will be happy to accompany you on the visit.