Doña Magdalena de Ulloa: she was noble and commanding and at the same time modest and saintly

June 6, 2011

Don Juan of Austria Painted by Alonso Sanchez Coello, located at the Art Institute of Chicago

D. John’s departure once settled and fixed, his first thought was to say good-bye to Doña Magdalena de Ulloa. Neither years, nor the natural dazzling of triumph and glory, nor the dark clouds, which on the contrary, brought disillusion and disenchantment, were ever able to deaden in D. John his tender love for Doña Magdalena; away at the bottom of  his heart, joined to the religious faith which had taken such firm root in his soul at Villagarcia, the loyal chivalry, strong and manly, learned from Luis Quijada, and the active and practical charity taught by Doña Magdalena herself, there was, so to speak,  like the foundations of the castle of his great nature, the tender, respectful, confiding love he bore for Doña Magdalena, his aunt, true remains of the former Jeromín who had become the D. John who filled the world with his fame, and there always flourished in him, as in all loyal breasts, the fragrant flower of gratitude.

D. John made a glory of his love and gratitude towards Doña Magdalena de Ulloa, and in how many of his papers do these natural and spontaneous gloryings burst forth, like a spring of crystal water which seeks the first fissure by which to escape. Soon after the triumph of Lepanto he wrote to the Marqués de Sarria, “That my aunt really is as delighted as she seems to be, I am very certain, for no son owes his mother more than I owe her.”

So D. John wrote to Doña Magdalena, telling her of his appointment as Generalissimo, and at the same time begging her to name a place where he could go to receive her blessing and take leave of her….

D. John and Doña Magdalena had not seen each other since the death of Luis Quijada, and D. John was very much shocked at the great change he saw in her. Doña Magdalena was no longer the beautiful fine lady of whom good Luis Quijada had been so proud at the entertainments and solemnities of the Court. His death had freed her from the obligation of complying, like a good wife, with his wishes, innocent vanities, and the calls of high rank; and now, free from all such obligations, she had given herself entirely to the saintly impulses of her austere virtue.

Two pictures of her still exist, which fully show these two phases of her life. One is in the church of St. Luis at Villagarcia, and the other in that of St. Isidoro at Oviedo, both founded by the noble dame. In the first she is seen in all the glory of her youth and beauty, which was remarkable, in magnificent attire, with costly jewels and a commanding, though at the same time modest, attitude: the great lady who hides beneath her velvet and laces the austere virtues of the saint. In the second picture she wears the severe dress of the widows of the sixteenth century, more or less similar to that of many nuns of our own day, still handsome, but worn by years, penitence and vigils; her weeds of coarse woolen material, with wide stays stiffened with wood at the waist; she wears no jewels, nor is there anything white in her dress, not even the coif or veil which surrounds her pale face; her pose is humble, but at the same time it has something noble and commanding, even elegant: the picture of the saint who cannot altogether hide under her mourning and sackcloth the dignity of the lady of high degree.

Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), pp. 225-227.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 81

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