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Saint Theotonius
Valença - Estátua de S Teotónio.jpg
Statue of St. Theotonius in Valença, Portugal
Born 1088
Ganfei, Valença, Portugal
Died 18 February 1166
Coimbra, Portugal
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church
Canonized Cultus confirmed by Pope Benedict XIV
Feast 18 February

Viseu, Portugal

Valença, Portugal

Theotonius was an Augustinian canon and royal advisor. He is noted and famed in Portugal, for being the first prior of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Coimbra, Portugal. He is also the first Portuguese saint.

Early life[edit]

Theotonius was born to Oveco, his father, and Eugenia, his mother, in the village of Ganfei near the city of Valença, Portugal, in the district of Viana do Castelo in Portugal. Theotonius was given a Greek name, which when translated means 'godly'. Later when Theotonius entered adolescence, he came to Coimbra with his maternal uncle, Dom Cresconio, Bishop of Coimbra, who became his teacher at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Coimbra. There under the direction of Tello, Archdeacon of Coimbra, Theotonius learned the ecclesiastical practice of reading and chant. Later, after Bishop Cresconio died, he sought out the city of Viseu, where he was welcomed in the Diocese of the Blessed Mary Ever Virgin, which at that time was subject to the Diocese of Coimbra. At the parish, Theotonius was appointed to the position of doorkeeper of the church. In this position he would perform the sacrament of opening for the catechumens. He would read the exorcism over unclean spirits and, by the grace of God, he cast them out of obsessed bodies. All of this before his ordination as priest. Shortly after, Theotonius was ordained a subdeacon.

Early religious life[edit]

After being ordained as a priest, he remained at Viseu. He was then overcome by the entreaties of his parishioners, and above all by the order of Dom Gonçalves, Bishop of Coimbra, to whom belonged the Church of Viseu, to assume the priorship of the same Church, though this was extremely contrary to his own will, as later came to be seen. In his new office, Theotonius enriched it with temporal goods such as books, vestments, bells, crucifixes, chalices, and bibles. He so excelled in his position that Theotonius was asked a great many times by Count Henry and his spouse the Queen Teresa, the clergy and of the whole people, to assume the office of bishop. He so strictly observed and preached the church's dogma and canon law, that a story is told that one day as he was preaching in the church of Viseu, the queen and Count Fernando - who at that time was her lover and not her legitimate husband - fled the church with shame.

Second pilgrimage to Jerusalem[edit]

Theotonius left his parish with a large number of pilgrims and set out once more to Jerusalem. Indeed the devout man had already made the journey once before. After travelling for ten weeks, the group arrived at the port of Saint Nicholas, there he dwelt for six weeks, for the wind was unfavourable. Once at sea the journey was fine until some days later, as they were sailing by the Cape of Malea, they all found themselves in a storm. The sailors turned to Theotonius, who was prostrate in prayer and weeping as well, out of fear. He turned completely to God, and after having prayed psalms and litanies, the sea calmed and all on board began to sing the Gloria in excelsis Deo, because the God of mercy had rescued them. Three weeks after leaving Bari, they arrived at the Holy Land at port of Joppa. The group of pilgrims took a long and contemplative route to Jerusalem. Starting by the tomb of St. George, the martyr, at Lydda, they went to Nazareth, where the Lord Savior was raised. From there they went to Tabor, where the Lord was transfigured. From there they travelled to Samaria and saw the tomb of St. John the Baptist and those of the twelve minor prophets, as well as that of Elisha. Then, departing for the well upon which the Lord had seated Himself, they had found refreshment in the faith of the Samaritan woman. Next was Jerusalem and, upon entering the Holy City, Theotonius set himself first to see the Cross on Mount Calvary. Next on the journey was the location where Helena found the true cross. Soon after they went up to Sion to the exact place of the Last Supper where the Lord washed the feet of the disciples. Then returning by the Via Sacra, Theotonius entered the Church of St. Peter of the Cock Crow, and into the tomb of James, brother of the Lord. Following this they descended to the Valley of Josaphat and prayed at the tomb of the Holy Virgin Mary. From there he went up to Gethsemane, where the Lord had prayed to the Father at the foot of the Mount of Olives. After ascending to the summit of the Mount of Olives, he went through the village of Bethphage and to Bethany, to the tomb of Lazarus. The group then continued to Bethlehem and, Theotonius fell to his knees and venerated the Virgin's holy shelter where Christ was born. From there they passed by the Jordan, Jericho, Capharnaum, and the Sea of Galilee. There the pilgrimage ended, and Theotonius and the other pilgrims from his parish returned to Portugal.

Foundation of the monastery of the Holy Cross[edit]

Archdeacon Tello, purchased the site of the monastery. Theotonius, seeking to find all of his material wealth to aid in the construction of the monastery, divided his wealth equally, giving one part to the Church of Viseu. The other part he brought with him for the future monastery. The construction gained the backing of the infante and Bernardo, Bishop of Coimbra. Work began on the Holy Cross and of the Blessed Mary Mother of God, on 28 June 1131. On 22 February 1132, the monastery was completed and the community took the habit and rule of Saint Augustine. It opened with 72 members, with Theotonius made prior.

Dealings with royalty[edit]

Saint Theotonius celebrates Mass before King Afonso I of Portugal.

Through his good nature and living Theotonius held a trusted position as advisor to Afonso Henriques,[1] the first king of Portugal. Every time that the king was about to anything of importance he always came to see Theotonius and asked for his prayers. The king did so when, on 25 June 1139, the feast of Saint James, at the Battle of Ourique, he defeated five Moorish kings with their armies.

Later years and death[edit]

Theotonius retired from his pastoral office of prior, after 30 years of service. He remained ever in prayer, shedding tears on account of this world and his longing for heaven. It was said that he ceased eating, no longer hungry, for he was filled with Jesus Christ. He then remained a hermit in solitude. He kept with him through his old age a shepherd's staff which St. Bernard, the first abbot of Clairvaux, had sent to him as a present when he heard of his sanctity. On Saturday, 18 February 1166, Theotonius died. The entire city of Coimbra showed their admiration for him and commended their souls to him, taking courage in his glory. King Afonso I of Portugal was taken by such grief that, so it is said, he said of him, "His soul will be in Heaven before his body is in the tomb".[2]



  • A. Butler Butler's Lives of the Saints, Burns & Oates, 2000