silently and spoke quietly. Upriver lay their objective, and behind them,
the river was flowing toward the marshes, dense reed beds, and open water of
an estuary that opened to the ocean, the waters of the Atlantic. The valley
of this river and the estuary offered shelter to many species of birds
including waterfowl, harriers and wading birds. They observed some
birds winging about and dipping above the surface of the river.
At a certain moment Gonzalo gave a signal, and the Christians rushed forth from their hiding place. The Moors were surprised when they saw them fast approaching and men sprang to fight their foe. The cry went up, “Christians! Infidels! Get them!” Gonzalo went directly to the particular young lady he’d chosen, clasped her gently by the arm, saying, as he did so, “Come with me, I won't harm thee.” It was all happening so fast. At first she was a bit unsure what to do, but she didn’t struggle to get away.
Gonzalo started riverward with her but the Moors seized her back. He had to fight off the Moors coming at him. Again and again he'd regain her, and again and again they'd seize her back. The Moors fought stubbornly, but he was also stubborn in his effort to capture the girl. He was very skilled at using the sword and was known as Traga Mouros, the Moor Eater.4 He parried with the flat and thrust with the edge, taking a wound and giving one. The swords spoke the language of discord in swishes, clacks, clashes and pings! During the fray, he heard the Moors say, “The infidel is trying to take the Princesa, the Amiri...Stop him! Stop him!” Although she ranked high in his estimation of beauty, it was the first he knew of her rank among the Moors.
Her name was Fátima, and she felt flattered that he fought so hard to obtain her. She herself had noticed him from when he first appeared, admired his person and his valor. And it seemed she placed herself in the way of being recaptured.5 Gonzalo fought desperately to have her and became the center of the fighting, having to fend off the foe, thrusting and swinging their swords and scimitars! Voices cried out, “Cuidado! Atenção! Don’t hurt the Princesa! As he endeavored to keep them away, they drew blood, and he was getting cut. Some of his companions rushed to his aid and helped drive back the Moors. He was able to clasp her back, and started heading toward the river with her. They fought a continual rear guard action, as they withdrew to their boats already partially loaded and ready to shove off.
on the castle wall a gong sounded. There was now a general alarm as
other Moors came out of the gates with weapons drawn and carrying torches to
illumine the darkness. Their blades gleamed from their flaming sticks.
They paddled furiously downstream. Back on the shore a group had gathered at the bank and their torch lights lit the river's edge, like fire in the water. The Moors found some of the loose garments the Christians had worn and dumped to make room for the captives. Even though Gonzalo's group was moving away down the river, they still heard the Moors talking about the garments in the growing distance and someone calling for boats to chase the infidels. “Follow them! They've taken the Princess!” Nearer, they heard the pounding of horse hooves as the Moors galloped on a road near the shore, to chase them down.
Gonzalo glanced at Fátima, as he vigorously pulled the paddle through the water to propel the boat faster forward, with his sword near at hand. Even in the gloom and haste, he could discern her loveliness. She herself was a little apprehensive, a little excited, and even, a little glad. She instinctively had a sense about him, a degree of trust in his chivalrousness. Different worlds and mindsets separated them, yet here they were together in the same boat.
A party of
the foe who'd raced ahead, had come down to the bank. Several jumped in
water in an attempt to stop the boats to regain the captives. But the
squadron of boats swept past these Moors, sloshing in the water.
They wouldn't enter
the estuary but would head out overland from the river. Ahead they had
horses waiting, to mount and be off in the night. They watched for the place
where they would put ashore. They voiced a signal of their approach in the
dark. No answer. They signaled once again, and this time they saw a torch,
waving in prescribed pattern. It was the signal of where they would end
their journey on the river. They no longer saw anyone following them, but
had to figure that they might be behind.
They put into
shore, disembarked, concealed the boats and tried to smooth the the bank
with a pine branch so any pursuers wouldn't notice where they'd landed from
their exploit. They grabbed up the few loose garments left, that had
hidden their identity, to take along with them. The girls were put in
pairs upon extra horses and loosely bound to prevent an attempt to escape,
all except Fátima; she would ride one alongside Gonzalo. Gonzalo told her,
“If thou wilt give me thy word of honor, I won’t tie thee.” She
He admonished his men to treat the women with respect and with knightly gentility. In kindling the fire, Gonzalo got a better look at his Muslim captive―his first good and unhurried look close up. Being a princess of privilege, she undoubtedly was educated. She seemed intelligent and amiable. Her dark brownish-green eyes with long lashes, were set in a well-shaped face with a fine-featured nose, slightly convex in profile. Over a delicate chin, a cupid's bow formed the upper lip above the fuller one below. Her skin was tan and her hair, darkish brown. It fell in wavy tresses to the sides and over the shoulders of her slender form, chastely clothed.
. He heard her when
she looked up at a large patch of sky through the trees; seeing the stars,
she commented, "Al noojoom jamila." They used a mixture of
languages then. He knew enough Arabic, to know she was saying the
stars are beautiful. In the quiet of his mind, he mused about
the Arabic word jamila..."That describes her...that's what she is,
jamila," as he broke another stick to keep kindling the flames.
Gonzalo issued the order to seek out some honey at first light.
His men cut and lay pine branches on the ground. They gave the captives the garments left from their exploit, to spread out over the branches to lie upon, and with which to cover themselves. He offered Fátima his own cloak to cover with, and watched for a while from a short distance away and slept for a while during what was left of the night. Fátima couldn't help but notice the way they were treated.
The chirp of birds and growing light awakened Gonzalo. As dawn was breaking in the east, it painted the clouds a shade of pink above the notched tree line. The clouds were outstretched like pieces of torn cloth, a little similar to the cloths that she wrapped around his wounds, but his were stained with red. One might liken the view of the horizon and sky above, to pink pennants flying above a crenulated castle wall, and climbing to the ramparts behind, was the approach of the sun, casting its shafts. In the early light, some hares were seen hopping about, were shot, skinned and roasted over the coals of the fire. Those who weren't awake, were roused from their sleep to prepare for the journey. They shared the roasted meat amongst themselves, as well as some fresh fruit they'd gathered from trees. They also ate some raisins, and other dried food the soldiers had brought along for sustenance.
One of his
men found a honeycomb in the hollow of a cork tree and brought it to
Gonzalo, who handed it to Fátima.
She gently rubbed the amber fluid on the surface of his wounds and rebound
them with fresh tearings from her sleeve.
some peppermint and garlic plants near the stream. She knew these had
medicinal qualities, garlic for infection and cooling peppermint as a skin
anesthetic and an antibacterial. She pulled them and brought them to Gonzalo
for tending his and the wounds of others. She looked at his wounds and
cleaned them again with salt water. She crushed the garlic and mashed
peppermint leaves to apply to his wounds, along with some more honey from
the comb, and this time, he gave her some pieces of cloth to rebind his
deepest cuts. The other captives noticed the particular attention she was
giving him and discretely teased her a bit: "A little honey for the hurt,
and little sweetness for the soldier." She was slightly
Flowers and Buds
She missed her home but felt a growing affection for this knight, and she could tell her affection was not unrequited: she was not treading this path alone: for along it, the buds seemed to be unfolding their petals into blossoms. In the silence of her mind she thought, “Could I be falling for this infidel…an infidel that my people have talked about? This believer in several Gods. What would Allah do to this man who's endearing to my heart? Alas, what should I do as a good follower of Muhammad ibn Abdullah? It was a mixture of the pleasant and unpleasant, like eating an orange, tasting both the juice-filled sections and the peel.
The next night they stopped to rest at a town. Soon they would be at Santarem and see King Alfonso Henriquez. Fátima was curious to see him. She'd heard of him as El Bortukali, as he was called by the Moors. Now she would look upon the one her kinfolk had spoken about. They crossed the Tejo, and followed along the bank or near to it. The river was flowing downstream toward them. Eventually they mounted a plateau to the settlement of Santarem, which lay 65 kilometers northeast of Lisbon. The most famous legend related to it, tells of a Visigothic saint named Iria (Irene), presumed martyred elsewhere in Portugal at Tomar. Her incorrupt body was brought to this place, then called Scalabis, and later in her honor, it became Sancta Irene, from which Santarem was derived.
The captives were taken to King Alfonso Henriquez and
surveyed his likeness, noting his beard, his slender nose, and his long
face. The king was kindly and assured them, that they would not be
harmed, and gave them lodging with a guard.
The king paused, then said, "Gonzalo, thou art like a son to me...Thy faith is important, and that cometh between the two of thee: thine founded by Jesus both God and man, and hers by Mahomet, just a man...It's something thou canst not fully share together...And if thou hast children, how can she teacheth, what she believeth not? In living and pleasing her, one a different mind, wilt thou weaken in thy faith?
"Sire," Gonzalo replied, "I wouldst stay strong..."
"Thou art strong and brave as well," the king replied, "But, alas, even a castle wall can be weakened...Even armor can be bent."
Gonzalo was reflecting on what the king said, as the King read a sense of struggle within him: the dictates of the heart against the dictates of reason.
King Alfonso continued, "Thou so callest so to mind thy father Hermigo. At the Battle of Ourique, thy father overthrew so many Moors, that he was called the wrestler, O Luctador 8 ...Mostly because he was so agile, so nimble, so quick of motion...”
The king stroked his beard in a thoughtful gesture, saying, “Thou hast thy father's prowess, but in this, be not too quick. A wife shouldst be one to help saveth thy soul, not to hinder thee on thy path to heaven...”
But the king didn't want to crush him. “This is what I‘ll tell thee, Gonzalo,” he said, raising two fingers: “Two things...if she herself consents to marriage, and if she becometh a Christian as thou art, then I‘ll consent to it. And more than this, I’ll attend thy wedding. I suspect the first, will be the easier part, but the second,” he shook his head a little, “that'll be more difficult. See what thou canst do, whether thou mayest convince her. Thou hast my blessing for that. I shall pray for thee.”
Gonzalo was brightened with hope. “Thank you, Sire, I shall most certainly try.”
The Quest for Her Hand
And he certainly did. He went to where the prisoners were lodged and fed, and asked to see Fatima. She was released into his custody. They took a walk to a scenic spot, overlooking the valley of the Tejo River, and sat in the shade of a tree. The coolness beneath the limbs was welcome.
Gonzalo started, “I think thou seest in my heart what I feel about thee. I spoke to the king to seek his permission...to, ah...to take thee for wife.”
Fátima’s face lit up and she smiled sweetly. Her face and eyes were so expressive. She listened to hear what the monarch had to say.
Encouraged by her response, Gonzalo continued, “But the king hath a couple concerns: one being that thou needst consent to it...” Her face was radiant as she waited. “...and the other, that thou shouldst become a Christian.” At that, a worried look crossed her face.
“But Gonzalo,” she replied, “I’m what thou calleth a Mahometan, and I’ve known no other faith. It’s hard for me to do that. I’m told thy Christian beliefs are not in One God, but in others as well.” She looked up the river, engrossed in thought, and then went on, “The Koran even says they can slay me if I do this…if I were to convert.”
assured that we believe in just One God, the rest is just misunderstanding,”
wasn’t so narrow of mind that she wouldn’t listen. She actually
hoped he would be able convince her: to show her it would be all right.
Neither wished to lose the other. They both hoped the barrier between them
was surmountable. It was like each of them was standing before a wall,
across from one another, wishing the wall would crumble.
The next day
they met again and walked to another spot. Gonzalo said, “Thou hast a high
regard for Maryam, the one we call Mary, is that not so?”
“Yes , we believeth that.”
“And if she’s a Virgin giving birth,” Gonzalo said, “then no man couldst be the father of Jesus. There must be something special about her Son. His conception hadst to be miraculous, beyond man's power.” She looked at him and was thinking. He was taking her deep into thought. Even Mohammad, couldn't claim that kind of birth, she thought. The first stone fell away from the wall separating them.
Fatima thought about their conversation that night, and when she awoke during the early morning hours, it came back to mind. She lay there thinking that there is something special about about Jesus and Mary. Could it be that Gonzalo is right? Then it occurred to her, that if Mary is higher than other women, then couldn't her offspring Jesus be on a level higher than other men? Even higher than Mohammad? Could my people and the prophet be wrong? Another stone slipped from the wall.
When she next saw Gonzalo, she spoke of her thoughts when she awoke: about Jesus and Mary being special and the concept of higher. He was delighted to hear what she'd thought about. Something was dawning on her, yet there was a cloud in her sky, and she asked, “Gonzalo, about this Trinity? How canst it not be three Gods?
“It’s several Persons, not several Gods…It’s One God, and since He’s almighty and all powerful, He can be three persons in Himself.
“It’s so hard to see this, Gonzalo” she said.
“It is difficult to see and understand. He createth the clover with three leaves on one stem, and I understandeth not how it happens. But God puts it into nature. It's a mystery and the Trinity's a mystery, something to accept on faith since God hast revealed it, and His word is good.”
She listened as he went on eloquently, “Some things we seest not. Thou thinkest a thought, but seest it not. Thou feelest the wind, but seest it not...yet thou knowest it's there...” and he added with merriment....“Wish we hadst some of that 'seest it not,' to blow on us right now. It's warm out.”
She laughed a little at his humor. She so admired him.
Gonzalo mused about the way it happened: how she awakened to the specialness. “The thought thou hast is true, Fátima. Jesus and Mary art special, very special.”
“And thou art special,” she said.
He was pleased, but he remarked, “But they're more special.”
“Gonzalo, thou knowest my meaning.”
“Of course, I do,” he laughed in good humor. He could sense the wall was weakening and it brought joy to his heart, a wall he yearned to fall.
Grace was filtering into Fátima's soul, coming from Jesus Himself, the One Whom the Mahometans sadly misunderstood. If only they could see that Mary's being different, was because Jesus was so different. Jesus as the Son of God is a pure, perfect and holy Being, and Mary, the vessel through whom He came into the world, was untouched by sin.
In Mary, the unborn Jesus was wrapped in holiness and purity. Their Koran even says, "Behold! the angels said: 'O Mary! Allah hath chosen you and purified you ― chosen you above the women of all nations!' " 9 and in Muslim thought, her purity is equated to being without sin. Muhammad himself said “Every person to whom his mother gives birth [has two aspects to his life]; when his mother gives birth Satan strikes him but it was not the case with Mary and her son...," referring to Jesus.
At Mass and Church
Gonzalo invited Fátima to go to Mass with him. For her it was a little difficult since she’d only been to mosques, but she went with him. She observed the interior beauty, and was interested in what went on at the Mass. She heard the ringing of the bells at the Consecration, saw the people attentive to the Host, and watched them kneel to receive it. She smelled the smoke of incense and heard the singing. And she saw a likeness of Maryam.
Afterwards she asked Gonzalo about the white wafer, why they were kneeling to receive it? He explained that what looked like a wafer was actually Jesus Himself, changed from bread in an unseen way, during the Mass. They knelt not to what was bread before, but to Who the bread became; they knelt in reverence to God.
He explained how Maryam interceded with her Son Jesus at a wedding and how Jesus performed the miracle of the wine. He worried a bit about telling that story as the Mahometans were opposed to wine. But he strove ahead, telling her anyway: telling her about Jesus performing a miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana; how he changed water into wine, and how it was good wine. Not for drunkenness, he said, but for celebrating together.
Now Jesus performs another miracle with wine and bread in the Mass, but this is a Hidden Miracle, that we see with the eyes of faith. He explained to her that just as we need food to nourish our bodies, we need a spiritual food to nourish our spiritual souls. Jesus gives Himself in Communion as nourishment, and He made it easier for us, by remaining hidden under the appearance of Bread.
He introduced her to the priest, a very humble man who smiled as he welcomed her in Arabic, saying that it was nice to meet her and addressing her as Amîri, Princess. Gonzalo had confided in him about things he could say to her about the faith. He was seeing the fruit of his priestly counsel in her. They spoke briefly, and he told Fátima that if she had any questions, he would be glad to try to answer them. As they were taking leave of him, Gonzalo asked for his blessing and knelt to receive it. That simple action of Gonzalo's impressed her. It isn't always what's taught, but what's caught, and here she caught a sense of his reverence for his faith.
She noticed the crucifix on the wall and asked about that. Gonzalo told her that it represented how Jesus came down and died for our sins. He remembered what the priest had told him about this subject and tried to explain it to her: that deadly or mortal sin prevents us from obtaining the happiness of heaven. To get there, we need a special grace called sanctifying grace, which Jesus restored to the race by means of His sufferings and death on the cross. Jesus applies it to us through Baptism. In brief, He came down so we could go up. She thought that if He’s God and came down to die for us, He must really love us.
Afterwards Gonzalo knelt before a statue of Mary. He explained he wasn’t worshipping her, but "She's a Queen to us, a Maliki," he said, "and we've a high regard for her. Her statue here, honors her and helps bring her to mind." He told her he was asking her to intercede with God to help them. That touched her. On impulse, she knelt beside him. This gave him such happiness. He couldn’t help but see a symbolism here. In Mahometan thought, Mary was higher than Mohammad's daughter Fátima, and here was Fátima kneeling below this likeness of Mary. He glanced at her, smiled, and the Arabic words floated to mind: Anti jamila...She's beautiful.
As they left
the church she saw him genuflect, and understood he did this because of his
Jesus, Hidden under what appeared to be Bread. She'd seen the priest
put away the unconsumed Eucharistic Bread in the tabernacle.
she asked, “the words thou sayest to thyself, when thou makest that sign,
what are they?”
got up, she saw Gonzalo waiting by the door. She was radiant and her heart
was bursting. She was excited to tell him what she had decided.
She took his right hand, clasped him around the shoulder, and pressed her
cheek to his, saying softly, “I've decided to become a Christian.”
Telling the King Her Decision
went to see King Alfonso Henriquez, who, on seeing them, said,. “Ah,
Gonzalo, so this is thy Princess, the jewel thy heart seeketh.
Like I said, she’s beautiful...”
Gonzalo would come to the king's residence to see her and they would take walks. They were formally betrothed, and Gonzalo gave her a beautiful necklace of precious stones. She studied Catholic teaching with the priest, with Gonzalo along. She was learning her prayers, the Ave for one: Avé Maria, cheia de graça― music to Gonzalo's ears ― as she prepared for her wedding. They made her a fine white wedding dress, trimmed with embroidered flowers, with a long veil. She would be modestly attired, fitting for the modesty and chastity she guarded.
The time of
anticipating the wedding was like a blue sky, yet there was a cloud.
The cloud hung along the southern horizon, toward Alcacer do Sal. She
wished her family could be there, and that she could see them now. But
she knew the danger, even from her own people if they heard she was
converting to Christianity. It was the harsh part of the faith she was
now parting with. Sometimes Gonzalo would wipe away a tear and comfort
her as she thought of her home. She would like her family to rejoice
with her at her wedding, but alas it was not to be.
. Standing together they
exchanged their vows, and kneeling together they met Jesus in the Communion
of the Mass. It was her First Communion and she received the sacrament on
her tongue, with profound awe, respect and love. She bowed her
head for a long moment, saying softly in Portuguese as she did so, "Meu
doce Jesus, meu Deus. Amo-te. Eu adoro-te."
At the close of the Mass and the ceremony, they were presented as Don
Gonzalo and Dõna Oriana Herminguez.
Trumpets sounded triumphant notes, strings strummed, and the choir swelled
With handclasps, nods, greetings and smiles they moved along and exited the church, stepping forth into a rain petals. Gonzalo's friends of the exploit, raised their gleaming swords in an archway as did members of the royal guard, which they passed under. Yet even more petals were flecking their path as they came from beneath the corridor of weapons, into full sunlight. His troops demanded that he kiss the bride, and looking a little bashful, each met the lips of the other in heartfelt affection.
His men and the troops
raised their swords flashing in the sun, and cheered heartily. The
people gathered round clapped their hands. Secretly amongst the crowd,
was one sent by the Prince of Alcacer, her father, to observe, as word
had reached the Prince's ears. Had Oriana had a chance to study the
person, she might've of recognized him, but so much filled her mind and
heart that day, with the the Baptism, the Mass, the wedding and all.
There they spent
happy days. Gonzalo had written a little song for her.
By the light of melting beeswax candles and the glowing warmth of
crackling fire, it was sung for them with the accompaniment of a lute.
Part of the lyrics testified to his love for her:
But their joy together, would end all too
soon. After taking up residence in the castle, she only lived a year.
She parted from life, yet in her youth, becoming the captive of death.
Though he so wished it, Gonzalo would be unable to capture her back this
time. The cause is not here known, but among the possibilities, a
plausible one is that she was with child and died of complications, neither
she nor the baby surviving. But we don't hear anything of a
child so death may've come for another reason.
"Sleep," he quietly said, almost to himself, as tears still came forth, "sleep my beauty, sleep in peace..."
Heartbroken, Gonzalo went about in a daze not even caring much to eat. Their home without her brought such memories. Other maidens would gladly have married him, but Fátima held his heart. He decided to join the monastery at Alcobaça, where his prayers went up to heaven, where his beloved had gone. He took her mortal remains with him for reburial on that holy ground, accompanying them all the while on the journey over the road.
In time he was sent to a priory in
the mountains, and with the abbot's permission, her remains were taken
there, to be with him. He named the place after her, calling it by her
Arabic and Muslim name,
7. On the positive side, the Koran condemned certain practices of the ancient Arabs, including burying female babies alive, considering women as property and women having no inheritance rights . However, the Koran does teach that men are superior to women in Suras 2:228 and 4:34.. In Sura 4:34 there's a divine sanction to beat women if you fear her disobedience.
8. O Luctador. In modern Portuguese, o is "the" and lutador is a fighter or wrestler (lutar - to fight, wrestle) Compare with Spanish luchar - to fight, wrestle and luchador - wrestler, fighter. Lutador , may suggest that the Portuguese word evolved from the Spanish, differing in that it has a "t" instead of a "ch."
9. Koran, Sura 3:42
10. Portuguese meu - my, mine; doce - sweet; Deus - God; amor - love; t e - to or for you; Eu - I ; adorar - to adore.
Alvares Pereira, a Portuguese general, who lived after the time of Fátima,
from 1360 to 1431, was the Count of Ourem, and is known as "The
Precursor of Fatima." From his young year s he was devoted to
Mary, her Brown Scapular and the Rosary, all part of the Fatima message, yet
He had been a great
Prince, but became a humble monk.
Copyright © 2005 - John Riedell - All