The bud opens and exhales its perfume.
Alexandrina was born on 30th March 1904 in an area of Balasar called Gresufes, about 50 km from Oporto.
She was baptized on 2nd April, Holy Saturday.
She grew up healthy, exuberant and full of joy in all her activities at home and in the fields, but also with an exceptional delicacy and sensitivity for the beauty of creation. Furthermore she had a strong attraction for heaven, and experienced a great desire to go there. Here already was her final accomplishment in embryo: her longing for Heaven was marked from the beginning.
When I was about four and half years of age, I would contemplate the sky (the heavenly pumpkin) and asked those closest to me if I could get to it if by means of ropes and suchlike rigged up over the houses and trees etc. As they told me that this would not be enough, I remained frustrated and homesick, because I do not know what was attracting me there. (A, p. 2)
Only later would she feel the presence of God in all creation.
She was always happy in whatever she was doing, be it in the house or outdoors.
I liked to work: I arranged the house, I brought in the firewood and did other household tasks. I liked work to be well done just as I liked being neatly dressed.
I liked washing clothes too and, when there was nothing else to wash, I loved to wash my apron which came with a belt.
When they did not know where I was, they were almost certain to find me washing in a stream that ran close to our home. (A)
Sometimes, I worked in the garden, occupying my time in taking care of the plants: when these bloomed we offered the flowers to the church to decorate the altars. (A)
Her exuberance was visible not only in her work.
I climbed the trees, the walls and even preferred these to walk on instead of the roads. I was alive, indeed I was so alive that they even called me a tomboy. (A, p. 3)
She was also courageous, and generous in offering herself. Here is an example of her courage:
One time I went to visit my godmother and had to cross a river. This river had a strong current which had dislodged the rocks that served as a causeway. Without noting the danger, I crossed the stream using these rocks, and the water almost took me. It was miraculous that I escaped death, which is true too of my sister who followed me. (A, p. 3)
Between 1911 and 1912, together with the sister Deolinda, she spent 18 months staying with a family in Póvoa de Varzim in order to go to school. At the time Balasar did not have a school for girls). She hadn’t completed the second class therefore she wanted to come home with her sister. (Deolinda had completed the third class, because she had started before Alexandrina, being three years older.)
In the Póvoa, because of her great love for Jesus, she was allowed to make her First Communion, even though she had not yet reached the approved age:
I looked at the Sacred Host that I was to receive in such a way that it remained engraved in my soul. It seemed that I was being united to Jesus and that I would never be separated from Him. It seemed that he was clutching my heart. The joy I felt was inexplicable. I told everyone this good news. (A, p. 4)
Later she was confirmed in Vila do Conde:
It seemed me to be a supernatural grace that transformed me and joined me yet more to Our Lord. (A, p. 5)
When I was about nine years old, I got up early to go to work in the fields and when I found myself alone, I began to contemplate nature. Dawn would be breaking, and with the sun rising little birds would be warbling and that, and the murmur of the waters, would induce in me a contemplation so deep that I would almost forget that I lived in the world. Sometimes I would stand stock still, intoxicated with this concept, the power of God!
And, when I found myself at the seaside (in Póvoa), oh, how I would lose myself before that infinite prospect! At night, contemplating the sky and the stars, it seemed to me that, though insignificant, I could hide myself still more in order to admire the beauties of the Creator! (A, p. 8)
At 12 she was given charge of the catechism class and also became a singer in the church choir:
I worked with great pleasure, as much in one capacity as in the other, but for singing I can say that I had an inordinate passion. (A, P. 11)
She would find things to sing about up to 1953, after 11 years of absolute fast! There were to be public ecstasies during which she sang, improvising words and music with their own registers.
Up to 1918, the perfume of this budding flower spread in all directions - for creation, as we have already seen, for her family, for the poor.
I felt great joy in works of charity for the poor. Sometimes I cried with their pain and for not being able to free them from all their burdens. My biggest satisfaction was to give them what I had to eat, and in this way depriving myself of food. (A, p. 9)
And not only did she give food and clothes, but she threw herself into prayers and works of charity for sick people, she even used to attend to the bodies of the dead!
This cost me a great deal but I did it for love: I did not have the heart to leave the family of deceased ones alone. (A, p. 9)
She developed an artistic sensitivity, that would later reach to the summit of high poetry, a sensitivity which was not devoid of a certain humour:
In the family gatherings, I do not know what I said, but I amused the people about me so that they laughed out loud. My mother said: “Nobles have a clown to make them laugh; I am not a noble, but I also have a clown to liven up my guests”. (A, p. 7)
And, because she lived a life of prayer, she developed wisdom of the heart, which emits the perfume of good advice for people, even for some older than herself:
I often gave advice to older people, even preventing them from practising horrible crimes (abortions?), and I always kept absolute silence about these matters. They came to me and they spoke of things that were not appropriate for my age, and I comforted them and told them what I understood. (A, p. 9)
Robust and willing, she worked with such enthusiasm that she was paid, per hour, as much as her mother. But she had to face a very painful period of work for a brutal, violent “master hangman”:
Even the animals knew him, because he beat and scared them.
(...) once I spent from 10pm till 4 in the morning in Póvoa de Varzim taking care of four yoke of oxen, because the master and a friend of his had left me with them; and I, full of fear, passed some very sad hours that night.
While I looked after the cattle, I was contemplating the stars that shone brightly and served as my friends. (A, pp. 10-11)
Of course, her mother removed her from that master!
Her perfume rose especially, and always more intensely, towards Heaven.
As I grew, the desire for prayer increased in me. I wanted to learn everything. I loved making meditations on the Blessed Sacrament and on Our Lady and, when I could not make them by day, I made them by night, stealthily, reserving a candle, that I hid, for this purpose. Lives of saints or very deep meditations did not satisfy me, because I saw that I didn’t resemble those saints at all and so, instead of making me feel well, they made me feel miserable. (A, p. 10)
Her days started all with all the consecrations to Jesus and Our Lady and continued, studded with various ejaculations.
Focal centres in her spiritual life were: Jesus, “my Beloved”, “my Everything”, especially in the Eucharist, and Blessed Mary, the “beloved Mother”, mediator and model.
Her spirituality was essentially Eucharistic-Marian, as her first director, Fr Mariano Pinho, pointed out. (vide NoC).
On Holy Saturday 1918, when she was 14 years old, she jumped from a window into a kitchen-garden below (about 3,30 m) to save her purity. She was escaping from three ill-intentioned men who had violently forced their way into the room where she was sewing with her sister and a friend. (One of the men was the master hangman).
This was the beginning of compressed myelitis in the brain, with consequent gradual paralysis, that was to keep her bed-ridden until death! Therefore, she is a “martyr for purity”, as was Maria Goretti and Pierina Morosini.
Alexandrina’s martyrdom was apparently bloodless (though she was to suffer very painful spiritual stigmata), but atrocious while it lasted and always increasing in intensity.
That “jump” is a tragedy that makes her incapacitated, from a human viewpoint. But from the divine viewpoint it is, on the contrary, a call: it is the beginning of long and very fruitful rise on a scale of stronger and always deeper suffering, a suffering that will invade her entire being, in the physical, moral and spiritual sphere; but a rise that will involve her in a co-redeeming mission, in a total transforming union with her Jesus.
She will become one of the most efficient soul-victims who, following the way indicated - or rather, travelled - by Jesus, are immolated for the love of God and neighbour.
Also Alexandrina, like other saints, had a premonitory dream that allowed her to have an intuition of the road she must cover on earth, to reach her final goal. (It was sometime during 1916-1918; she describes it in her Autobiography).
I went up to the Paradise by means of a little staircase that was so narrow that there was barely room on the treads for my toes. It was with a lot of difficulty and time that I arrived there, because I did not have anything to clutch on to. On the way, I saw some souls on the side of the stairs, giving me comfort without actually speaking to me. Once I had reached the top, I saw at the centre, on a throne, Our Lord and, at his side, His Holy Mother. All Heaven was full of blessed souls.
After contemplating all this, I had to return to earth, which I did not want to do. I climbed down with much difficulty and found myself on earth, and everything had disappeared. (A, p. 11)
In June 1924 she participated, with much effort, in the National Eucharistic Congress of Braga. On 14th April 1925 she took to her bed, never to get up again. She was to remember that date often in her writings. In 1928 there was a diocesan pilgrimage to Fatima and the priest brought two souvenirs back for her, and suggested she make a novena for a cure.
I did not make one, but many. (…) I thought: if I am cured, I will go straightaway, straightway to be a nun; I had no desire to live in the world. (…)
I wanted to be missionary, to baptize black children and to save souls for Jesus. (A, p. 17)
So many prayers, but they brought no improvement to her condition, nor did the supplications of her family:
As I did not obtain anything, my desire to be cured died forever; but all the time I felt anxious for the love of suffering and thought only of Jesus. (A, p. 17)