Sacred Art Series: St. Francis Borgia

Fr. Willie ‘87 | President
(The Sacred Art Series will feature and explain the artwork which will be included in the Our Lady of Belen Chapel. The chapel is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021.)

This painting was commissioned to Spanish artist Raúl Berzosa and will be included in one of the side chapels.

St. Francis Borgia was born in Duchy of Gandía, Valencia, on October 28, 1510. His father was Juan Borgia, 3rd Duke of Gandía, and his mother was Juana, daughter of Alonso de Aragón, Archbishop of Zaragoza, who, in turn, was the illegitimate son of King Ferdinand II of Aragon.

In September 1529, he married a Portuguese noblewoman, Leonor de Castro Mello y Meneses. They had eight children. 

In 1543, upon the death of his father, Francis became the 4th Duke of Gandía. His diplomatic abilities came into question when his attempt to arrange a marriage between Prince Philip and the Princess of Portugal failed, thus ending an attempt to bring these two countries together and resulting in his retirement. By then 33 years old, he had retired to his native place and devoted himself to religious activities.

In 1546, his wife Eleanor died, and Francis then decided to enter the newly formed Society of Jesus. After making adequate provisions for his children, he renounced his titles in favor of his eldest son Carlos de Borja-Aragon y de Castro-Melo, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1551. 

In 1565, he was elected the third General of the Society of Jesus. During his tenure, he founded the Collegium Romanum, which was to become the Gregorian University, advised kings and popes, and closely supervised all the affairs of the rapidly expanding order. 

Francis Borgia died on September 30, 1572, in Rome. He was beatified on November 23, 1624, by Pope Urban VIII and canonized on June 20, 1670, by Pope Clement X. 

Painting References:

  • Crowned Skull and Banner: These two images refer to a significant moment in the life of St. Francis Borgia. In 1539, as Duke of Gandia, he was responsible for receiving the corpse of Queen Isabella of Portugal, the mother of King Philip II of Spain, at her burial place in Granada. Upon arriving at the city, Borgia was tasked with verifying the remains of the queen before burial. The body had begun to decompose and the gruesome sight caused him to exclaim the words found on the banner held by angels above his head, Nunca más servir a Señor que se me pueda morir (“Never again will I serve a king that can die”).
  • Angel: The blond-haired angel on the right side of the painting holds a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. The saint has a contemplative stare reflecting the great devotion he had for the Eucharist. In addition, the angel’s beautifully adorned blue and gold cloth symbolizes the Blessed Mother, also a favored devotion of the Spanish saint.
  • Spanish Galleon: In the bottom right corner of the painting there is a clearing in the clouds where the bay and a Spanish flagged ship are portrayed. This image is in reference to the first Spanish Jesuit missionaries sent by Francis Borgia to La Florida.
  • Galero, Crown, and Coffer: These three items found on the bottom right corner of the painting symbolize what St. Francis Borja surrendered for the sake of his vocation. The red galero is the hat worn by Cardinals, an ecclesiastical title offered to him twice by the Pope which he turned down. The crown and coffer represent the title of nobility, property, and riches he surrendered to his children when he entered the Society of Jesus.
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.