St. Peter Nolasco
Feast day: January 28
1189 - 1256
With St. Raymond of Penafort, founder of the Order of Mercedarians, the religious community which sent members as ransom for Christian prisoners in the hands of the Saracens. Details of his life are uncertain, but he was probably a native of Languedoc, France. After taking part in the crusade against the heretic Albigensians of southern France, he became a tutor of King James I of Aragon and then settled at Barcelona. There he became friends with St. Raymond of Penafort, and in 1218, with the support of James I, they laid the foundation for the Mercedarians, devoted to the ransoming of Christian captives. Twice Peter went to Africa to serve as a captive, and it was reported that during one journey to Granada and Valencia he won the release from Moorish jails of some four hundred captive Christians. Retiring in 1249, he was followed as head of the order by William of Bas. He was canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1628. His feast day is now confined to local calendars.
Peter Nolasco, Founder
Born at Mas-des-Saintes Puelles (Languedoc), France, (or Barcelona, Spain?) c. 1189; died in Barcelona, Spain, December 25, 1258; canonized in 1628; feast extended to the universal Church in 1664; feast day formerly on January 31. Peter Nolasco's family was either mercantile or a distinguished one, possessing great estates, all of which Peter inherited at age 15 upon the death of his father. It is said that he consecrated himself to a life of celibacy and service to the poor when he was still quite young. At his father's death he went to Barcelona, Spain, and quickly exhausted his entire estate paying ransoms to the Moors of Spain for the release of Christian prisoners. (Tabor relates that he was one of the converts of Saint John of Matha.)
In response to a vision (which according to legend was experienced also by Saint Raymond of Peñafort and King James of Aragon), Peter decided to found a religious congregation dedicated to ransoming Christian slaves from the ruling Moors. The Order of Our Lady of Ransom (the Mercedarians) developed from the decision, with the help of Saint Raymond, Peter's spiritual director, who is considered the cofounder of the order. With the approval of Bishop Berengarius of Barcelona, Peter more actively encouraged others to contribute large sums to this same charity. Confirmation of its foundation and rule was given by Pope Gregory IX in 1235.
The exact year of the founding of the order is unknown (sometime between 1218 and 1234) and there is very little available on the life of this founder because there are so many spurious documents on his life.
In addition to the three traditional religious vows, the Mercedarians took a fourth--to give themselves if necessary in exchange for a slave. Otherwise, the rule followed that of the Augustinians. Peter travelled to Moorish-dominated Spain several times and to Algeria, where he was imprisoned for a while. It is claimed that he redeemed 400 Christians during one trip to Valencia and Granada. He resigned his position as master general in 1249-- several years before his own death (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Tabor).
In art, Saint Peter is an old man dressed in the white Mercedarian habit with the arms of Aragon on the breast (Roeder, Tabor) , holding a bell on which is the image of the Blessed Virgin. Sometimes he may be shown (1) with the king watching the large bell being dug up with the image of the Virgin; (2) as the Virgin gives him as scapular; (3) holding a chain or surrounded by captives; (4) wearing a large pilgrim's hat, in a boat with boatmen; (5) witnessing a vision of heaven shown to him by an angel; (6) having a vision of Saint Peter, crucified upside-down; (7) as two angels carry him to the altar; or (8) with a banner bearing a red cross (Roeder).
He is especially venerated in Barcelona (Roeder). A series of paintings on Saint Peter by Zurbarán can be found in the Prado Museum of Madrid