King Don Afonso Henriques, first King of Portugal
It is an authentic document in which King Don Afonso himself swears on the Holy Gospels how he saw with his own eyes the Savior of the world in His great beauty, as we record in the account below.
This document was found in the year 1506 in the archives of the Royal Monastery of Alcobaça by Dr. Fray Bernard of Brito, the principle chronicler of Portugal, to whom the Kingdom owes not only the glory it gained through his writings but also this valuable document he found. It is a parchment with ancient writing, already worn, with the seal of El Rey Don Afonso and another four of red wax, hanging from silk threads of the same color, verified and confirmed by persons of the greatest authority, the greatest experts on the value of historical documents.
Dr. Fray Lawrence of the Holy Spirit, then Abbot of that general house of the Cistercian Order in this Kingdom, a person of great learning and much prudence, deemed it to be the will of God that this testimony be divulged to all. Thus he brought the parchment to Lisbon and showed it to the lords of the government, and afterward he journeyed to the court of Madrid and presented it to the Catholic King Phillip II. Many grandees at his court also saw it, and it was venerated and esteemed by all as a document of great worth.
The content of the document is the following:
I, Afonso, King of Portugal, son of Count Henrique [of Burgundy] and nephew of the great King Alfonso [of Castile and Leon], in the presence of you, Bishop of Braga and Bishop of Coimbra and Teotônio, and of all the many vassals of my Kingdom, swear on this metal Cross and this book of the Holy Gospels, upon which I place my hands, that I, a miserable sinner, saw with these unworthy eyes Our Lord Jesus Christ extended on the Cross in the following way:
The old hermit visits Don Afonso after his prophetic dream
I was with my army in the lands of Alentejo in the field of Ourique preparing to enter into battle with Ismael and four other Moorish kings who had put together thousands of men. And my people, fearful of their multitude, were excessively troubled and sad, so much so that some were saying publically that it was imprudent to continue this journey.
And I, concerned at what I heard, began to consider what I should do. As I was in my tent, I had with me a book in which the Old Testament and that of Jesus Christ were written. I opened it and I read in it the victory of Gideon. And I said to myself: “Thou dost know very well, Lord Jesus Christ, that it is for love of Thee that I took upon myself this war against Thy adversaries. Now, it is in Thy hands to give to me and to my men the strength to destroy in Thy Name these blasphemers.”
Having said these words, I fell asleep over the book, and I began to dream that I saw an old man coming to my tent. He told me, “Afonso, have confidence, because you will conquer and destroy those infidel kings, you will smash their power and the Lord will appear to you.”
The miracle before the Battle of Orique by Domingos Sequeira (1793)
I was still having this vision when my chamberlain João Fernandes de Souza arrived, saying to me: “Wake up, my lord, because an old man is here who wants to speak to you.”
I responded, “Let him enter if he is Catholic.”
And as soon as he entered, I recognized him as the same one I had seen in my dream.
He said to me: “Lord, have courage. You will conquer and not be conquered. You are beloved by Our Lord, because He has looked with mercy upon you and upon your progeny after your days will finish until the 16th generation. Then your succession will diminish, but even thus diminished, He will again turn His eyes on it and take care of it. He commands me to tell you that when on this night you will hear the bell of my hermitage, in which I have lived amid the infidels for 66 years guarded by the favor of the Most High, you should leave your camp alone – without any attendant – because He wants to show you His great paternal love.
“Prostrating myself on the ground with great reverence, I venerated the ambassador sent to me and the One Who sent him. And remaining in prayer, I awaited the bell. At the hour of the second swatch of the night I heard the bell. Then, armed with my sword and shield, I went forth out of the camp. Suddenly I saw on the right side of the sky in the East a resplendent light, which became more and more defined and grew larger as each hour passed.
And keeping my eyes fixed on it, I suddenly saw in that ray the sign of the Cross, more resplendent than the Sun, and a great group of resplendent young men, whom I believed to be the Holy Angels. Seeing this vision, I set aside my sword and shield and fell to my knees; in tears I began to beg strength for my vassals. Without any fear, I said:
Don Afonso destroyed the Moors at the Battle of Orique as Our Lord had promised
“Why dost Thou appear to me, o Lord? Dost Thou perchance desire to increase the faith of one who has so much? It would be better most certainly for the enemies to see Thee so that they might believe in Thee rather than I who, since baptism, have known Thee as the true God, Son of the Virgin and the Eternal Father, as I know Thee now.”
The Cross was of marvelous grandeur, rising from the earth almost 10 yards. The Lord, with a most affable tone of voice which my unworthy ears heard, said to me:
“I do not appear to you in this way to increase your faith, but to strengthen your heart for this conflict, and to establish the beginning of your Reign on a firm rock. Confide, Afonso, because not only will you win this battle, but all the others where you fight against the enemies of My Cross. You will find your people joyful and fortified for the combat, and they will ask you to enter into battle with the title of King. Raise no difficulties, but readily concede to all they ask of you.
“I am the Founder and Destroyer of kingdoms and empires, and I desire – in you and in your descendents – to found for Myself an Empire, by which means My name will be known in far-off nations. And so that your descendents know Who gave them the Kingdom, you should place on your coat of arms the price with which I redeemed the human race [the Cross and the five wounds] as well as that by which I was sold by the Jews [the 30 coins], and it will be for Me a holy Kingdom, pure in faith and loved by Me.”
The five wounds of Christ are symbolized by the five shields on Portugal’s coat of arms
As I heard these things, I prostrated myself on the ground and adored Him, saying, “By what merit, O Lord, dost Thou show me such great mercy? Place Thy benign gaze, then, on the successors that Thou hast promised me and safeguard the Portuguese people. And if it happens that Thou hast planned to send them some chastisement, let if fall on me … and free this people whom I love like an only son.
Consenting to this, the Lord told me: “My mercy will never leave either you or your people; for through you, I have prepared great crops, and I have chosen them for my harvesters in the most remote lands.”
Having said these words, He disappeared and I, full of confidence and in high spirits, turned back to the camp.
And so that this might be known as the truth, I, Don Alfonso, swear by the Holy Gospels of Jesus Christ, upon which I place my hand. And, therefore, I command my descendents who will ever succeed me, that in honor of the Cross and the five wounds of Jesus Christ, they place on their shield the five shields in the shape of the cross, and on them, the 30 coins. And that they take as their seal the serpent of Moses, which is the figure of Christ. This should be the trophy [the coat of arms] of our Kingdom. And if someone should intend the contrary, let him be cursed by the Lord and tormented in Hell with Judas, the traitor.
This letter was written in Coimbra on the 29th of October in the year of 1152, [Signed] I, King Don Afonso.
Porto: Livraria Civilização Editora, 1945