The Virgin-Mother

There was once a couple who lived in great poverty. Both the husband and wife worked constantly, but they had so many children that, no matter how hard they worked, each time they became more hungry.

One day, seeing that his wife gave birth to a child every year and some years to two, the husband decided to leave home and only to return when his wife was too old to have children. He said goodbye to his wife, promising to send her every month the money he earned.

When sufficient time had passed the husband came home. His wife was now 55 years old. Nine months went by, and despite her age his wife gave birth to a little boy.

So the husband picked up the boy and took him to a church and laid him on the altar of the Virgin and said:

 “Lady, baptize and take care of this little boy, as if he was your own son: I can’t provide for him.”

And he left the church.

At that time there was a widow living in the back of beyond who was breast-feeding her days’ old little son. Her husband had died when his son was born.

She was inside her house, lamenting having been widowed, when she heard someone knock at the door. She went to see who it was and found a lady with a little boy in her arms.

 “I’ve come to ask you the favour of bringing up this little boy,” the lady said.

 “Not only am I a widow with no money, but I haven’t even enough milk to feed my own son,” the poor woman replied, “so I can’t take care of your son.”

 “You will always have enough milk for both of them,” the lady replied, handing her a purse of money.

The woman took the baby and the lady disappeared. The little boy grew well, and his nurse’s milk never ran out. When he was old enough, his nurse sent him to school and,  on the orders of the lady, who came to see him every Saturday, he later continued his studiesin a nearby city.

It was not long before the boy showed himself to be very intelligent, and as he was always very well dressed and was blessed with manly good looks, everyone thought highly of him. He won the respect of the noblemen at court despite his poverty.

On the birthday of the princess the king invited all the nobles and the outstanding student of the year to dinner at court. Our student was invited. As soon as the princess saw him she fell in love with him. Her attachment was obvious to everyone, even the king, and so the king decided to select a prince as a husband for his daughter. He did not want his daughter to marry a youth whose origin was unknown. He invited all the princes to a festival and announced that the princess would marry whoever tossed 3 golden pears in succession into her lap as he rode past at a gallop.

One Saturday when his mother came to visit him, the student told her sadly about the forthcoming festival. His good mother perceived the origin of his sadness, but pretended ignorance and asked him why he was so sad. The youth told her the truth and confessed that he was in love with the princess, adding:

 “I’m well aware that I cannot aspire to the hand of the princess, but I feel an inexplicable love for her. The festival takes place tomorrow.”

 “Then tomorrow, when you get up, you will find a stallion at the gate, and 3 golden pears on your bedside table. Mount the horse and enter the contest,” his mother told him.

The next day in a wonderful competition the youth was the only one who succeeded in tossing the three pears into the princess’s lap. The king, in despair, immediately summoned his counsellors.

 “Reasons of state take precedence,” his counsellors told him, “and so Your Majesty will not be breaking his word in subjecting the youth to further tests.”

The king was pleased by this advice and ordered the youth to be told that the hand of the princess was still dependent on a formality, about which he would shortly be informed.

The king ordered two ladies of the same build as the princess to be summoned secretly and dressed in the same clothes as her. He stood them with their backs turned in front of his counsellors and no-one could tell which was the princess. After this experiment the king ordered the youth to be told to present himself at the palace to pick out the princess from among the three ladies. The youth told his mother of the new royal order and she replied:

 “Pick the one on whose head a bee lands.”

So advised, it was not difficult for the youth to correctly pick out the princess.

The king was still unhappy and called his counsellors again. On their advice the king ordered the youth to present himself at a certain hour of the day at the palace. The youth went to tell his mother of the king’s new order.

 “I know,” his mother said, “he wants you to sort out in the course of a single night a huge storehouse full of wheat, millet, peas and beans all mixed up together. Don’t worry. Go into the warehouse, lock yourself in and don’t worry. You can go to sleep because your mother will do in one night what 1000 women would be unable to do in a year.”

And the king in fact ordered the youth to undertake this new trial. He put him in the storehouse and surrounded it with many soldiers to prevent anyone else entering.

The next day everything had been sorted. The king set a day for the wedding.

The youth asked his mother to go with him to the church, as he had no-one else to accompany him.

 “Don’t worry, I’ll be there, but I’ll go alone. On the eve of your wedding you will have to stay at the palace, as is the custom. The people at the palace will want to know what dowry you are bringing. I will see to your dowry.”

And so it was. When the youth went to the palace he took with him a large chest, which, according to his mother’s express orders, was only to be opened when he returned from the church after the wedding. The prince entered the palace and ordered the chest to be taken to the room which had been allocated him. But the princess, like all women, was very curious, and as soon as the youth went to speak to the king, she opened the chest. Inside she was amazed to find objects of astonishing value, and on top of them she found a nut.

When the youth came back she asked him what was the nut’s significance. The youth told her he would tell her the next day. In the meantime he was able to slip off and see his mother, telling her what the princess had asked him and apologizing for what she had done.

 “When you set out for the church break open the nut, my son, but don’t examine its contents. Tell the princess the same.”

And so when they set off for the church the princess broke the nut, but didn’t look inside. When they came back from the church they entered the room and saw what they had not seen before: a beautiful golden oratory with a beautiful image of the crowned Virgin. No-one had placed the oratory there but the nut had vanished.

That night the youth dreamed that his father, mother and brothers were still alive and living in great poverty and that he had to send for them to come to the palace. The next day the youth sent for his poor family, and then his father told him the story of how he had been entrusted to the Virgin.

They were all very happy. On the death of his father-in-law the youth inherited the kingdom, and he was a very powerful and very god-fearing king.

I went there and they gave me not a thing.


Oliveira 1900 I, 361-365, #162, A Virgem-Mãe [The Virgin-Mother]. Algarve, Loulé. [1900]. Oliveira 2002 I, 325-328

Variant of tale type nº 508, The Bride Won in a Tournament

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