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Beatriz da Silva - Part II

The Order of the Immaculate Conception
 Is Founded

Marian T. Horvat

As we have seen, in 1443 Our Lady saved the pious and beautiful Beatriz da Silva from an attempt on her life by the Queen of Castile; at the same time she gave her the mission to found an Order dedicated to her Immaculate Conception. It would be more than 40 years of waiting as a lay sister in a Dominican convent in Toledo before Beatriz would fulfill her vocation.

The task was formidable, even impossible, one could say. Although the doctrine that Our Lady, as Mother of God, was without sin and stainless from the first instant of her being had been taught since the early Church, it was not an official dogma. By the end of the 14th century, a fierce controversy had developed, with the Franciscans and Spanish universities defending the teaching, and  the Dominicans and French schools opposing it.

Immaculate conception

A typical colonial painting of the Immaculate Conception in the New World
With the brilliant defense of Franciscan John Duns Scotus, the doctrine came to be the common opinion at the universities, but it was a topic that was still very passionately discussed at the time Beatriz was living. Certainly, it was considered a bold initiative for a woman to propose a new Order specifically dedicated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.

The time is ripe for the Order

At the same time, Divine Providence was opening doors to make this unfeasible task possible. The Immaculate Conception was an extremely popular devotion in Spain. The Spanish Franciscans honored her with shrines, prayers and songs; countless images were painted in her honor, and the people enthusiastically prayed to her under this title.

In Castile, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel had a strong devotion to the Immaculate Conception and took advantage of every opportunity to pay public homage to Our Lady under this invocation. Queen Isabel founded three chapels in her honor, one in Toledo, one in Seville and another in Guadalupe, endowing the latter liberally to assure her feast day would be solemnly celebrated every year. (1)

In 1471 a Franciscan and defender of the Immaculate Conception, Francesco della Rovere, rose to the papal throne as Sixtus IV. In 1476 - only eight years before Beatriz would finally found her Order - this Pope established the feast of the Immaculate Conception as December 8 for the whole Roman Church. One year later, he issued the Constitution Cum Praecelsa that approved the Mass and Office of the Immaculate Conception, with indulgences.

In Castile, the Catholic Queen was firmly established on her throne after the decisive battle fought in Toro in 1476, which consolidated the union of Aragon and Castile and secured a firm peace with Portugal. In Toledo, as we noted in the last article, Queen Isabel was building the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes in thanksgiving for this victory and for the birth of her son Juan. Now her interest turned to her mother’s former lady in waiting, Doña Beatriz, who was waiting patiently to fulfill the mandate Our Lady had given her many years earlier.

In 1483, Queen Isabel offered Beatriz a castle and its adjoining chapel and property outside Toledo for the first Convent of the Order of the Immaculate Conception. It was a generous gesture to honor the Immaculate Conception from a Queen known for her goodness and magnanimity. Perhaps also this Queen wanted to make amends for the grievous wrong another Queen Isabel, her mother, had committed against her Portuguese kinswoman Beatriz da Silva.

Papal approval for the Order

For a second time Our Lady appeared to Beatriz wearing the white habit and blue mantle, this time to tell her the hour had arrived for her to undertake her mission. Shortly afterward, in 1484, Beatriz, accompanied by 12 companions – mostly Portuguese – whom she had been forming, installed themselves in the Castle of Galiana outside Toledo, the gift of the Queen to the fledgling Order. The castle’s chapel was called Santa Fe, and the first Convent of the Immaculate Conception took its name, the Convent of Santa Fe.

papal bull

The papal Bull, still preserved today, was miraculously found in a chest

chest, conceptionist
For the next five years Beatriz and her companions lived a strict cloistered life in their new Convent following the Cistercian rule and reciting the Ooffice of the Blessed Virgin. During this time, she herself draftered the norms for the new order, established on contemplative prayer and praying of the Divine Office. In this sense, there was nothing essentially different from any other form of monastic contemplative life, save for its clear identification with the Immaculate Conception.

Papal approval of her Order would not be received until April 30, 1489. On that date Pope Innocent VIII, at the request of Beatriz and Queen Isabel, signed the Bull Inter universa, approving the new Order, the rule and the habit.

Our Lady provided a prodigious means for Beatriz to receive this good news. On the very day the Pope signed the Bull, a mysterious person appeared at the Convent in Toledo, communicating to Beatriz that the Pope had approved the Order. She believed that the messenger was St. Raphael, to whom Beatriz had a great devotion and prayed to daily since she was a girl.

But there was misfortune in store. That papal Bull, for which she was waiting, did not arrive. Three months after it was signed, news came to Toldeo that the ship carrying it had been lost at sea. This caused Beatriz great sorrow and anxiety of heart, and for three days she fasted and prayed. On the fourth day she went to open a chest to retrieve some necessary item, and found the original Bull on the top.

On August 2, 1490, the whole city of Toledo rejoiced with the nuns and organized a grand procession carrying the “miraculous Bull” from the Cathedral to the first Conceptionist Convent of Santa Fe. At the pontifical Mass, Bishop Garcia de Quijada of Guadix, a Franciscan, announced that in 15 days Beatriz and her companions would take their habits and veils.

Her profession and death

Five days later, however, when Beatriz was in devout prayer in the choir, the Virgin appeared to her for a third and last time. Our Lady told her, “My daughter, in 10 days you will be with me. It is not the will of My Son and mine that you enjoy here on earth what you have so long desired."

deat Beatriz da silva

On the day of her profession, the Conceptionist founder dies
On August 17, 1490, the very day that had been assigned for her nuns to take the habit, Beatriz da Silva tranquilly died at age 66. Before she died she made her religious profession to her Franciscan confessor, Bishop Garcia, and received the Conceptionist habit and veil. Thus, she died a true Conceptionist, clothed in the white habit and scapular with the blue mantle, wearing the cloth medallion of the Virgin and the Franciscan hemp cord.

At the moment of her death marvelous things were seen. When the veil – which had covered her face since she left the royal court – was lifted to anoint her with oil, her face shone with such brilliance that all present were astonished. Then, in the middle of her forehead, there appeared a star that gave out a great light and splendor, which remained there until she took her last breath, as testified by six friars of the Order of St. Francis. It is for this reason that pictures of the Mother Beatriz da Silva represent her with a star on her forehead.

What was its significance? Her daughters believe she had been chosen as a star to guide generations of virgins who would consecrate to God their love and purity in honor of the Immaculate Virgin. And, from heaven, she would save her Order during its stormy first years.

Antonio J. Jiménez Sánchez, Beatriz de Silva y la Inmaculada Concepción. Orígenes de una Orden, pp, 695-696 http://www.rcumariacristina.com/ficheros/27%20Antonio%20Jimenez.pdf

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Posted February 22, 2012

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