The story of Pedro and Inês is an intriguing one; Portugal’s very own Romeo and Juliet. In essence, it’s a story of forbidden love.
When he was heir to the throne, Pedro fell in love with Inês de Castro, lady-in-waiting to his wife Constanza of Castile. His father, King Afonso IV, banished Inês from the court, but when his wife died Pedro immediately sent for her.
They lived together for ten years and she bore him four children. The king grew alarmed at the power Inês had over the young Prince Pedro and in 1355 Inês was murdered by a group of Portuguese noblemen by his order, although Afonso was unaware that the couple had married in secret at Bragança in the north of Portugal in order to legitimize their children.
Her bleeding corpse was first laid in the old church of Santa Clara in Coimbra and following her death, Pedro solemnly swore before the nobles at Castanhede that his beloved Inês would one day become his queen.
So when Pedro ascended to the throne in 1357, he inflicted a furious vengeance on those who had counselled the murder and took the corpse of Inês from its tomb to do it honour, hereby beginning the curious tale of the ‘queen after death’.
He proceeded to dress her corpse in royal robes, sat her upright on the throne and, as king of Portugal, had the power to force all the courtiers and nobles present to pay homage to her crowned corpse and kiss her decomposing hand.
King Pedro then opened the doors of the church in which her body rested to give passage to an impressive cortege flanked by two extended lines of burning candles all the way along the road to her sumptuous tomb in Alcobaça, where the bodies of both Inês and her heartbroken husband now rest.
Placed on opposite sides of the transept, their magnificent 14th-century tombs lie in the great Mosteiro de Alcobaça, central Portugal, with the inscription ‘Até ao fim do mundo‘ (Until the end of the world). Pedro had planned it so that their first sight upon opening their eyes on Judgement Day would be of each other.
Nowadays, nothing disturbs the sleep of Inês de Castro in her stately sarcophagus, whose stone is so finely carved that it might be precious metal.
Both by the majesty of the whole work and by the fineness of their detail, the tombs of Pedro and Inês rank as one of the finest achievements of medieval sculpture. The valence is carved like a sheet of ivory and the Last Judgement theme is particularly well executed.
Each effigy is attended by six fairy-like angels and the sides of each tomb are covered with reliefs representing biblical scenes, the supplication of various martyrs and the Passion of Christ, while the figures supporting Inês’ tomb have the bodies of dogs and the grim faces of men, including Pedro Coelho, one of her murderers.