Saint of the Day – 18 February – Saint Theotinius (1082-1162) Priest of the Canons Regular, Reformer of religious life in Portugal, Royal Counsellor, apostle of the poor, Founder of the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross. Theotinius had a great devotion to the Passion, the Blessed Virgin and to Holy Souls in Purgatory and instituted a regular Friday devotion. He is the first Portuguese Saint. Born in 1086 at Gonfeo, Spain and died in 1162 of natural causes. Patronages – the Cities of Viseu and Valença, Portugal.
Born in 1082 into a wealthy and pious family in northern Portugal. His parents, Oveco and Eugenia were both wealthy and pious. He was called “Theotonius,” a Greek name meaning ‘godly.’ His uncle Dom Crescónio, Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery near Tuy, was his first teacher. When Dom Crescónio became Bishop of Coimbra in 1092, he brought the ten-year-old Theotonius with him and entrusted his further education to the care of a young seminarian, Tello.
After the death of Bishop Crescónio in 1098, Theotonius went to Viseu, where his Uncle named Teodorico was Prior of the Cathedral Chapter of Santa Maria. During his time of preparation for the priesthood, Theotonius progressed through the minor ecclesiastic orders with great diligence and piety. The first of these was that of porter, with the responsibility to open the Church and Sacristy and ring the bell. After serving a period of time as a Lector, he became an Exorcist. One of the chief duties of Exorcists was to take part in the Baptismal Exorcism of Catechumens. Completing his term as an Acolyte, Theotonius was ordained a Sub-deacon. Holy Orders were conferred upon him sometime before the year 1109, by the Bishop of Coimbra. The young Priest was appointed a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter of Viseu – though not without reluctance – which was a college of clerics who served as Advisors to the Bishop.
The Countess Teresa of Portugal (referred to by Pope Paschal II in 1116 as “Queen,” a title that remained from that time onwards) and her husband, Henry of Burgundy, with the consent of the clergy and at the urging of the people, often sought to appoint Theotonius as Bishop of Coimbra but he always refused.
In an effort to dissuade the Queen from her intentions, Theotonius resigned his office as Prior of the Cathedral Chapter and made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After he returned to Portugal, he resumed his work as a Priest and Chapter member in Viseu but refused to take up again the office of Prior.
Theotonius was a trusted advisor of Portugal’s first King, Afonso Henriques (ruled 1139-85). The King attributed his success at the Battle of Ourique to the prayers of Theotonius, who was thus able to persuade the King to release Mozarabic Christians captured during forays into land held by the Moors.
Although his counsel was sought by Afonso Henriques, Theotonius did not hesitate to reprove the King or Queen if he thought them in the wrong. Theotonius was fearless in rebuking sinful behaviour, in public or in private. In one instance, the now widowed Queen was attending Holy Mass celebrated by Theotonius. She was accompanied by the Galician nobleman Fernando Pérez de Traba and the nature of their scandalous relationship had become well-known. Theotonius’ sermon, though not naming them, was clearly directed at their conduct.
On another occasion, Theotonius was about to begin Holy Mass when the Queen had a message sent asking him to say the Mass quickly. He replied simply that there was another Queen in heaven, far more noble, for whom he ought to say the Mass with the greatest reverence and devotion. If the Queen did not wish to stay, she was free to leave but he would not rush – Theotonius was ever insistent on the exact and reverent recitation of holy prayers.
Theotonius left his Parish with a large number of pilgrims and set out once more to Jerusalem. His experience in the Holy Land resulted in both an increased devotion to the Passion and an intention to found a religious order following the Augustinian Rule. Theotonius helped to found the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross in Coimbra. Archdeacon Tello (his former tutor), purchased the site of the Monastery. The construction gained the backing of the Infante and Bernardo, Bishop of Coimbra. Work began on the Monastery of 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 as Prior.
Theotonius’s priestly life was distinguished by a great love for the poor and for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for whom he offered Mass every Friday. The Mass was followed by a procession to the cemetery and large sums were donated to the Priest but Theotonius distributed the money to the poor.
Theotonius retired from his pastoral office of Prior, after 30 years of service. He then became 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 1162, Theotonius died at the age of 80. The entire city of Coimbra showed their admiration and grief for him. King Afonso I of Portugal, Queen Teresa’s son and the first King of Portugal, who was a good friend of Theotonius’ was taken by such grief, that he said of him, “His soul will be in Heaven before his body is in the tomb.”
During his life, St Theotonius was known for his humility and piety. His cultus was approved and he was Canonised by Pope Benedict XIV. His feast day is 18 February. Portugal issued postal stamps with the image of St. Theotonius that circulated from July 1958 to October 1961.
The Royal Confraternity of Saint Theotonius, founded on 2 November 2000, under the Royal protection of Dom Miguel de Bragança, Duke of Viseu, Infante of Portugal, is a secular organisation of the faithful with common ends, a group of men willingly desiring to defend the origins and Christian values, maintain and honour the spirit of and remember and promote, devotion to Saint Theotonius.