Peter Nolasco

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Saint Pedro Nolasco
St. Peter Nolasco as found in the Generalate of the Mercedarian Order
Born 1189
Mas-des-Saintes-Puelles, Languedoc, France
Died 6 May 1256
Valencia, Spain
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 1628 by Pope Urban VIII
Feast 6 May

Saint Peter Nolasco (1189 – 6 May 1256), Pere Nolasc in Catalan, Pierre Nolasque in French and Pedro Nolasco in Spanish, is a Catholic saint, born at Mas-des-Saintes-Puelles, Languedoc, today's France, although some historians claim he was born in Barcelona (see Encyclopædia Britannica).

It is clear that he was in Barcelona when he was a teenager, became part of an army fighting the Moors in the Iberian peninsula, and was appointed tutor to the young king, James I of Aragon. In 1218 he formed a congregation of men that became the Royal and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy of the Redemption of the Captives (the Mercedarians) with approval by Pope Gregory IX in 1230.


Between the eighth and the fifteenth centuries medieval Europe was in a state of ongoing war with the expanding Moslem world. Arabs successfully managed to subjugate North Africa, most of Spain, Southern France and Sicily. In the Christian lands, the Saracens plundered all that could be transported: animals, provisions, fabrics, precious metals, money and especially men, women and children who would be sold for a good price. Privateering and piracy on the Mediterranean sea were aggressive and violent means used to harass Christian enemies and, above all, to obtain large profits and easy gains.

For over six hundred years, these constant armed confrontations produced numerous war prisoners on both sides. Islam’s captives were reduced to the state of slaves since they were war booty. Such was the condition of countless Christians in the Southern European countries in the thirteenth century. In the lands of Visigothic Spain, both Christian and Moslem societies had become accustomed to the buying and selling of captives. In territories under Saracens rule captives were also used as medium of exchange in commercial transactions. So much so that tenth-century Andalusian merchants formed caravans to purchase slaves in Eastern Europe. In the thirteenth century, in addition to spices, slaves constituted one of the goods of the flourishing trade between Christian and Moslem ports.[1]


St. Pedro Nolasco has a vision of Jerusalem.

Sources for the origins of the Mercedarians are scant and almost nothing is known of the founder, St. Peter Nolasco. A narrative developed between the fifteenth and early seventeenth centuries that culminated in Nolasco's canonization as a saint in 1628. The two earliest accounts, those written by the mid-fifteenth-century Mercedarian chroniclers Nadal Gaver and Pedro Cijar, declare the founder, the son of a merchant, to be from the French village of Mas-Saintes-Puelles, near the town of Castelnaudary,[2] in the modern department of Aude. A fuller account of his life by Francisco Zumel appeared in 1588 and is the basis for the biography given in the Acta sanctorum.

According to Butler, Nolasco followed Simon of Montfort, in the war against the Albigensians. In the battle of Muret Montfort defeated and killed Peter, king of Arragon, and took his son James prisoner, a child of six years old and sent him back to Aragon with Peter Nolasco, then twenty-five years old, appointed his tutor.[3]

All the biographers agree that at some point in his youth Nolasco became concerned with the plight of Christians captured in Moorish raids and that he decided to establish a religious order to succor these unfortunates.


St. Pedro Nolasco - Capilla de Santa Teresa - La Mezquita - Córdoba

St. Peter Nolasco began ransoming Christian captives in 1203. In 1218 Raymond of Pennafort started a lay confraternity for ransoming slaves from the Moors and Peter became the procurator for this.[4] Peter’s plan, was to establish a well-structured and stable redemptive religious order under the patronage of Mary.[2]

In 1230 Peter Nolasco became the first Superior and also held the position of Ransomer, the order being concerned with the freeing of Christian prisoners from the Moors. He worked first in the Kingdom of Valencia and then in Granada. He made several other journeys to the coasts of Spain, besides a voyage to Algiers.[3] Saint Raymond Nonnatus later succeeded to this position.

The order originally attracted young noblemen whose heritage equipped them to practically address the matter of ransom,[5] and friars who were in holy orders, and attended the choir. The knights were to guard the coasts against the Saracens, but were obliged to choir when not on duty. St. Peter himself was never ordained priest; and the first seven generals or commanders were chosen out of the knights, though the friars were always more numerous.[3] The founder required of himself and his followers a special vow in addition to the usual three-to devote their "whole substance and very liberty to the ransoming of slaves," even to the point of acting as hostages in order to free others. According to records, the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Ransom of Captives accomplished approximately 70,000 rescues-some 2,700 during the founder's lifetime.[5]

The order elected a habit of white, signifying innocence. Some histories claim that Mary provided such guidance during her appearance to Nolasco. An enthusiastic King James authorized the members to wear- emblazoned on their breasts and long scapulars- his own distinguished arms -of Aragon.[5]

He died in 1256 in Barcelona, seven years after having resigned as Superior. According to tradition he died on 25 December, but recent studies of the Royal Archives in Barcelona have indicated that he died on 6 May.


St. Peter Nolasco was canonized by Pope Urban VIII. His festival was appointed by Pope Clement VIII to be kept on January 31, which was later moved to 28 January, when the former date was assigned to the liturgical celebration of Saint John Bosco (see General Roman Calendar as in 1954). He is inscribed in the Roman Martyrology, the official list of saints, on 25 December, the day of his death according to tradition.


The Order spread through most of Spain and was closely associated with the "Reconquista" of the southern provinces under Ferdinand and Isabella. The order flourished in France, England, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. From Spain they provided a missionary presence in the New World.[4]


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