Medieval Love Story: King Pedro and Inês de Castro
min Read15 May 2021
Every country has its legends and fairytales, and Portugal is no exception. One of the most well-known Portuguese tales is a love story about King Pedro of Portugal and Inês de Castro. Their relationship did not end as they would have wanted, with Inês being killed by royal minions, but in this case, what life took apart, death put back together. Here is the story of how King Pedro’s and Inês’s tombs were made.
It all started in the 14th century when Prince Pedro (1320-1367), who was at the time the rightful heir to the throne, met Constança from the Castela Kingdom, whom he was expected to marry in an arranged marriage. Pedro, however, fell in love with one of Contança’s maids; her name was Inês de Castro (1320 or 1325-1355) and she reciprocated the prince’s love.
Pedro and Inês had a secret affair which became public as soon as Queen Constança died giving birth to Pedro’s child. Her death made Pedro feel comfortable enough to make his relationship official, but his father, King Afonso IV, was having none of it and forbade them to marry. Nevertheless, Pedro and Inês decided to live together in Coimbra and have children anyway.
Legend has it that Inês’s brothers had a big influence on Pedro which started to bother the royal family. In addition, the fact that Pedro and Inês supposedly married made their children heirs to the throne. Soon King Afonso IV decided that it was time to kill Inês de Castro, so he gathered a group of men and demanded that they kill her.
The legend says she was killed at Quinta das Lágrimas in Coimbra and you can visit the fountain where one can still see her blood on the rocks. But she was in fact killed at Paços de Santa Clara, also in Coimbra.
Pedro became furious and wanted to start a war with his father, but his mother, Queen Beatriz, appealed for peace and made her son give up on this idea. At the time, Pedro also swore not to hunt down the men who killed the love of his life, but immediately after his father’s death, he changed his mind and demanded they were killed. This action gave him the alias Cruel.
King Pedro and Inês became reunited after their death. After Inês’s death, Pedro crowned her as queen making her the first and only Portuguese queen crowned after her death. King Pedro made sure this royal title was visible on her tomb and then ordered that his tomb to be next to hers, to stay side by side for eternity.
The tombs were constructed between 1358 and 1367 and although their author is unknown, many believe he was Portuguese, with some French influences. The tombs are located at Mosteiro de Alcobaça, as King Pedro wanted. At first, they were located in the south transept of the church, but were then were moved to the tomb room. Since the 20th century, they have been moved back to the original place, situated en face rather than side by side. Inês is in the north arm and Pedro in the south one.
They’re made with limestone from Coimbra and are executed in Gothic style. They have lying statues of King Pedro and Inês de Castro, both crowned. Surrounding the statues are six angels in each tomb, who are taking care of the creases of the royal clothes and raising the heads of the dead a bit higher up as if to make their sleep more comfortable.
Inês de Castro’s statue has a serene face. She holds a glove in her left hand and touches her necklace with her right. The tomb is supported by six hybrid beings that have human faces and animal bodies.
On the sarcophagus, we can see scenes of Christ’s life: the sides show Christ’s Childhood and the head and feet Christ’s Calvary and the Final Judgement. There’s a belief that with this last scene King Pedro wanted to show that he and Inês de Castro had a place in heaven, unlike the people who did them wrong, like his father and her killers. On the bottom left we can see the dead who resurrect and go out of their graves. God is at the top center watching over everything.
King Pedro’s tomb is considered to be more detailed because its low reliefs are 15 cm deep while Inês’s are only 10 cm. Pedro’s lying statue has its eyes open and he holds his sword with both hands. At his feet, we can see a dog, a symbol of loyalty, and the sarcophagus is supported by six lions.
On the head side of his tomb we can see three concentric wheels. The bigger one, called the Wheel of Life, has twelve petals and shows episodes from Pedro and Inês’s life together; the second one, the Wheel of Fortune, has only six petals and its images are interpreted to symbolize purity of love between them and the immortality and resurrection they will eventually achieve.
The Wheel of Life shows the following moments, (upward direction from left to right):
- Inês cuddling her children;
- The couple and their kids;
- Inês and Pedro playing chess;
- The couple spending time together;
- Inês watching someone on the floor;
- Pedro seated on a big throne;
- Inês caught by her killers;
- Inês unveiling the face of one of her killers;
- Inês’s assassination;
- Inês lying dead;
- The punishment of one of Inês’s killers;
- King Pedro wrapped in a shroud.
The Wheel of Fortune shows the following moments, (upward direction from left to right):
- Inês seated on Pedro’s left side (which indicates that they were not married yet);
- Inês is now on Pedro’s right side (now married);
- The couple side by side looking like they’re posing for an official portrait;
- King Afonso IV expelling Queen Inês from the kingdom;
- Queen Inês repelling king Afonso IV;
- King Pedro and Queen Inês lying on the floor.
The foot of the tomb is all about death, while the lateral sides show elements of Saint Bartholomew’s life. He was known as the patron of stutterers, a characteristic for which King Pedro was also known.
The figurative elements of the tombs are overlapped with architectural ones: gothic facades, pointed archivolts, pinnacles, lintels and trumeau, just as if we were looking into a cathedral’s interior, while the wheels on King Pedro’s tomb can be compared to a rosetta window. Gothic style was not big in Portugal because the Romanesque period lasted a lot longer there than in the rest of Europe, but there are a few monumental constructions and a lot of funerary works of which the tombs of King Pedro and Inês de Castro are the best-known examples. The tombs, however, have been subjected to some damage in the past because many people, including other Portuguese kings, were interested in seeing the remains of King Pedro and Queen Inês.
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