Prince Henry, still only nineteen, was assigned the task of building a fleet up north in Oporto. After two years’ preparation, the Crusade against Ceuta was launched in an aura of miracles and omens. A monk near Oporto had a vision of the Virgin Mary handing a glittering sword to King John. There was an eclipse of the sun. Then Queen Philippa, after a long and ill-advised religious fast, fell mortally ill. Summoning the King and her three eldest sons, she gave each a fragment of the True Cross to wear in holy battle. To each prince she also gave a knightly sword, and with her expiring breath she blessed the expedition against Ceuta. A papal bull, solicited for the occasion, offered all the spiritual benefits of a Crusade to those who died in this effort.

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

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