Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 163



163
Enbíes tu graçia e acreçientes sus virtudes.
Female power, virtue, and the Querelle des femmes
in Constanza de Castilla’s tomb
DIANA LUC IA GÓMEZ-C HACÓN
Despite its historical and artistic significance, the
female Dominican convent of Santo Domingo el
Real de Madrid, founded in 1219, was demolished
in 1869.1 Some of the works of art it contained, such
as the so-called Madona de Madrid, are now housed
in a new convent constructed on the site of the old
one, while other objects – including the tomb of its
prioress, Constanza de Castilla, originally located
in the conventual choir (fig. 1) – were transferred to
the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid. In
the present paper I will briefly examine Constanza’s
priorate, with a special focus on the privileges she
enjoyed thanks to her royal lineage, as well as her artistic
and pioneering spiritual, political and social interests.
All were partly expressed in her exceptional sepulchre,
worthy of a wise woman ahead of her time.
SISTER CONSTANZA DE CASTILLA,
AN UNCONVENTIONAL PRIORESS
Fig. 1 / Tomb of
Constanza de
Castilla, 1464-1478,
Madrid, National
Archaeological
Museum.
Constanza de Castilla (before 1405-1478) was granddaughter of the deposed King Peter I of Castile (13501369) and Juana de Castro. She is first recorded in 1416
under the protection of Queen Catherine of Lancaster
(1373-1418), her beloved cousin, for whose soul she prays
in her Book of Devotions (Devocionario), written between 1465
and 1478.2 Although she is likely to have tried first
to enter the Dominican convent of Santo Domingo
el Real de Toledo, she would ultimately move to Santo
Domingo el Real de Madrid. This decision, which caused
a thirty-year legal battle with the Toledan convent, was
probably motivated by both family strategy and Sister
Constanza’s desire to be near Catherine of Lancaster and
her cousin’s son, King John II of Castile (1406-1454).3
In 1416, probably soon after her arrival in Madrid,
Constanza de Castilla is documented as prioress of
Santo Domingo el Real de Madrid.4 She remained in
that position for fifty years, a long period of time during
which the conventual Chapter’s decision-making power
is likely to have been reduced to a minimum.5 In 1444,
she also eliminated the figure of the prior, a position
held since the foundation of the female branch of the
Order of Saint Dominic by a Dominican friar, whose
main responsibility was the cura monialium, the nuns’
spiritual well-being. Constanza and her sisters no longer
needed a prior, as the prioress had obtained, for herself
and for the rest of the sisters, the licence to appoint their
own confessors as well as the convent’s estate manager.
Although a prior was again elected in Santo Domingo
el Real de Madrid in 1474, only 10 years after the end
of Constanza de Castilla’s priorate, his power was no
doubt significantly diminished.6
Under Sister Constanza’s administration, the Madrid
convent experienced progressive gentrification
and privatization, with the admission and religious
profession of several women who were members
of powerful Castilian lineages, such as the VillenaLunas, the Mendozas and, especially, the Castillas.7
Throughout her long tenure as prioress, Constanza de
Castilla not only renewed Santo Domingo el Real de
Madrid’s religious community, but also remodelled the
architectural complex, paying particular attention to
her own rooms.8 It is possible that these architectural
changes were carried out to cope with the increase in
size of the religious community as well as reflecting
the prioress’s desire to dignify the building.

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