On 15 May 1527, the whole town of Cordua, in Andalusia, is preparing to celebrate a memorable event. Since yesterday, an unprecedented fever of decoration has taken over both the old Moorish part of the city and the new Christian suburbs. Draperies, tapisteries and banners are spread over the facades of patrician houses. The houses of the poor have sheets and floral bouquets hanging from their windows…
The Christian, Jewish and Muslim workers, who have been building a superb cathedral for the past year, are all on holiday, just like the other inhabitants of this active city. The high clergy has led the great lords and all of the townspeople to the road, where they wait, their eyes turned toward Madrid. Toward the messengers of Charles Quint, sovereign of the Netherlands, King of Spain, Emperor of Germany.
They approach, in a great cloud of dust. Isabella, the Very Catholic Queen, is expecting a child, and Charles Quint, himself, has sent his emissaries to the Archbishop of Andalusia.
In the stone-paved streets, a procession forms while the bells of the Alminar peel loudly. The crowd starts to sing hymns and, at its head, the cavalcade takes the direction of the convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels. In this convent lives a nun whose reputation of sainthood has spread throughout the whole of Christendom. The great Teresa of Avila, who is only twelve at the time, would never have as much prestige, in her lifetime, as Magdalena of the Cross, at this epoch… Her piety, the miracles that she performs, go back to her childhood. She was healing already at the age of five.
So, Charles Quint, sovereign of the Spanish apogee, wants to give this birth the best possible start. He sends a high-born prince to solicit the Clarissa nun Magdalena’s habit so that the royal child can breathe the effluves of sainthood from birth.
If he has a son, Charles will call him Philip and he will reign under the name of Philip II. To call divine grace upon him, he will be wrapped in this habit before being fitted with a blessed bonnet. A bonnet which the saintly Clarissa nun, herself, will have been so kind as to bless.
It is rare that sovereigns, even at the height of their power, are able to count on the direct intercession of saints. Above all, of a living saint, in this case so glorious, that enormous donations arrive in her name at the Cordua convent. So much so, that the convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels is the richest in Spain and can even finance the construction of the cathedral.
But who is Sister Magdalena of the Cross? When she is born, in 1487, the Moors still occupy Andalusia. The conjugal problems of Henri IV, King of Castile, said to be impotent, have the whole of Spain laughing, and when he wants to make his bastard daughter the heir to the throne, the Castilian nobles revolt.
He then has to repudiate twice his second wife Leonora of Portugal, and it is finally Isabella, his sister, who will succeed to the throne. She marries Ferdinand of Aragon who helps her for everything concerning war and diplomacy. The young sovereigns have a lot to do in this domain. Dreadful brigands devastate Castile, murdering, raping and laying waste.
Under Isabella’s presidency, the tribunals have hundreds of guilty people garrotted, and the Grand Inquisitor Ximenez has others burnt at the stake… The brigands finally dead, the Queen turns her attention to the Moors, who are pushed out to sea in 1492. It is in this country, devastated by war, that Magdalena grows up. When she is five years old, she hears at church, which she already willingly attends, a celestial concert of infinite sweetness. A beautiful young man, with thick, black hair, appears to her, wearing a jacket so brilliant that she has to close her eyes. The word spreads throughout Aguilar, and many want to see little Magdalena.
In the midst of her family, poor artisans having miraculously escaped the wars, Magdalena remains of exemplary modesty and conduct. Visions continue to arrive, and one day she flees the paternal home to take refuge in a nearby cave where she falls into ecstasy. When she awakes, she realises that she has been transported to her bed by her guardian angel.
Soon, Christ in person appears to her and asks her to somewhat moderate her asceticism so as not to compromise her health. He informs her that a great destiny awaits her and that she will need all her strength intact. She runs to the church to thank the Lord and meets a man with a limp who asks her to lend him her hand to climb the steps. He has hardly walked three paces when he stands erect and runs through the whole town crying out that he is healed.
Magdalena then falls into such deep ecstasy that the earth falls away from under her. Someone goes to look at her face and sees the heavens ajar and the Holy Trinity surrounded by the Communion of Saints reflected in her eyes. Like Jesus at the Temple, she is submitted to all sorts of interrogations to discover any subterfuge… To completely convince the clergy, she gives speech to a mute.
Around the age of ten, Magdalena is already a little beauty. Her breasts are formed, her hips rounded, and she is already careful to hide her slim ankles under long black skirts. She still finds herself too beautiful, and one day, to punish herself, she crucifies herself on the wall of her bedroom. She starts by nailing her two feet, then her left hand. Blood flows, and she faints from the atrocious pain. Her flesh tears and, falling heavily onto a chest, she breaks two ribs. She is then gravely ill, and keeps ripping off the surgeon’s dressings: she wants to suffer terribly for expiation.
To be continued.