Vestígio do Caso das Trinas no Cemitério dos Prazeres - túmulo de Sarah Mattos

Traces of the Trinas Case in the Prazeres Cemetery

Sarah Mattos is the protagonist’s name of the Trinas case, a dramatic event that shocked the population of Lisbon in the last decade of the 1800s.

With time, this case sank into oblivion but its symbolic tomb in the Prazeres Cemetery perpetuates this timeless story. During a visit to the historic cemetery this tomb caught our attention due to its symbolic representations and the strong message engraved on it.

Who was Sarah Mattos? And what happened?

The Trinas Case

The tragic story of Sarah Mattos, that became known as the Trinas Case, took place in the Convent of Our Lady of Sorrows, a religious house founded in the mid-17th century and located in the zone Estrela/Madragoa.

This institution became known as Trinas Convent because it was destined for trinitarian nuns of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives.

Trinas even became the name of the street that after the Implantation of the Republic was named Rua Sarah de Mattos, but that went back to its original name Trinas from 1937 onwards.

The building suffered damage with the earthquake of 1755 but was quickly restored and the nuns returned two years later.

Later on, in 1834 with the extinction of the religious orders, the convent became a shelter for orphans and widows, where Sarah was taken in.

Who was Sarah Mattos?

Daughter of Domingos Martins and Domília Mattos, Sarah Pereira Pinto de Mattos was born in Lisbon and became an orphan when she was around 12 years old. Her and her sister Céllia’s tutor Dr. José Pereira Goulão, 2nd official of the Ministry of Justice, decided to leave them in the care of the shelter of Rua das Trinas, where they were taken in in April 1891.

After a few months, on July 23, Sarah passed away with no signs of sickness. The cause of death was registered as syncope, but suspicions of poisoning were quickly raised.

The autopsy not only confirmed this terrible suspicion, but also revealed that the young girl was a victim of rape.

Is the Trinas Case Pure Propaganda?

The sordid Trinas case stirred the public of that time.

The references we found regarding this case always highlight the media and political use made by liberals, republicans, Freemasons…

Anti-clericalism was on the rise and the main newspapers of the time, which tended to be Republican and tended to defend a secular state, took the opportunity to spread their values.

Was this a pure act of propaganda? Certainly not, because its backstory is true and tragic.

The fact that the rape was proven and that the young girl was poisoned while she was under the protection of the shelter is undeniable.

However, the propaganda wasn’t one-sided. The gathered testimonies were successively discredited by newspapers too.

It was the case of Diário Illustrado that despised the testimony of a child who lived there and that on August 1, 1891 published a petition of support from figures of the high society to the shelter.

Despite all the public reaction and the anticlerical interest of the Republican newspapers, the identity of the rapist was never found. However, there were suspicions that he was a Jesuit priest. When it comes to the poisoning of the girl the sister Clecta, who was considered by many witnesses as harsh, only served a 21-day sentence in the prison of Braga.

The testimony of this vile act was left in the tomb that was built through public subscription at the initiative of the newspaper O Século. A perpetual mark that affirms the indignation and condemnation of a significant part of society at the time, for a crime committed within a religious community.

Description and Symbology of the Tomb of Sarah Mattos

The tomb of Sarah Mattos in Prazeres Cemetery
The tomb of Sarah Mattos in Prazeres Cemetery

The tomb of Sarah Mattos is located in the crossing between Rua 12 and Rua 6A in Prazeres Cemetery in Campo de Ourique.

She was relocated there five years after her death in July 1896.

For many years, every July 23 there was a pilgrimage to this place. People, Republican politicians and members of the Masonry gathered together next to her grave. Flowers were placed, speeches were given and anti-clerical rallies were held.

Within the scope of the Cultural Divulgation and Valorisation project of Prazeres Cemetery, this tomb was classified in the category History of the Cemetery, but it could also be part of the group of tombs that feature Masonic symbology.

This tomb is a vertical marble gravestone that is constituted by two parts.

The Top Part

The top part of the tomb: allegory to the Trinas Case
The top part of the tomb: allegory to the Trinas Case

The top part is a pentagon. This geometric shape with five sides represents the union between spirit and matter, balance, perfection… In this case the pentagon is not regular, which isn’t surprising if we take into account the scene that is represented.

The shining triangle with the set square, the compass and the eye are unmistakably Masonic symbols that tell us who the promoters of this monument were. But the main representation is a metaphor for the tragic story of the Trinas case.

A bird pecks a rose while its claw grabs a rosebud. The crow represents the Jesuit priest in black garments that allegedly committed the crime of rape on Sarah Mattos who is represented here by the rosebush, a symbol of beauty and purity. The message couldn’t be clearer!

The Bottom Part

The bottom part of the tomb: the wreath pays homage
The bottom part of the tomb: the wreath pays homage

Artichokes, passionfruit flowers and acer leaves make up a wreath with a bow, carved at the bottom of the monument.

The wreath pays homage to the girl and its shape, with no end or beginning, represents the concept of eternity.

The flowers have a meaning too. Artichokes are many times used in the funerary context, both because they represent yearning and because of their regeneration ability, which symbolises eternal return, the denial of death, resurrection…

The passionfruit flowers are related with the Passion of Jesus, as people see the three stigmas as the three nails that nailed Jesus to the cross, plus they see the five wounds and the crown of thorns in this flower.
When it comes to the acer leaves it is believed that they have the power to fight the forces of evil, being thus a symbol of protection.

Below the wreath there’s an inscription that finishes off the gravestone.

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The Inscriptions

The Inscriptions in Sarah Mattos’ tomb
The Inscriptions in Sarah Mattos’ tomb

The translated inscription in Sarah Mattos’ tomb is:

“Here lies Sarah de Mattos deceased in the Trinas Convent on 23 July 1891. Through public subscription by the newspaper “O Século”. The liberal people of Lisbon”

Twenty years after the death of the young girl was added a very meaningful plaque. It features a palm leaf, symbol of the martyrs and an inscription that shows a new political reality:

“It’s been 20 years, Sarah, that you ceased to exist. Victim of an abominable crime! For 20 years that pious hands come here in pilgrimage to cover your grave with flowers as an act of yearning. But this is the most solemn year as it is the year of your glorification! Yes! The Jesuits have been expelled! And as a triumph to your martyrs here we release you. Rest in piece! Your death has been avenged! From your siblings Céllia and Reynaldo.”

In the past, just like today, sexual crimes inflicted by members of the Catholic Church’s clergy on children shock and cause indignation on people. But the visibility and the social impact that the Trinas case had surprises us when we take into account the resources available and the time in which this tragedy occurred.

Let’s remember Sarah Mattos in every visit to the Prazeres Cemetery, a martyr that represents every child who was a victim of sexual violence.

We also suggest you visit the historic cemeteries of Lisbon, places rich in iconographic memories and surprising symbology, just like this disturbing case.

On this topic, getLISBON suggests reading the article:
The Portuguese House in Cemeteries


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