Photographed by Étienne Saint-Denis
Illustrations for “Letters of a Portuguese Nun" by Milo Manara
Until the 20th century, the Letters (first published anonymously in Paris in 1669) were often ascribed to a 17th-century Franciscan nun in a convent in Beja, Portugal, named Mariana Alcoforado (1640–1723). The letters were said to have been written to her French lover, Noël Bouton, Marquis de Chamilly (1636–1715), who came to Portugal to fight on behalf of the Portuguese in the Portuguese Restoration War from 1663-1668. The young nun was said to have first seen the young officer from her window, the now-locally famous “janela de Mértola,” or “window of Mértola.” In the 17th century, the interest in the Letters was so strong that the word “portugaise” (from "Lettres portugaises") became synonymous with “a passionate love-letter.”
Debate continues as to whether Mariana was the real Portuguese author of the Letters. Some literary scholars consider the letters a epistolary fictional work and their authorship is ascribed to Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues (1628–1685), although a real nun named Mariana Alcoforado did exist.