Blessed Alexandrina da Costa of Balasar (1904-1955) – Her extraordinary story
Alexandrina da Costa was born on March 30, 1904 in Balasar, Portugal, about 200 miles from Fatima. On Holy Saturday of 1918, while Alexandrina, her sister Deolinda and a young apprentice were busily sewing, three men violently entered their home and attempted to sexually violate them. To preserve her purity, Alexandrina jumped from a window, falling 13 feet to the ground. Like St Maria Goretti, she was ready to die rather than consent to the man’s lustful advances. Her injuries were many, and the doctors diagnosed her condition as “irreversible” and they correctly stated that the paralysis she suffered would only get worse.
Until age 19, Alexandrina was still able to “drag herself” to church where, hunched over, she would remain in prayer, to the great amazement of the parishioners. With her paralysis and pain worsening, however, she was forced to remain immobile, and from April 14, 1924 until her death, that is for 31 years, she would remain bedridden and completely paralyzed.
During these early years, Alexandrina asked the Blessed Mother for the grace of a miraculous healing, promising to become a missionary if she would be healed. She resolved to try to storm heaven for a cure. She promised to give away everything she had, to dress herself in mourning for the rest of her life, to cut off her hair, if only she was cured. Her anguished family and cousins joined in the assault on heaven, but the paralysis stayed. Worse still, her condition began to deteriorate until the slightest movement caused her agonising pain. Once again she hovered on the brink of death, and the last sacraments were administered several times.
Little by little, however, God helped her to see that suffering was her vocation and that she had a special call to be the Lord’s “victim”. The more Alexandrina understood that this was her mission, the more willingly she embraced it. She began to long for a life of union with Jesus. This union, she perceived, could only be realized by bearing her illness and incapacity for love of him. The idea of suffering being her vocation suddenly dawned on her. Without knowing how, she offered herself to God as a victim soul for the conversion of sinners.
Seemingly in response to this remarkably courageous request, her pain steadily intensified until it became almost unendurable. Night after feverish night she would lie awake gasping and struggling to pray, her head soaking the pillow, her fingers clenching her rosary with tight desperation as if squeezing relief from the clamped beads. “O Jesus,” she would pant, repeating the prayer taught by Our Lady at Fatima, “this is for love of thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offences against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Despite the fierceness of her pangs, she persevered with her prayerful sacrifice, day after interminable day, month after prolonged month, year after year.
Her love for the Blessed Virgin Mary
Alexandrina had a fervent devotion to the Blessed Mother. Her ardent devotion to Our Lady, which she had cultivated since childhood, became a springboard from which she was able to leap more securely into the arms of Christ. Early on, her parish priest lent her a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and afterwards Alexandrina scraped together every penny she could to buy a similar statue of her own. In time, this statue was almost kissed smooth. Concerning the Blessed Mother and her original request for a cure, she once said: “Our Lady has given me an even greater grace [than a cure]: first abandonment; then complete conformity to God’s will; finally, the thirst for suffering”.
Her devotion to the Eucharist
Many times throughout her long bedridden days she would turn her thoughts and her spirit to the tabernacle at the nearby Church, and would offer such prayers as::
“My good Jesus, you are a prisoner and I am a prisoner. We are both prisoners. You are a prisoner for my welfare and happiness and I am a prisoner of your hands. You are King and Lord of all and I am a worm of the earth. I have abandoned you, thinking only of this world which is the destruction of souls. But now, repenting with all my heart, I desire only that which you desire, and to suffer with resignation. O my Jesus, I adore thee everywhere thou dwells in the Blessed Sacrament. Where thou art despised, I stand by thee. I love thee for those who do not love. I make amends for those who offend thee. Come into my heart.”
Her devotion to the Holy Mass
As the long painful months stretched in to years, Alexandrina began to yearn for the holy sacrifice of the Mass to be celebrated in her humble room. It seemed to her to be a grace beyond attainment and she kept the desire to herself. But in the autumn of 1933, on hearing that a holy Jesuit priest, Fr Mariano Pinho, would be preaching in the district, she told her sister Deolinda of her ardent wish. The latter promised to do what she could.
Shortly after, the parish priest wrote and asked Alexandrina if it would please her to assist at Holy Mass. She replied at once, “It would be such a joy for me that I do not know how to express myself, but it would be a great hardship for any priest to come fasting on such a cold morning… “And so it was on 20 November 1933 that Fr Pinho SJ celebrated the first Mass in her little room, now the goal for pilgrims from all over the world. Though Mass was to be said there many times later, Alexandrina never quite recaptured the trembling joy of the first occasion. “With that first Mass,” she said afterwards, “Our Lord began to increase his tenderness towards me, and at the same time the weight of my cross. Blessed be the grace which, in his goodness, is never lacking to me.”
An appearance of Jesus
Shortly after the first Mass had been celebrated in her room, she reputedly received a vision of Christ. Here is her account of that memorable occasion :
“One night Jesus appeared to me in natural dimensions, as if he had just been taken down from the cross. I could see deep, open wounds in his hands, his feet and his side. The Blood streamed from these wounds, and from the breast it came with such force that, after having drenched the garment around his waist, it flooded onto the floor. Jesus drew near to the edge of my bed. With great love I was able to kiss the wounds in his hands and I longed to kiss those in his feet. But due to my paralysis, I was unable to do so. Though I said nothing of this desire to Jesus, he knew what was in my mind and with his hands he held up one foot and then the other and offered them to me to kiss…. Enraptured, I contemplated the wound in his side and the Blood that was gushing from it until, filled with compassion, I threw myself into his arms and cried out, “O my Jesus, how much you have suffered for me!” I remained in his arms for some moments and he finally disappeared.”
Ascent to Calvary
Writing to her spiritual director at that time, Fr Mariano Pinho S.J. she says:
“-Just a few words because my strength does not permit more. I passed the night badly. I could not find a position. So the days pass, one better and another worse, with this cross which Our Lord gives me. (Nov 6,1933.)
-In the night from Saturday to Sunday, I do not know what passed through my head. I was sleeping and I awoke: I seemed to die. This strange phenomenon lasted but a short while, but it repeated itself often. I think it was caused by my backbone. I hope Our Lord listens to me, but his Holy Will be done… Very often I ask, “O my Jesus, what do you wish me to do ?” And every time I listen I hear only this answer, “Suffer, love and make reparation.” (March 28 1933.)
“-Blessed be the Lord who has called me into this world in order to suffer and bear so many tribulations! To all this, I unite many sins which grieve me more than anything else. I ask every day for suffering and I feel great spiritual consolation when I suffer more, because I have more to offer to my Jesus. However, there are things which cost so much, but God’s Will, not mine be done.” (Dec 30, 1933.)
-”My suffering has increased considerably and I can now take only liquids due to a swelling in my mouth. Maybe as it has come, so it will go away. With the weakness in which I find myself, it will be impossible for me to live very long…. The lack of food causes me further suffering while liquids often cause me to vomit. I ask God every day not to abandon me for a moment, knowing well that without him I could not bear anything.” (Mar 8, 1934.)
-”I would like to thank you for your birthday greetings by my own hand and I do it by writing a few lines. They will certainly be my last. I ask pardon, I cannot continue. (She gives the pen to her sister.) My suffering has increased still more. It is because of this that these will be the last lines which I write to you. It is impossible to hold the pen for even a few moments, the pain is so great. I had a beautiful Easter present from Jesus: besides physical suffering, he has given me spiritual suffering.” (April 7,1934.)
Two months later in another letter, she spoke of the displacement of some of her ribs and added :
-”I cannot lean on them without great pain, nor bear the garments over them…. Does everything contrary come from God, or could they come from the devil, since there have been incidents in my life which appear to be his work. “(June 22, 1934.) »
This reference to the devil was the first indication of the diabolic assaults from which she was beginning to suffer.
On the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel 1934 she wrote,
-”I have the impression that the ribs of the breast have united to those of the back, causing me such great agony that I do not know how to bear it. When the pain is unendurable, I find half my body lying on the bed and the other half on Deolinda’s lap. This obliges my sister to pass whole nights in my company. It even costs me a lot to speak.” (July 16, 1934)
-”I have repeated to Jesus: send me as much suffering as you wish, provided that I can make reparation for the offences which You receive.”(August 15, 1934.) »
On September 6, 1934 Alexandrina experienced an extraordinary ecstasy, in which the compassionate voice of Christ seemed to invite her to draw closer to his Sacred Heart and share in the intense fire of his redeeming pain :
“Give me your hands, because I want to nail them with Mine. Give me your feet, because I want to nail them to my feet. Give me your head, because I want to crown it with thorns as they did to me. Give me your heart, because I want to pierce it with a lance as they pierced mine. Consecrate your body to me; offer yourself wholly to me… Help me in the redemption of mankind.”And Alexandrina generously consented to the request of Jesus
Attacks by the devil
Alexandrina’s life of suffering in expiation for sin was now to be challenged by the powers of darkness. From 1934 onwards, she began to be assailed by hideous visions and howling, blasphemous taunts that God had abandoned her, that suicide was the imperative alternative to a life of agonising futility. Realising that the spirit of Satan is primarily one of rebellion, she placed her will entirely in the hands of her spiritual director and never once took it back, even when it cost her a great deal.
Whenever Fr Pinho was unable to visit her, he asked Alexandrina to inform him of everything that happened to her. On 14 September 1934 she wrote to him as follows :
«Do you want to know what that “black face from Hell” recently beat into my head? Here it is:
“Whatever I write to you will be the cause of my condemnation… and that if I do not obey him… the worst will happen.”
It makes me weep. »
Seeing her so afflicted, Our Lord reportedly appeared to her a month later and said, “Whom do you wish to obey, Me and your director — or the devil ?” His words reassured Alexandrina, but the devil returned to the attack. He raved :
‘Excommunication, a thousand excommunications if you continue to write to your spiritual director! Already you are burning in Hell. Be converted, unhappy one! Be converted, miserable wretch! It is the affection I have for you that makes me speak in this way. I come now from your Christ who told me to take you, because he can no longer save you. He was distressed by your writings.’
The devil added that it was useless for her to pray, that there was no salvation for her, that nobody would be able to help her, that she would be condemned.
Alexandrina recalled :
‘One moonlit night after prayers I felt a need to sleep, when suddenly into my room came a great darkness… I perceived a black shadow and saw it jump towards me, and it said to me, “I come on behalf of your Christ to carry you to Hell, bed and all.” I kissed the crucifix and the voice continued, “You kiss that wicked thing!” He then ordered me to do things that I cannot speak of… It was only when I took holy water that I was left in peace.’
She continued :
‘Every now and then I see a rapid light. Twice I have seen two very big eyes, wide open, staring at me, but they disappeared quickly. On Sunday, I heard a very sweet voice saying, “My daughter, I come to tell you not to write anything of what you see: your sight is deceiving you. Don’t you feel how weak you are ? You displease me with this; it is your Jesus who speaks to you, not Satan.” I was suspicious and began to kiss the crucifix. The voice became enraged and thundered, “If you continue to write I will destroy your body. Do you think I could not do it?”‘
In a letter to Fr Pinho dated 14 February 1935, Alexandrina wrote, “The demon wanted me to remove the sacred objects which I wore and the crucifix which I held in my hand. He told me that he had secrets to confide to me, but first I must take off those objects which he hates.”
For long periods, while she endured fresh sufferings, Our Lord seemed to have abandoned her, for she no longer heard the reassurance of his voice. The devil exploited this opportunity to the utmost by sowing in her soul the seeds of immense doubt as to the value of her sufferings, by striving to convince her that she would be damned, and by again trying to induce her to commit suicide. “I took holy water, as I have done on similar occasions”, she told Fr Pinho. “I prayed long and earnestly, ‘O my Jesus, never, never do I wish to offend you. I resolve in advance not to say or do anything which could offend you.”
She went on :
“There are days when the devil makes me feel so exhausted and puts so many evil suggestions and doubts into my mind, that were it not for the goodness of God, he would have won me already… He has tempted me so much that on some days I feel that Hell itself is about to engulf me. He urges me to kill myself, and says he will give me the means to do this without any cost. He adds that I am suffering here for no recompense, that Our Lord does not love me at all, that my spiritual director does not believe a word of what I write to him, that what I feel in myself when Our Lord speaks to me is caused by the weather, or by my illness.”
Frequently when the seer pressed the crucifix to her lips, the devil would sneer in a threatening voice. Once he raged :
‘If it were not for that imposter which you have in your hand, I would put a foot on your neck. I would reduce your body to a pulp. But you will see that He will do this to you Himself. You will then wish to come to me, but I will not accept you. Thank that object of superstition… I don’t fear it any more, but I hate it!’
Alexandrina’s courage was repeatedly tested to the full. On 2 February 1935 she spoke of seeing “red beings that I do not know how to describe” and went on, “Alas! If only I had a priest to open my heart to… How can I avoid such distress ? I weep, but they are tears of resignation to the holy Will of God.”
All this time her physical sufferings continued and her ecstasies grew more numerous and profound.
Tearfully, Alexandrina begged Our Lord to intervene and end the attacks. Gently and compassionately, he explained how he needed this further suffering of hers to help more sinners. He reputedly told her in a number of ecstasies :
‘My daughter, suffering is the key to Heaven. I have endured so much to open Heaven to all mankind, but for many it was in vain. They say “I want to enjoy life, I have come into the world only for enjoyment.” They say “Hell does not exist.” I have died for them, and they say they did not ask Me to do so. They have formed heresies against Me. In order to save them, I select certain souls and lay the cross on their shoulders. Happy the soul who understands the value of suffering! My cross is sweet if carried for love of Me… I chose you from your mother’s womb. I watch over you in your great difficulties. It was I who chose them for you, that I might have a victim to offer me much reparation. Lean on my Sacred Heart and find therein strength to suffer everything.’
Nourished only by the Eucharist
On Good Friday, March 27, 1942, a new phase began for Alexandrina- She received no nourishment of any kind except the Holy Eucharist. This extraordinary miracle continued for 13 years and seven months until her death. Concerning her living on the Eucharist alone, Jesus told her in an ecstasy:
“You will not take food again on earth. Your food will be My Flesh ; your blood will be My Divine Blood, your life will be My Life. You receive it from me when I unite My Heart to your heart. Do not fear, my daughter….”
Medical doctors remained baffled by this phenomenon and thus began various tests on Alexandrina, acting in a very cold and hostile way towards her. This increased her suffering and humiliation, but she remembered the words that Jesus himself spoke to her one day: “You will very rarely receive consolation… I want that while your heart is filled with suffering, on your lips there is a smile”.
She was ordered by the Church authorities to undergo strict testing in a Hospital for 40 days and the various medical tests confirmed her absolute fast, stating:
The official report issued by Dr Araujo confirmed the prodigy as scientifically inexplicable”. The key sentence stated:
“It is absolutely certain that during forty days of being bedridden in hospital, the sick woman did not eat or drink… and we believe such phenomenon could have happened during the past months, perhaps the past 13 months… leaving us perplexed.”
The report is signed Dr Gomez de Araujo of the Royal Academy of Medicine, Madrid, specialist in nervous diseases and arthritis.
In addition to the formal medical report, there was a certificate signed by Drs Lima and Azevedo. It read as follows :
«We the undersigned, Dr C. A. di Lima, Professor of the Faculty of Medicine of Oporto and Dr E. A. D. de Azevedo, doctor graduate of the same Faculty, testify that, having examined Alexandrina Maria da Costa, aged 39, born and resident at Balasar, of the district of Povoa de Varzim… have confirmed her paralysis… And we also testify that the bedridden woman, from 10 June to 20 July 1943 remained in the sector for infantile paralysis at the Hospital of Foce del Duro, under the direction of Dr Araujo and under the day and night surveillance by impartial persons desirous of discovering the truth of her fast. Her abstinence from solids and liquids was absolute during all that time. We testify also that she retained her weight, and her temperature, breathing, blood pressure, pulse and blood were normal while her mental faculties were constant and lucid and she had not, during these forty days, any natural necessities.»The certificate continues :
«The examination of the blood, made three weeks after her arrival in the hospital, is attached to this certificate and from it one sees how, considering the aforesaid abstinence from solids and liquids, science naturally has no explanation. The laws of physiology and biochemistry cannot account for the survival of this sick woman for forty days of absolute fast in the hospital, more so in that she replied daily to many interrogations and sustained very many conversations, showing an excellent disposition and a perfect lucidity of spirit. As for the phenomena observed every Friday at about 3 p.m. (i.e. her ecstasies), we believe they belong to the mystical order… For the sake of the truth, we have prepared this certificate which we sign. Oporto, 26 July 1943.»
Her holy death
Early on the morning of the 13th, the 38th anniversary of the final appearance of Our Lady at Fatima and the miracle of the sun, she cried out with passionate fervour, “Oh my God, I love you ! I am yours completely ! Oh how I long to fly to you! Will it be today ? Oh I would be so happy… so happy !” A streaming vision of the Immaculate Heart of Mary gently assured her, “I am about to take you.” Through the white radiance she heard the voice of Jesus, “You are in the number of my saints”, and that of the eternal Father, “This is our well beloved daughter.”
As dawn broke, she wore a seraphic smile and asked Deolinda for the crucifix and medal of Our Lady of Sorrows to kiss. When these were brought to her, Deolinda asked, “What are you smiling at now?” And Alexandrina could only murmur, “At Heaven… Heaven.”
Shortly before 8 am. she received Holy Communion again with an overflowing love and devotion. It was her last. Then, as the hushed stillness of the room quivered with praying priests, pilgrims and relatives, she uttered a last piercing message to them and to all mankind in this perilous nuclear age: “Do not sin. The pleasures of this life are worth nothing. Receive Communion, pray the Rosary every day. This sums up everything.”
At midday, her trembling joy at the swift approach of paradise burst forth anew. “Oh I am so happy, so happy because I am going to Heaven at last !” The doctor begged her to remember them there and Alexandrina smilingly nodded. She then asked all present to recite the prayers for the dying. These were led by Mgr Mendes on his knees and his moving words seemed to impel that blessed soul forward to the divine embrace.
Her unrelenting agony racked her to the very end, but she withstood the fearful pain with dogged, prayerful fortitude. And as the sun sank in the reddened sky, Alexandrina’s life slowly ebbed away. Feebly she kissed the crucifix and medal of Our Lady of Sorrows again. “Goodbye,” she whispered almost inaudibly to her weeping relatives, “we will meet again in Heaven.” When Deolinda choking back her sobs, murmured “Yes, in Heaven… but not yet”, as if to hold her back a little longer, Alexandrina sighed, by now secure and decisive. “Yes, in Heaven! I am going to Heaven… quickly… now !”
At 8 p.m. her lips closed to kiss the crucifix for the last time and did not open again. At 8.29 p.m. that heart which had beaten only for love finally ceased.
The life of Santa Alexandrina should be teaching model for us Christians and beyond. To bring the word of God in the world , sometimes not only words but especially with concrete facts , with our own lives .