Tomb of Constanza of Castile. The Social Dimension of Death

Sepulcro de Doña Constanza Pulse para ampliar Sepulcro de Doña Constanza de Castilla. Sala 27

The Middle Ages: The Christian Kingdoms(8th-15th century)Salto de línea

In the Middle Ages, death was considered a step towards a definitive new life. Being buried inside a church was a privilege reserved for the nobility and eminent dignitaries, although the location and decorative richness of the tombs reflected the differences in status among those buried there. The Royal sepulchres—monumental free-standing structures—were adorned with funerary scenes. In other cases, the tomb was marked with gravestones, sarcophagi of different sizes or paintings in arches or attached to the wall. Outside the church, near its walls or in cemeteries, the rest of the urban and rural populace was buried in simple pit graves.

Lady Constanza was the granddaughter of King Peter I and prioress of the Monastery of Santo Domingo el Real in Madrid until her death in 1478. She was buried in this alabaster sarcophagus, an excellent example of Hispano-Flemish funerary art, which was placed in the church choir. The recumbent figure of Lady Constanza is wearing a nun’s habit, and the hands clasp a string of rosary beads and a book. The tomb’s iconographic programme reflects two facets of her personality. On the one hand, the figures of the four virtues underscore her moral rectitude and ideal of perfection as a woman consecrated to God. On the other hand, the coat of arms supported by two angels proclaims her descent from the royal family of Castile, as was common on noble tombs of the day, although in this case the arms were also intended to vindicate her family. For this same reason, the mortal remains of her father and grandfather were transferred to the monastery to give them the burial they deserved but had been denied, in the case of Peter I, by the express order of his fratricidal brother, Henry of Trástamara.