The Legend of the Pilgrim Nun

A story is told in the History of Bernardo de Brito (published in 1602) about a nun in the convent of Lorvao, Portugal who lived some time in the 14th or 15th centuries. Before joining the Dominicans, Sr. Maria Minz had vowed to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but saw no way of fulfilling the vow. This plagued her, and together with a confessor she worked out a way to make the pilgrimage without ever leaving the convent. For the duration of an actual pilgrimage—one year—she would perform the same actions in her convent.

She said goodbye to all the sisters in the convent, and did not speak or dine with them for a year. After they ate, she had a meagre meal in the refectory, leaving the rest of her portion for the needy. All day, she would walk around the enclosure, passing between shrines and altars, each identified with some holy location in Jerusalem. Whenever the bell sounded for sleep, she laid down where she was to rest, then get up and continue her pilgrimage the next day.

At the end of the twelfth month, she knelt in prayer before the Sacrament until dawn. When the sacristan came in that morning, he found her with arms outstretched, stiff and dead, “her face…all aglow with supernatural light.” The story spread around town, and portions of her habit were cut away and kept as relics, which were said to work miracles.

Some time after her death, a pilgrim returned from the Holy Land and called at the convent for Sr. Maria. They asked how he knew her, and he said that throughout his pilgrimage she had accompanied to many holy sites. One day, during the journey home, she left him, saying she was needed in her convent and to call there when he got back. The day of her parting from the pilgrim was the day she died.

The legend is related in Thurston’s Stations of the Cross, where the author notes that Frey Brito, author of the original account, inquired about the details at the convent of Lorvao, and found the story was well known there in the 16th century, and Sr. Maria was still venerated.