What do Maria, Joana and Inês Have in Common?

Three popular expressions of the Portuguese language have powerful women as their main characters: “Casa da mãe Joana”, “Maria-vai-com-as-outras” and “Inês é morta”. Do you know what these expressions mean and who these women were? Meet Joana, Maria and Inês and find out their stories…

Casa da mãe Joana (meaning Mother Joana’s House)

Casa da mãe Joana is not a proper house. This expression means there’s no order or that a place is messy. A Portuguese native speaker has probably been told off with this expression many times. If your room is messy for sure your mother will ask you if you think it’s Mother Joana’s house. It’s a clear indication that the mess must be cleared up and the room organized. Joana’s real house was in France, in Avignon. It is said that Joana was a beautiful and intelligent lady who was the Queen of Naples in the 14th century. She ran away to France after the death of her husband. Joana was a powerful woman in Avignon and supported the regulation of whorehouses in the city. These places became then known as Mother Joana’s house, though this expression does not mean brothel anymore – it’s only used to describe mess and disorder.

Maria-vai-com-as-outras (meaning Maria follows the others)

Saying someone is Maria-vai-com-as-outras is the same as saying he or she is gullible and easily follows others like a sheep. The original Maria was Dona Maria I, Queen of Portugal in the end of the 18 century. She is known both as “A Piedosa” (the devout) – for being very religious – and as “A Louca” (the crazy) – for having a mental disease after the death of one of her sons. Due to her mental condition, D. Maria would only go out with the companion of her maids which made people say “there comes Maria following the others”.

Inês é morta (Inês is dead)

This expression became more popular with the book “Os Lusíadas” by the famous Portuguese author Camões. It means there’s no solution for a problem or given situation. Inês de Castro was a beautiful lady who became the lover of D. Pedro, future king of Portugal at the time. They had children and even lived together for a while. Their romance was not accepted by the king Afonso IV or by the Portuguese Royal Council. When Pedro was away on a hunting excursion king Afonso IV ordered Inês’ death by decapitation.

Later, when he became king of Portugal, Dom Pedro gave the title of Queen to Inês. It’s said she was crowned in a formal ceremony, although she was already dead and her body was decomposing. As she was already dead, the title did not make any difference to her and it didn’t change the situation, hence the expression “Inês is dead.” The tombs of Inês de Castro and D. Pedro are arranged facing each other, foot to foot, so that “they may look each other in the eyes when they wake up on doomsday.”


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