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Posted by portugalpress on May 03, 2018
Castle of São Jorge, Lisbon
St George’s Chapel, Windsor
From left: Simon Tubb as João I, Barbara Mountford as Philippa of Lancaster and Miguel Cosme plays Prince Henrique the Navigator / Photo: PETER KAIN

A Gothic architectural masterpiece where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are shortly to be married, St George’s Chapel, Windsor, holds considerable significance for the Portuguese.

Over the centuries there have been close links between the two royal families and the world’s oldest extant political alliance, the Treaty of Windsor, is stored at the National Archives in Lisbon. Jointly signed in 1386, it is the cornerstone of both nations’ relations with each other.

St George’s is more cathedral-like than a humble chapel, being the home of the chivalric Order of the Garter. This is an honour bestowed by the English monarch and awarded to several Portuguese royals whose heraldic banners have hung above the upper stalls of the Chapel’s choir.

Until his death in 1932, this included the standard of the exiled Portuguese king, Manuel II. He fled to London in 1910 following the bombardment of his palace in Lisbon, an event preceded two years earlier by the assassination of his father and older brother.

Manuel became a close friend of the British king George V, who was the Sovereign of the Garter. The two men met regularly and every June they took part in the ceremonial service and procession held at St George’s Chapel. This traditional spectacle is enhanced by elaborate vestments and accoutrements with a military parade through the streets of Windsor.

Today participants in the procession include ex-prime minister, Sir John Major and Baroness Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5. Enthusiastic crowds line the route, although numbers are fewer than those expected for the royal wedding!

There is provision for 24 Knights of the Garter to be appointed at any one time and immediate members of their families can be married at St George’s. Others can be granted permission by the monarch. This has not changed since the 14th century when Edward III, inspired by noble tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, founded the Order.

The first Portuguese monarch to become a Knight of the Garter was Dom João I in 1408. His wife, Philippa of Lancaster, was the granddaughter of Edward III and their marriage, which occurred a year after the signing of the Treaty of Windsor, sealed the alliance between the two countries.

It was during the reign of João and Philippa that the hilltop castle in Lisbon was dedicated to St George (São Jorge). The supernatural might of the soldier-saint who slew the dragon appealed to the Portuguese as well as to the English.

Of equal conviction to the people of both countries was a belief in the powers of holy relics. On the altar – in Queen Philippa’s private chapel at the Castle of São Jorge – she kept a splinter of Christ’s ‘true cross’. Simultaneously, at St George’s Chapel in Windsor, another venerated piece of wood, named The Cross Gneth, attracted pilgrims from across Britain. Donated to the Chapel by a Welsh priest, it became an excellent source of revenue for the Crown as people flocked to see the hallowed treasure.

Etched into the stone, beneath a niche in the south choir aisle of St George’s Chapel, a claim is made that those who pray, “knelying in the presence of this holy Crosse”, will receive 40 days of pardon from the Church.

Many members of the Order of the Garter must have prayed there, including the sons of João and Philippa; Pedro Duke of Coimbra, Dom Duarte I, Prince Henrique the Navigator and Dom Afonso V.

For Harry and Meghan, unfortunately, “knelying in the presence of this holy Crosse” is no longer possible since in 1552 the fragment was taken from Windsor to the Tower of London for safekeeping from where The Cross Gneth was lost!

The next in this series of three articles will examine the connection between the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, wife of the English king Charles II, and HRH to-be Meghan Markle.

|| History recreated
Based in the Algarve, the ‘random players’ are a group of thespians that recount on stage the historic links between Portugal and Britain. The series of plays, written by Carolyn Kain, include the ‘Passionate Pilgrim’ which was seen in several local venues and features Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal and the mother of Prince Henrique the Navigator. The random players’ next production is to be staged on October 27 and 28 at São Brás Museum.

Entitled ‘Quarrelsome Cousins’, it tells of the relationship between Queen Victoria and her Saxe-Coburg cousin, Dom Ferdinand II, King of Portugal.

By Carolyn Kain