Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

The Dedication of St Francis Borgia

Francis Borgia, Duke of Gandia and Marquis of Lombay, one of the proudest grandees of Spain, rode beside his wife, the beautiful Eleonora de Castro, in the funeral cortege  of their sovereign lady, the Empress Isabella, first wife of Charles IV.

His heart was lead within his breast, for not alone the loss of the benign Queen caused him sorrow, but the remembrance on this day of another loss in the death of his most dear friend, the poet Garcilaso de la Vaga.

The procession wound its interminable way from Madrid to Granada, where the royal remains were to be entombed in the Chapel of Kings. Gloomy thoughts enwrapped the Duke's spirit like a cloud, and no consideration of his own happy estate would drive them away. He turned to look at the pure countenance of Eleonora, and as she returned his gaze, a wan yet sincere smile of sympathy and understanding lighted her eyes; he called up to the inward vision the image of their eight children, and his heart warmed with love at the thought of them; he reminded himself of the glory of his domains, the riches at his disposal, the freedom which these gave him to scatter benefits and well-being among retainers and dependents, but no consideration of these matters brought relief to the weary spirit and the sick soul.

At last the journey came to its end. The destination being reached, nothing remained but to lower the sumptuous coffin into the sepulchre. Only one sad duty remained to Francis Borgia: as Master of the Queen's Horse, it was his office, at the moment before the tomb should forever close upon the Empress, to raise the lid of the coffin and, uncovering her face, take oath that this was indeed she who had been Isabella of Spain.

With a final gesture of devotion, with the picture of the revered liege lady still glowing in his memory, he stretched out his hand and drew aside the winding-sheet.

The ghastly features that lay revealed might have been those of a stranger, so unrecognizable had they become during the period since the Queen's death: here was hideous dissolution where beauty had reigned; noisome corruption where health had lived; the pathos of utter helplessness where once had been exuberant vigour.

"And to this we must all come, my friend," the pale mask seemed to say, "power and splendour, beauty and wit, strength and joy—all must come to this. The beloved object of earthly passion will ultimately come to this; to this will the body of the adored one inevitably come; the world's riches may deck and drape it in cloth of gold and pearls worth a king's ransom, but to this it shall come; steep it in all the perfumes of the Orient, and to this revolting mass of decay it still must come. In horror you turn from me: I was so beautiful and am so changed. . . . Turn then from your one-time friend, and become the friend of One who in this universe of change remains unchanging. Turn, while yet there is time, from considerations of earthly love, ambition, and delight, which pass like a cloud and are as unsubstantial—turn to the only lasting good, which is God. Devote to Him all of thyself which is enduring. Not only dedicate to Him thy brief and illusory life, and so fill it with good works that He may find it acceptable, but so make beautiful thine immortal soul with understanding and faith that it may become worthy to offer Him . . . "

Francis Borgia seemed to hear within his innermost spirit the voice of his sovereign, and whether he had listened for a lifetime or only a minute's span he could not have told. Then, not because he knew by the witness of his senses, but because owing to his vigilance he was sure that the body of the Empress entrusted to his care had not been replaced by another, he took audible oath that these were of a certainty the relics of Isabella, and within his heart he took oath, and dedicated himself henceforth to the service and worship of God.