23 November 2007

The Last Crusader

Queen Isabel of Castile, Servant of God, d. Nov. 26, 1504

Under the pink and white of her skin pulsed the blood of crusaders and conquerors, the blood of Alfred the Great, of William the Conqueror, of the iron Plantagenet Henry II and the fiery Eleanor of Aquitaine, of Edward I and Edward III of England, of Philip the Bold of France, of Alfonso the Wise of Castile. She was descended on both sides from Louis IX of France and his cousin Fernando III of Castile, both kings, both crusaders and both canonized saints. She derived Lancastrian blood through both parents from John of Gaunt, brother of the Black Prince. --William Thomas Walsh

[I]f St. Teresa had been a queen she would have been another Queen Isabel and if Queen Isabel had been a nun she would have been another St. Teresa of Jesus. --Venerable Juan de Palafox

Queen Isabel and her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon were named by Pope Alexander VI Los Reyes Catolicos, and their rule paved the way to a united Spain. Under the Queen's rule, Spain recaptured the Peninsula from its Moorish grip, and, after a failed Moorish revolt, expelled all adult Moslems who refused baptism. Queen Isabella subsidized Christopher Columbus's voyages to the New World for the express purpose of spreading the Catholic faith. (“Although there would be nothing but stones, I would continue there while there may be souls to save.”) Some say she anticipated the Council of Trent by nearly a century in her reforms to rid corruption from the Catholic hierarchy: the selling of indulgences, bishops' refusal to live in their dioceses, the accumulation of benefits for clergy. Her daughter was Catherine of Aragon, whose refusal to divorce King Henry VIII was the catalyst for the English Reformation.

Pope Paul VI opened up Queen Isabel's cause for canonization in 1974, to the protest of various Jewish organizations and at least one Catholic Cardinal. (Here, the New York Times predictably expresses outrage at the possibility, inaccurately reporting that no miracles have been attributed to her intercession, and claiming her cause is being pushed through the Vatican via that powerful conspiracy Opus Dei.)

King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabel I, Relief with gilt and polychromy, Alonso de Mena, 1632; Granada, Spain.

The indignation stems, naturally, from the institution of the Spanish Inquisition under her rule. After between 80,000 to 300,000 Jews left Spain, a number remained behind and "converted" to the Christian faith in order to remain in positions of power. Many of these actively worked to undermine the Queen's authority. The sincerity of these cryptojewish converts was the focus of the Inquisition, not only to protect Catholic orthodoxy but to rid Spain of any traitors and false leaders. It was also implemented as a legal barrier to protect heretics themselves, who were often the targets of mob vigilantism. The outlandish claims that the Inquisition resulted in the torture of hundreds of thousands of innocents is due more to Elizabethan propaganda than to truth. It is true that the beginning of the enquiry was marked by the deaths of innocents. Once the Pope intervened, however, a new Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada, was appointed, who reformed procedures that led to greater leniency and better treatment of prisoners. He personally gave money to families of those on trial. Torture remained in use, though to a lesser extent.

Before we balk with horror at the thought, we must take off our 20th-century lenses, which can only give a distorted view, and recall that torture was in use in all nations in the 15th century (in England, traitors were hanged, drawn, and quartered, and in France, they were boiled alive). It says something for Spain that she refused the excesses that other countries regularly committed. In fact, convicted criminals would falsely claim heretical beliefs just to be transferred to the Inquisition court because of its more humane treatment of the accused. Queen Isabel's policy insistence that Native Americans be protected from the rapacity of colonists, even to the economic harm of Spain, shows she was sincerely concerned for the welfare of her subjects.

To You, Lord, in whose hands is the right of kings, I humbly pray that You may hear the prayer of Your servant and show forth the truth, manifesting Your will by Your wonderful deeds; so that if I am not in the right, do not let me sin through ignorance, but if my cause be just, give me zeal and strength to obtain it with the help of Your grace. --Queen Isabella's coronation prayer

Coronation of Queen Isabel, Mural, Segovia, Spain

Almighty Father, in Your infinite goodness You made Queen Isabel the Catholic, a model for young ladies, wives, mothers, women leaders and government rulers. As the first sovereign of the American continent You granted to her heart a sense of piety, justice, compassion and the vision of a new land full of promise. Grant us the grace to see Your infinite majesty glorified in her prompt canonisation, and through her intercession...[ask for your particular needs] that we ask of You in this present need through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Servant of God, Queen Isabel, pray for us.
Pater Noster... Ave Marie... Gloria...