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Mary’s Name in the Title of the Order
As we have already said, at the beginning, one of the titles used to refer to the Institute founded by Saint Peter Nolasco was Order of Mercy or of the ‘misericordia’ of captives. Mary’s name was added very early to this title.
The first time that Mary’s name is found in a document in the title of the Order is in the bull Prout Scriptura testatur of Pope Alexander IV, issued on May 3, 1258, in Perugia. Writing to archbishops, bishops, abbots, etc., to inform them of the spiritual graces and the faculties granted to the Mercedarians because of their beneficent work for the sake of captives, the pope states: “Considering that the Master and the friars of Blessed Mary of Mercy, also called of Saint Eulalia… work with all their power…” As the pope joins the name of Mary to the term mercy, we have the denomination Blessed Mary of Mercy as part of the Order’s title. From the context of the bull, it can be inferred that the name of Mary of Mercy was already known. One should not assume that the pope would have used the name of Mary without any motive or that he imposed it by his authority. Furthermore, the pope did not send the bull directly to the friars of the Order. The logical explanation must be sought in the interdependence between the Blessed Virgin and the Order dedicated to the redemption of captives. Mercedarians were convinced that the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, intervened directly in the Order’s foundation. Consequently, the legislators of the 1272 Constitutions made Mary’s name official in the title by calling the Order: Order of the Virgin Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives of Saint Eulalia.
Because of this belief, the name of the first Master, Peter Nolasco, never appears in the Order’s title in thirteenth century documents so that the glory and honor of the foundation would be attributed to the celestial lady, the messenger of the Trinity, whom the Mercedarian Order considers as its Foundress and Mother. Since the Mercedarian historian, Nadal Gaver (1445), this presence of Mary has been concretized in the account of the Virgin Mary’s apparition to Saint Peter Nolasco, ordering him because it was God’s will, to establish in her honor an Order committed to the redemption of captives.
Saint Peter Nolasco
A merchant and a gentle man, St. Peter Nolasco was holy in a radical sense. With a small group of friends and fellow workers with whom he had been associated for some time, he founded the Order of the B.V.M. of Mercy for the Redemption of Captives in 1218. Because of his liberating activity, he was and remains within the church and for the world, the living image of Jesus surrendering himself to the point of death to save and redeem captives, sinners and the lost of this earth.
Being a merchant, a bourgeois born around 1180, he begins to work hard at the beginning of the 13th century. Differently from Francis of Assisi, Peter does not feel the need to break with all forms of money, wealth and buying and selling in order to reach Christ’s radical poverty. He comes to the same conclusion but in a radically different way: he encounters Jesus in the very heart of his business, he meets him in the captives, in the Christian slaves in Moslem lands. This leads him to the center of the social and religious conflict dividing the known world at the time.
Peter was building the lines of a new movement dedicated mostly to the liberation of captives. He was a man of his time, touched to the quick by the problems of his age and responding to them creatively. Jesus’ Gospel began in Galilee, but it keeps on being actualized on earth. Nolasco’s good news has its beginning in Barcelona, between the 12th and the 13th centuries, but it lives on with all its value for mankind.
Saint Raymond Nonnatus
Raymond, universally known as Nonnatus or not born due to his atypical birth, is the Mercedarian saint who achieved the greatest popularity among Christians in the places, kingdoms and nations where Mercedarians became established.
According to the most reliable Mercedarian tradition, Saint Raymond was born in the town of Portello, situated in the Segarra region of the Province of Lérida at the dawn of the thirteenth century. He was given the surname of Nonnatus or not born because he came into the world through an inspired and urgent incision which the Viscount of Cardona made with a dagger in the abdomen of the dead mother. In his adolescence and early youth, Raymond devoted himself to pasturing a flock of sheep in the vicinity of a Romanesque hermitage dedicated to Saint Nicholas where an image of the Virgin Mary was venerated. His devotion to the Holy Mother of Jesus started there.
He joined the Order of Mercy at a very early age. Father Francisco Zumel relates that young Raymond was a “student of the watchful first brother and Master of the Order, Peter Nolasco.” Therefore, Raymond was a redeemer of captives in Moorish lands. In a redemption which took place in Algiers, they had to stay behind as hostages. It was then that he endured the torment of having his lips sealed with an iron padlock to prevent him from addressing consoling words to Christian captives and from preaching the liberating good news of the Gospel. After he had been rescued by his Mercedarian brothers, Pope Gregory IX appointed him Cardinal of the Church of San Eustaquio. Summoned by the Supreme Pontiff, Raymond was on his way to Rome when he met death in the strong and rocky castle of Cardona in 1240. The Order of Mercy, the viscount and the city of Cardona were all arguing over his dead body, and where it should be buried, it was entrusted to Divine Providence on the harness of a blind mule. Without anyone leading it, the mule accompanied by a crowd trotted to Saint Nicholas hermitage where the venerable body was buried.
Irish by birth, Serapion was born around 1179. He enlisted as a soldier in the army of his king, Richard the Lion-Hearted, and later in the company of the Duke of Austria, Leopold VI the Glorious, he enlisted in his squadron to go to Spain to help the Christian army of Alfonso VIII who was fighting Moslems. Once he was in Spain, Serapion decided to stay in the service of the king of Castile to continue fighting to defend the Catholic faith. There, he had the opportunity to meet Peter Nolasco and his brothers who dedicated themselves to the defense of the same faith except that they were not fighting against the Moors. Instead, they were freeing Christian captives from the power of the Moors and they pledged their own lives in this endeavor.
In 1222, Serapion requested and received the Mercedarian habit. He carried out several redemptions. In the last one which he carried out with his redeeming companion Berenguer de Bañeres, Serapion had to remain as a hostage for some captives in danger of renouncing their faith. The other redeemer traveled quickly to Barcelona to look for the ransom money. Peter Nolasco, who was in Montpellier at the time, wrote an urgent letter to his lieutenant Guillermo de Bas asking him to notify all the monasteries to collect alms and to send them immediately to Algiers. But the money for the ransom did not arrive at the stipulated time and the disappointed Moors inflicted an atrocious death on Serapion. They nailed him on an X-shaped cross, like Saint Andrew’s cross and they savagely dismembered him. The barbarian and cruel King of Algiers, Selín Benimarin, was the one who gave the Church and the Mercedarian Order this saintly martyr on November 14, 1240.
Saint Peter Paschasius
The son of devout Mozarabs, Peter Paschasius was born in Valencia in 1227. Peter Nolasco and his brothers knew young Peter’s family and they stayed at their house near the Gate of Valldigna when they were on their way to a redemption. Peter Paschasius started his ecclesiastical career in his native city and he completed his studies at the University of Paris. Upon returning to Valencia, he was honored with the post of canon of the cathedral church.
Soon after, he left his post to join the Order of Mercy and he received the habit in the Valencia Cathedral at the hands of Arnaldo of Carcassonne in 1250. He traveled to Rome in 1296 and Pope Boniface VIII appointed him bishop of Jaén. On February 20, 1296, he was consecrated by Cardinal Mateo de Acquasparta in Saint Bartholomew’s chapel of the island on the Tiber. Later, when he was making a pastoral visit to his Jaén Diocese, he was attacked and taken captive to Granada by the Moors of that kingdom. While in jail, he wrote in Provençal: Dispute of the Bishop of Jaén with the Jews and Refutation of the Mohammedan Sect, two very interesting works with apologetic content to provide Christian captives with arguments against the proselytizing sermons of the Jews and Moslems. Peter also wrote: The Book of Gamaliel dealing with Christ’s passion and death, The Destruction of Jerusalem, Treatise against Moslem Fatalism, The Gloss on the Pater Noster and The Gloss on the Ten Commandments.
This learned Mercedarian doctor has the honor of having publicly defended the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in Paris and in his work, Life of Lazarus, written in 1295, long before any other Western theologian. Several times, his fellow redeemers sent him the ransom money but Peter preferred to have other captives recover their freedom instead of him. The fifty years he had been wearing the Mercedarian habit had left a Mercedarian imprint on his soul. On December 6, 1300, while he was still wearing the vestments he had used to celebrate Mass, he was beheaded in his dungeon. He was buried in the place where the prison was and where he died. Christians called this place, Martyrs’ Hill. Peter’s written works constitute a valuable legacy of the Order of Mercy. Some Mercedarian writers like Manuel Mariano Ribera, 1720, Juan Interián de Ayala, 1721 and Peter Armengol Valenzuela, 1901, have defended the religious status and the Mercedarian profession of this distinguished bishop of Jaén. His works were compiled and published by Fathers Bartolomé de Anento, 1676 and Peter Armengol Valenzuela, 1905-1908 CLICK HERE FOR A PDF OF HIS LIFE.
Saint Peter Armengol
Related to the Counts of Urgel, Peter Armengol was born in Guardia dels Prats (Tarragona) in the middle of the thirteenth century. He spent his childhood and adolescence in a quiet family atmosphere of honesty. But having barely reached the threshold of youth, Peter was drawn by bad company to the abyss of dissolute and criminal life of a bandit. In an encounter of armed people sent by James I to rid the area through which the royal suite was to travel of evildoers, with his sword in his hand, libertine Peter Armengol found himself face to face with his own father, Arnaldo. This providential circumstance made Peter lay down his weapons before his progenitor, ask for his pardon and, with iron will, decide to change his life. His father’s prestige saved his son from the deserved punishment and Peter Armengol badgered the Mercedarian friars to accept him in the Order since he wanted to dedicate the rest of his life to the work of mercy of the redemption of captives so that the Lord would use his infinite mercy with him.
After he was received in the Order, Peter was able to go twice to Moorish lands to carry out the ministry of redemption. On his second trip in 1266, he remained as a hostage for captives in Bejaïa. He had stayed behind as a pledge but the money for the ransom did not arrive in time and he was hanged from the gallows. However, thanks to Mary’s singular protection, he was not hurt. The day after the hanging, when Brother Guillermo of Florence arrived with the money agreed upon, he found Peter alive. As a result of his ordeal, he had a twisted neck for the rest of his life. Upon returning to Spain, for almost forty years, Peter lived in seclusion in the convent of Santa María dels Prats where he died a holy death in 1304.
Saint Mary Cervellon
The first Mercedarian sister from the noble family of Cervellon was born in Barcelona, on Moncada Street, on December 1, 1230. She was baptized on December 8, on the ancient sarcophagus of the protomartyr of Barcelona, Saint Eulalia, which was used as the baptismal font of Santa María del Mar parish. Immersed in the aura of charity created by the brothers-redeemers of captives in her native city, young Mary felt attracted by their liberating commitment and she became the consolation of the poor, the sick and captives in Saint Eulalia Hospital. There, she met the first great figures of the Mercedarian Order who were gathered around Peter Nolasco.
She requested the white Mercedarian habit and she made her religious profession on May 25, 1265, as a sister of the Order at the hands of Brother Bernardo de Corbaria, promising to work for the redemption of captives. With her, young ladies from prominent families formed a community: Sisters Eulalia Piños, Isabel Berti and María de Requesens soon to be joined by Sister Colagia.
Mary is also known by the surname of Socós, Socorro or the Helper. This is because during her life and after her death, on several occasions, Sister Mary was seen on the wings of the wind helping the redemption ships pounded by the rough sea. Mary died on September 19, 1290. Her mortal remains were buried in the church of the Mercedarian friars of Barcelona, today the Mercedarian basilica. Her uncorrupted body reposes on the first altar to the right. Ever since the thirteenth century, Mary was considered as a saint. She has been invoked as the patroness of sailors and she has her parish church in Barceloneta, that is Barcelona’s port.
Blessed Mary Ann De Jesus
Blessed Mary Ann De Jesus, an extraordinary person to whom God granted countless supernatural graces, was one of the most distinguished Tertiaries of the Order.
She was born in Madrid on January 17, 1565 to Luis Navarro and Juana Romero. She was baptized on January 21, 1565. Ever since her early childhood, she showed an extraordinary maturity of judgment and her biographers are convinced that the Lord graced her with many heavenly gifts during prayer.
Her mother died when Mary Ann was nine years old and she had to be a mother to her five little brothers. Her father married again almost immediately and life with her stepmother started to be very painful. She had to endure mistreatments. To get her away from home, both her father and her stepmother prepared her for marriage. However, Mary Ann who had chosen the Lord as her only spouse, found the strength to resist and to succeed in her plan and drive her suitor away, she cut her hair with her own hands.
Spiritual sufferings came in addition to her domestic sufferings. Assailed by anguish and temptations, she had the misfortune of not finding the consolation she was seeking with her confessor, father Antonio of the Holy Spirit. Realizing that he did not understand the young woman’s spirit, Fr. Antonio advised her to look for another confessor. Mary Ann went to the Mercedarian sanctuary of the Virgin of Help, where she met the priest who was at the origin of the reform, father Juan Bautista Gonzalez who guided her steps in the dark night of tribulations and led her through the paths of perfection, helping her make great strides as she declared in her autobiography. This was around 1598; from then until she died – in 1616 -father Juan Bautista was Mary Ann’s spiritual director. In the midst of her spiritual tribulations, the Lord also gave her a taste of Jesus’ passion through serious illnesses which no human remedy could alleviate. CLICK HERE FOR A PDF OF HER LIFE