La gran Contessa, The Great Countess;
A great military leader and accomplisher, a woman with incredible power and intelligence.
For a short period she was vice-queen of Italy and she owned and ruled the great lands of Lombardy, Emilia, the Romagna and the most important state of them all, Tuscany. Her name is Matilda and she was born in Italy in 1046 and died in 1115, also in Italy, 69 years old.
In my book The Hidden Camino, I mention the great Matilda of Tuscany. If you have read my book, you will know that this lady had a tendency to show up at some rather unexpected places along the Camino. The huge tapestry, third picture to the right, was hanging in Gozo (Malta) during the celebration of St. George. The picture is quite amazing. She is not only holding the keys to St. Peter's Church and the papal crown in her arms, she is also holding a special kind of staff (the sign of a ruler.)
She is, with other words, depicted quite striking and powerful which, taking into consideration that Malta is a conservative Catholic country with a heavy influence of those believing in John the Baptist (the Knights of Malta), I find this rather unusual. This tapestry was one of the largest hanging in the main square. Life never stops surprising you...
In Michele K. Spike's wonderful book about Matilda, Spike writes:
"Only Matilda, of all the princes and nobles in the Christian world, resisted Henry and the sitting pope. "The king, burning with anger, turned against her arms, battles, terrors and sieges, but he fought in vain: she had to win! Many of her fortresses were undefeated, and armed she knew how to defend the towns and castles." Other contemporaries, such as Ugo of Flavigny and Rangerio of Lucca, confirmed that only Matilda resisted. Dom Luigi Tosti wrote; " Without Matilda the Roman pontificate would not have been created. Without her, the Roman church could not have freed itself from its grave subjection by the German empire." Yet Robert the Crafty and his Norman knights get a big chunk of the credit for the success of Gregory's reform." (Spike, M.K., 2004:149, Tuscan Countess, Vendome).
Matilda is buried within the Basilica of St. Peter's Church in Rome. Her tomb was designed by non other than Bernini. Matilda founded and build several churches, but the most important of them all, in my opinion, is that of Orval in Belgium.
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