The Minor Miracles of Maria Adelaide, Folk-Saint of Brides
Maria Adelaide was a Portuguese woman who lived and died during the 19th century. Although not officially recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, she is popularly considered to be one by the people of Portugal. Hence, she may be regarded as a ‘folk saint’ or an ‘honorary saint of the people’. Whilst Maria Adelaide led a virtuous life on earth, it was only when her body was exhumed that a cult began to grow around her, as her corpse was found to have not been touched by bodily decay.
Maria Adelaide’s Sickly Youth
Maria Adelaide was born in Porto in 1835. She is said to have been born out of wedlock, and therefore grew up in a local boarding school, and then moved to the nearby city of Vila Nova de Gaia. There, she lived in a convent, and was taken care of by the nuns. Unfortunately, the convent, being situated by the river, was humid. Additionally, as this was an enclosed building, the humidity level was increased. This was not good for Maria Adelaide’s health, as she is recorded to have been a sickly child. As a result of the convent’s unhealthy air, Maria Adelaide contracted tuberculosis. Her condition grew so bad that she was advised by her doctors to leave the convent.
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Corpus Chriti Convent in Vila Nova dre Gaia, where Maria Adelaide developed health problems. ( Public Domain )
Thus, Maria Adelaide retuned to Porto. This move, however, was not good enough, and her health continued to decline. Her doctors then recommended that Maria Adelaide move to an area by the sea where there were “plenty of pines and eucalyptuses”. According to the stories, the launderer of the convent at Vila Nova de Gaia was from such a place, and when she heard about Maria Adelaide’s situation, decided to look for people in her hometown who might be able to host the future folk saint. The launderer was quite successful in this endeavor, as there were many who were willing to take Maria Adelaide into their homes.
The incorruptible body of Maria Adelaide. Source: Public Domain
Climate Change Cure
In 1876, Maria Adelaide, her doctor, and a couple of her friends, left Porto for Arcozelo, a freguensia (civil parish) in the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia. Maria Adelaide experienced a great improvement in her health, in part due to the conducive climate, and in part due to the kindness she gave to and received from the local population. Indeed, Maria Adelaide’s health improved so much that she was able to do the things she loved, i.e. baking and embroidering. Her kindness was evident in the fact that she would use these two hobbies to raise money for those in need. Additionally, she is reputed to have been well-loved by the local children, to whom she would read the catechism.
Her remains rest in Capela de Santa Maria Adelaide, Arcozelo. ( Public Domain )
Unfortunately, Maria Adelaide did not live long in Arcozelo. Nine years after moving there, she died, as a sudden cold brought back her old illness. Maria Adelaide was buried in the local cemetery, and her story would have ended there, had her burial plot not been sold to a new owner in 1916, some thirty years after her death. When the gravediggers exhumed her corpse to be reburied, they had a big surprise. Maria Adelaide’s body was found to have not decayed, her clothes intact, and her remains exuded “a strong scent of roses”. Not wanting to make a mess of this, the men decided to secretly wash the body in chemicals, and then to have it buried in a common grave. This secret, however, could not be kept for long, and one Sunday morning, the people of Arcozelo went to the cemetery to see for themselves the rumor they had heard.
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Sacred remains of Maria Adelaide are still fairly well preserved. ( Public Domain )
A Minor Miracle
The incorruptibility of Maria Adelaide’s remains was hailed by the people as a miracle. Throughout the history of the Church, the bodies of holy men and women, upon exhumation, were occasionally found to have been preserved from decay, and this was traditionally interpreted as a sign of divine favor. It has been pointed out, however, that incorruptibility alone is no longer considered miraculous, as plausible scientific explanations, or an unrecorded embalming process, may provide a simpler explanation for this supernatural phenomenon. In any case, the incorruptible bodies of saints were commonly interred in glass coffins, so that they may be viewed by the faithful and become a saint of the people or ‘ folk saint’ . This was the case with Maria Adelaide, whose remains were washed, dressed in new clothes, and placed in a coffin with a glass covering, so that people may see her.
A chapel was built to house the incorruptible body of Maria Adelaide. Completed in 1921, it was replaced by a larger one in 1924. In the same year, a violent explosion took place, and the body was not entirely left in peace in the subsequent decades. In 1930 and 1931, for instance, two attempted robberies were made, and in 1981, a robbery occurred, which damaged the body. Finally, in 1983, a man armed with a club hammer attempted to destroy the body of Maria Adelaide. Still, Maria Adelaide’s body remains intact, and continues to receive the veneration of devotees, in spite of the fact that she has not been canonized by the Catholic Church. Many young women promise their wedding dresses in return for marrying the man of their dreams, and it seems that the wish is granted in many instances. The museum now has so many wedding dresses that they are now lent out to brides who cannot afford to buy a dress for themselves. Adelaide has so gained another epithet of the ‘Saint of Brides’.
Museum and Chapel of Maria Adelaide in Arcozelo. ( Public Domain )
The body is so popular and receives so many tributes and gifts of thanks that a museum has been set up next to the chapel in order to house the donated objects. Items such as ceremonial dresses in particular, many wedding dresses, money from over 25 different countries and a few prosthetics are among the items left with thousands of thank you notes.
Top image: The body of Maria Adelaide. (Youtube Screenshot)
By Wu Mingren
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