An Ode to Santa Joana Principesa
She began life as a princess in 1452, died as a Dominican nun in 1490, and was beatified two centuries later. Even though she has never been canonized, she is known in Portugal as Santa Joana Principesa, or Princess Saint Joan. More properly, she is the Blessed Joan of Portugal.
Today, the Dominican Convent of Jesus, in which Joana spent her religious life is part of the Museum of Aveiro. Established in 1458, the convent became state property after the 1834 dissolution of religious orders in Portugal. The contemporary galleries of the museum contain a large collection of religious art, most of which belonged to the Convent of Jesus and other area convents. The convent became a museum in 1911.
Princess Joana of the House of Aziz was the daughter of King Afonso V of Portugal. As a young woman, she longed for the religious life. Because she was a royal princess and in line for the throne, her father and brother refused. They wanted her to marry to establish a political alliance and, if needed, produce an heir. She refused all offers. In 1472 she entered the Convent of Jesus in Aviero. She lived a life of religious devotion and was admired even during her life; her royal connection added to the prestige of the convent.
Baroque painting from the Life of Santa Joana cycle, by Manuel Ferreira e Sousa, 1729. Joana and other characters are dressed in 18th-century costume while depicting 15h century events.
Portrait of Principesa Santa Joana, 1471. The portrait was painted while Joana served as regent during the absence of her father.
The Dominicans were a cloistered order and what little contact they had with the outside world took place in the Convent Gateway. Goods and messages, and occasionally an infant, were passed through the wheel. Visits with family and siblings took place through a larger screen allowing some visual contact.
Separation took place even during religious services. In the Church of Jesus, the convent’s small church, screens separated the nun’s choir stalls, on both levels of the church, from the nave of the church.
Screen looking down into the Church of Jesus from the Upper Choir Stalls
Chapter House and Upper Choir Stalls
Because of her royal status, however, Joana was allowed to visit court and often became embroiled in palace politics. Even while she lead a religious life, her father and brother continued to try to arrange a marriage for her, including a proposed alliance with Richard III of England.
A revival of interest in Santa Joana occurred in the 18th century. The Life of Princess Santa Joana painting cycle, on the side walls of the Baroque Church of Jesus, is signed by the Portuguese artist Manuel Ferreira e Sousa. The paintings date to 1729.
Painting of Santa Joana Principesa, Church of Jesus, 1729
Azulejo tiles, Scene of Santa Joana arriving at the convent, Church of Jesus
Constant expansion and improvements to the Convent in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries hide most of the Gothic origins of the complex.
Gothic door frame surrounded by Baroque decoration
Church of Jesus in the Dominican Convent of Jesus
Convent Cloister Courtyard
Joana died in 1490 at the young age of 38. Some sources say she was poisoned by an vindictive woman at court while on a visit. In 1734 a room at the Convent was decorated with gilded wood framing paintings of her life, including a scene of her death. The cross she is said to have been holding when she died is displayed adjacent to the painting.
Santa Joana Deathbed Scene, 1734
Cross said to have been held by Joana at her death
Before Joana died, she asked to be buried in a simple way, and her wish was granted. After her beatification in 1693, however, permission was given to created an ornate, inlaid Italian marble tomb. The lower choir stalls area, converted to hold the tomb, was also decorated with inlaid marble, stone, and gilded wood. The project took 11 years to complete. The screen separating the lower choir stalls from the main body of the church was retained. Santa Joana tomb was and is a pilgrimage site for those who look to Santa Joana.
Tomb of Santa Joana, Lower Choir, Church of Jesus, Convent of Jesus
From the information I have found, there is no specific miracle, incident or action that resulted in the veneration of Santa Joana. She was admired for her resistance to marrying, for her service to her religious community, and for her humility. The fact she was royalty must have also played a role. Veneration of Santa Joana continues today. The City of Aveiro marks May 12, the anniversary of her death, as municipal public holiday.