A CLERICAL ORGANIZATION
The death of Master Pedro de Amer on June 8, 1301, signaled the close of a charismatic, authentic period of the Order of Mercy that had been marked by the personality of Peter Nolasco and his disciples. At that time, innovative trends were appearing. The first Mercedarian crisis was not, as it has sometimes been claimed, a mere struggle between laymen and clerics. It was rather the temptation of modernity.
On September 29, 1301, the El Puig chapter elected Arnaldo de Amer as Master General. He was a lay brother who had the support of King James II who wrote a historical letter to Pope Boniface VIII in January 1302. The king was asserting that the most numerous and most solid group of friars had voted for Brother Arnaldo. However, a group of innovators ignored that election and chose a priest, Pedro Fornica, as the anti-master. He died in March 1302. The solution seemed heaven-sent but Prior Guillermo de Issona and his followers gathered in Barcelona and they elected Father Raimundo Albert on June 15, 1302. And so, the Order continued with two sectors as if they were two different institutes until February 12, 1308. Perhaps in an unjust move, Pope Clement V intervened. He canceled both elections, appointed a lay friar, Arnaldo Rosiñol, as the Master and conferred to Raimundo Albert all power over spiritual matters.
In the early morning of May 3, 1317, Arnaldo Rosiñol died unexpectedly in Valencia. The yearly chapter was going to start on that morning. The prior, four definitors and quite a few superiors had already arrived. After honoring the deceased, the 259 friars the Order had at the time, were summoned to the elective chapter for July 10.
The assembly opened on the set date. Of the friars attending, 55 were in favor of a clerical Master and 32 preferred a lay Master. This was not a confrontation between clerics and laymen but rather between progressives and conservatives since both groups included clerics and laymen. The former were saying that the one with the most votes, cleric or lay, would be the Master General. The latter alleged that only a layman could be the Master General as it had always been the case. The clerics voted and Albert and 9 other priests received 114 votes (their own and from delegates) because laymen were determined not to vote and Father Raimundo Albert was proclaimed Master General by clerics. In turn, traditionalists selected Brother Berenguer de Ostales as Master. This took place on July 12, 1317.
On the same day, those in favor of Albert requested the approval of the pope and of the bishop of Valencia who declared the next day that he was not competent. On August 7, Father Albert’s procurators left from Valencia for the papal curia. The decision was made in Avignon by Pope John XXII on January 5, 1318, in a double bull Suscepti cura. To avoid disquisitions, the Pontiff revoked the election, named Father Raimundo Albert Master General and demanded that all religious acknowledge him as such in the bull in spiritualibus et temporabilus. The two lay leaders, Brother Berenguer de Ostales, Superior of Gerona and Brother Poncio de Banis, Superior of El Olivar were declared irremovable in their houses. Later on, the same Pontiff appointed Brother Poncio de Banis as defender of lay brothers for life by naming a general definitor (counselor) for life. In placing a cleric at the head of the Order, John XXII, did not exclude the possibility that a lay brother might be named to that post again. By these prudent measures, the Holy See avoided future difficulties for the Order which, after a few anxious years, came out strengthened by the change.
Clerical Masters General
The 1319 Cuenca General Chapter dealt with the consolidation of what had cost so many efforts. As it was seen in 1317, it was very difficult for all the friars of the Order to vote according to the concession granted to the Order of Mercy by Pope Innocent IV in 1245. What was easy at first, had become impossible. Therefore, direct voting of all religious to elect the Master General was suppressed and for the sole purpose of voting, the Order was divided into five provinces: Catalonia, Aragon with Navarre, Valencia with Murcia, Provence with France and Majorca and Castile with Portugal. Thus, the Master General’s election was limited to seven electors: the five electors from the provinces, plus the Barcelona Prior and the oldest religious of the Barcelona community. Only a priest could be elected Master General and he could only be elected by priests. The Barcelona Prior would be elected by his community.
Contents of Albert’s Constitutions
At the Agramunt Chapter (Lérida), the Constitutiones fratrum Ordinis Sanctae Mariae de Mercede redemptionis captivorum were approved on June 3, 1327. They were modeled on the constitutions of the preaching orders, especially for the general norms of religious life.
They are divided into two ‘distinctions’ (parts): the first deals with worship, regular discipline, the novitiate, profession and faults and the second part deals with the government of the Order and the redemption of captives.
The Divine Office and the redemption of Christian captives are indicated as the Order’s ends and fundamental principles. Unity in feelings is recommended in order to attain unity in government. A great deal of importance is given to worship, ceremonies and rites. The Office and the Mass of the Immaculate Conception appears as a fitting innovation.
The juridical and theological principles, which are fundamental to religious life, are established in the introduction.
The redemption of captives, in union with worship, is presented as the first ministry of the Order: “It is well-established that our Order was especially founded from the beginning for the Divine Office and the redemption of Christian captives and we must address that in a special and solicitous way: we must always redeem captives from pagan hands with the alms from the Christian faithful and we can be of use to our neighbors’ souls through the Divine Office as well as in the redemption of captives.
The Constitutions state that it is a serious fault to designate the redemption fund for any other purpose and they determine that every community has the obligation to obtain alms. Religious are reminded of the original modesty and poverty of the Order: “Our brothers had mediocre and humble houses: do not build such sumptuous edifices if their construction delays the redemption of captives in any way.” The system of responses is made into law, according to which each community contributes an obligatory annual quota. The chapter indicates the amount to be used for redemption and the religious who will carry it out. It also provides practical norms about alms’ collectors in terms of their service and behavior.
For the first time, the Constitutions speak of the retirement of friars with many years in religious life. This new concern is justified due to the self-sacrificing and exhausting lives of redeemers traveling untiringly from town to town.
The 1327 Constitutions are going to include remarkable changes but also revealing elements of continuity which show that the Order did not submit to the new forms of the institutes among which it chose to be numbered. If prior to 1317, lay Mercedarians had predominant positions in the Institute, at this point, there was a noticeable move toward the clergy and what is clerical. If before, the Order was made up of laymen and clerics, now it is made up of clerics and laymen while constantly insisting on the need to be able to act in temporalibus et in spiritualibus in order to govern. With this, the Order has become clericalized.
Auxiliary functions of the Master General, the visitator and the Master General’s vicar, are established. The Barcelona Prior appears with autonomy and as a link of continuity since, at the Master General’s death, he becomes vicar general for the vacant position. The Prior of the Order at the Master General’s side disappears. Although provinces have been established, the provincial and provincials do not exist yet. The Master General continues to govern fundamentally without intermediary authorities between him and the superiors.
Evolution and Characteristics
The initial impulse, communicated by Saint Peter Nolasco to his Order, transcends all written legislation and it is evident that the Order of Mercy continues to live its charism intensely. When time is lost in discussing internal matters, King James II expresses his preoccupation since this is prejudicial to redemption.
Wise voices suggest serenity and the Order which is now led by clerics resumes its path. The Order of Mercy wants to have one redemption per year although this is not always possible. Some redemptions failed due to shipwrecks, robbery by pirates, redeemers’ imprisonment or death and this always left an enormous financial burden. The fact that each redemptive expedition took so much time had a negative influence.
The price of freedom was constantly increasing. People with slaves saw that it was a profitable business and they became more usurious. They used any pretext to raise the price for captives and if they saw interest in a particular captive, they raised it even more. Friars had to hide and they had to use tricks, spend a lot of time (two, three and even four months) to finalize a purchase, visit and accompany those who could not yet be redeemed. In the thirteenth century, eight, ten or fifteen pounds had to be paid for a captive and if the person was well-known, the price could go up to fifty or even a hundred pounds (a normal horse was worth fifteen pounds). In the fourteenth century, 34 captives cost 3,840 pounds. In 1449, 16, 20, 31, 37, 39, 70, 90 and 104 pounds were paid for redeemed captives. But, for Fathers Company and Bosset, the requested price was 4,800 pounds.
Each redemption was a commitment for the Order since redeemers had notary powers to back them up by seizing the Order’s assets. Friars continued to be aware that all the Order’s assets belonged to captives. They often had to ask for loans and it was difficult to pay them back. In 1424, the Barcelona community decided to sell the sacred vessels and the treasures of the sacristy because it was preferable to preserve living vessels than metal ones and because the liberation of captives was the best ornament of our churches.
In the first years, redemptions took place in Valencia and in the Balearic Islands because of their proximity. As the Reconquest advanced, the ghettos of slaves were located in Andalusia and North Africa. As of the fifteenth century, most ransoms took place in Tunis, Morocco, Bejaïa, Algiers, Tetuán and Fez. As the market places were farther away, the cost of redeeming a captive was rising, due to freight expenses (in 1439, a boat to Tunis cost 300 pounds) and to all the required steps. On occasions, redeemers had to take merchandise to pay for captives, especially when redemptions were in Granada. They brought with them the grain, cloth, coral, paper bundles, spun gold, cattle and mounts which people were donating to collaborate. In addition, friars always took woolen cloth with which to make clothes for all the redeemed whom they received in dire conditions.
In spite of the safe-conducts which redeemers took with them, numerous land expeditions were attacked and fleeced by Moslem and even Christian bandits. After they were redeemed, former captives had the obligation to accompany their redeemers for a period of time. They would go from town to town giving testimonies of their terrible past and collecting new alms for the next redemption. At the end of that service, former captives received a full set of clothes, supplies for the journey, even a weapon at times and two solidi per day until they reached home.
Intervention of Popes and Monarchs in Redemption
At that time, we do not have the great bulls favoring the Order of the thirteenth-century popes. Nevertheless, the work of redemption is appreciated, praised and protected.
In 1305, Clement V sent a bull stipulating that testaments made for redemption, without specifying the recipient, should be given to the Order of Mercy.
In 1365, Urban V, authorized all Mercedarians who were redeeming in Moorish lands to absolve all the faithful, whether they were captives or not.
In 1373, Gregory XI conceded a historical favor to the Mercedarians by dispensing them from tithing because all the Order’s assets were assigned to the redemption of Christian captives.
In 1419, Martin V confirmed the Order’s complete freedom to collect funds for the redemption of captives. This came about because of the refusal of some archbishops and bishops.
On August 9, 1448, in the bull Nuper siquidem, Nicholas V exempted the Order from the jurisdiction of local ordinaries. The Master General, Nadal Gaver, kept the bull in his own room as a precious treasure, even forbidding its being removed to be copied. To do that, the notary of the convent had to go there. The reiterated petition of the King of Aragon, Alfonso V, to the Supreme Pontiff was very helpful. These were the king’s words to the pope: “Against God and against justice, the ordinaries and their officials frequently oppress, wrong and harass the brothers of the Order and publicly cause them harm, thus offending God and creating scandal. Consequently, to defend themselves, said brothers must spend in juridical disputes the assets which otherwise would have been invested in the redemption of captives.”
In 1457, Callistus III prohibited Mercedarians to move to any other Order, except for the Carthusian Order because the Order of Mercy is stricter than the Mendicants by virtue of the commitment Mercedarians made in their profession to be always disposed to surrender and to endure torments and death even for the liberation of a single captive.
In April 1481, Sixtus IV ratified the privileges conceded to the Mercedarians and previously taken away from all institutions in order to concentrate all the forces of Christendom in fighting against the Turks.
It is true that many bishops who understood the great work of the redemption of captives, especially those of Barcelona, were supporting the Order.
The Mercedarians of Spanish origin and the Trinitarians, a French foundation, were two contemporary redemptive orders. Some friction between the two did occur due to apostolic zeal or to other motives more human than pastoral. But this should not be magnified and time has cast this into oblivion.
The Aragon kings of the time continued to support the Order to follow in the footsteps of James I the Conqueror.
During the reign of James II the Just (1291-1327), there were 99 documents referring to the Order of Mercy. They are valuable and important document because of the data they provide about the Order’s origin, the moment the Institute is experiencing and the king’s love for the Order founded by his grandfather and of which he claimed to be a patron. James supported the Order in its redemptive dedication and placed the brothers and their houses under royal protection; he cooperated in redemption by exempting Mercedarians from taxes and by sending passports and safe-conducts for redeemers, interceding for the friars captured by the Moors, suppressing the payment of tolls to transport grains and animals for redemption and by taking steps against ex-captives who broke their promises and false captives.
Peter IV the Ceremonious (1336-1387) was also very favorable to the Order. During his long reign, he issued 149 documents in favor of the Mercedarians as he renewed the guarantees which had been conceded by his predecessors. He showed his great love for the Order when he stated that “James I accomplished two important deeds at the service of Christian faith: the reconquest of Majorca, Valencia and other territories and the institution of the Mercedarian Order.”
In 81 documents, John I the Hunter (1387-1395) showed he was the friars’ protector and friend. For example, for his wedding, he asked to borrow the Master General’s horse; he took quite a few Mercedarians as his servants and members of his household; he tried to improve the convents; he intervened, excessively at times, in internal affairs; he defended the friars from mistreatment by some bishops and from the discrimination of other orders; he recognized the exemption from tithing; he defended the exclusivity of collecting and ratified the favors granted by his predecessors.
From Martin I the Humanist (1395-1410), we have around a hundred documents speaking affectionately of the redemptive friars. He supported the Order with efficacy so that Brother Gabriel Sala could take over Santa María of Bonaria (Sardinia).
Ferdinand I of Antequera (1412-1416) named Master General Antonio Caxal, as his ambassador for delicate matters in several missions and especially to the Council of Constance where the Mercedarian played an outstanding role.
Alfonso V the Magnanimous (1416-1458) also followed his predecessors’ path: Father Juan Segalars was always at the king’s side in the conquest of Naples and the king established a Mercedarian convent in that city in 1442. He sent Father Juan Galicant as his ambassador to Ottumen, King of Tunis and Father Nadal Gaver was his adviser.
Although the Mercedarians did not receive such exquisite consideration in the Castile kingdom, Castilian kings were for redemption.
In an important document issued in Burgos on January 27, 1311, Ferdinand IV (1295-1312) authorized Mercedarians to conduct collections anywhere without any impediment. Furthermore, in testaments when the donor bequeathed something for redemption without specifying the receiving order, this went to the Order of Mercy. The king also arranged for Mercedarians to receive the fifth part of the royal rights of assets left by someone who died without a will. The king ordered civil servants to welcome and lodge Mercedarians when they were collecting alms and to gather people so that they could listen to the redeemers.
Henry II (1369-1379) ratified what his predecessor had ordered and he expanded the Order’s privileges by exempting it to pay for the people’s donations of mules, beasts of burden, cows and sheep, which Mercedarians took with them in exchange for captives and for the material they also took to clothe captives. Without paying taxes, Mercedarians were also allowed to take Moorish captives whom people gave to them to exchange them for Christians. In addition, in a very unusual ruling, the king ordered officers to provide free lodging for the brothers and armed guides for their journeys.
The succeeding Castilian sovereigns were just as generous. For example, Henry III (1390-1406) ratified Castile’s royal protection of the Order of Mercy at the assembly of the Alcalá Cortes (1391).
Redemptions during this Period
The change of régime in the Order did not mitigate Mercedarian efforts for the redemption of captives which continued to be the religious’ fundamental activity.
According to the data provided by Father Garí y Siumell, in the period going from 1302 to 1489, that is to say, in 187 years, there were 133 redemptions in which 18,623 captives were rescued. However, all these redemptions were not equally successful or attained the desired end since, due to different circumstances, some of them ended badly and without concrete results.
In carrying out their ministry in the defense of the faith of Christians, numerous religious encountered death or martyrdom. Some of these brothers, not explicitly mentioned in these pages, do deserve to be remembered.
Justin of Paris was martyred in Granada in 1337. Pedro de Santa María and Simón de Haro were two redeemers who were captured by Mohammedan pirates and thrown into the sea when they were on their way back from Africa in 1361. Jaime of Valencia was martyred in Algiers in 1362. Pedro de Santa María from France was burned alive in Tunis around 1364. Arnaldo de Arench was beaten to death in Granada in 1394. In 1397, in Almería, Pedro Boleta was brutally beaten and left in the street to bleed to death. In 1408, after his tongue was savagely cut off, Guillermo Sans was beheaded in Granada. While they were in Africa and after carrying out a redemption, Brothers Juan de Luna and Bernardo Rebolledo received the palm of martyrdom and the captives were returned to the dungeons in 1422. Redeemers Juan Jover, Pedro Escrivá and Jerónimo de Prado were killed in Tunis in 1430, and the redemption was thwarted.
We are relating a few of these liberations with unusual aspects to give some concrete details about Mercedarian redemptions.
A Frenchman, Claude de Tonelles, superior of Carcassonne and named redeemer in 1318, traveled all over Languedoc, Roussillon and Catalonia collecting alms for redemption. To call people’s attention, on something like a pilgrim’s staff he put a streamer on which he had painted the image of Our Lady of Mercy with a captive kneeling on both sides and below a sign saying: Haec est porta coeli, here is the door to heaven. The novelty of the spectacle attracted so many town people that there was not need to announce the sermon or wait for the public. In the squares from any slightly elevated point, Claude was regularly preaching on the virtues of the Mother of God and he would conclude by reflecting on the hardships and labors of the poor captives. And so he traveled to many places to collect alms. People called him Claude de Portaceli. Through his enthusiasm, he animated several religious to go to Africa and to remain among the Moors to console and to strengthen unfortunate captives. Together with Brother Claude, fourteen friars went to Algiers where they freed 346 captives. Brother Claude and another brother went back to Spain with the liberated captives. The other thirteen friars stayed in Algiers to comfort and to serve captives. None of them ever returned to Europe and they all died there, one of natural causes and the others died a violent death. Brother Claude continued to redeem for ten more years.
In 1418, several Mercedarian brothers were on their way to accomplish a rescue in Oran when Turkish galleys boarded their ship and robbed them on the high seas. While the bandits were sharing the booty among themselves, they were attacked and captured by Christian galleys coming from Naples. The Christian captains entertained several opinions about what to do with the redemption money: some wanted to share it as a prize but don Pablo Orsini’s opinion prevailed. He had to refer the decision to the judges of the king of Naples and in the meantime, the money was to be deposited in a safe place. This is just what they did and when Pope Martin V was informed of what happened, he ordered the money to be restored to the Order to be used for the redemption of captives. At the 1416 General Chapter, a man born in Rome, Jaime de San Lorenzo, who had become a Mercedarian religious after a pilgrimage to Spanish sanctuaries, was appointed redeemer. The money retrieved from the razzia was given to him and he was to use it himself in the redemption of captives. In fact, he sailed to Africa and landed in Oran. From there, with a license and a safe-conduct, he traveled by land to Mostaganem, a place where no one ever went to redeem. Because this Mercedarian belonged to the Colonna family, he was cordially treated by the mayor of the city, Morato-Venalbar. Jaime was able to rescue 240 captives with whom he returned to Barcelona.
In 1481, Luis Ruiz, superior of El Puig, and Jorge Porta, superior of Saragossa, achieved a redemption in Algiers, as they rescued 56 captives. On February 5, they embarked to return to Spain but a violent storm brought them to Majorca. There, Brother Luis received very bad news: he found out that some captives who had stayed in Algiers and who were desperate because they had not obtained their freedom, had denied their Christian faith and he also found out that enemies of the redemptions had succeeded in persuading the pope and the kings of Aragon and Castile to stop supporting the work of redemption. They were alleging that the gold for redemption only served to enrich the Moors and that it would be better to give such alms to the poor. Conscious of the grave harm this would entail for many souls, Brother Luis decided to go to Rome with the newly-redeemed captives to inform the pope personally that the Christian captives of Tunis, Algiers, Tetuán, Morocco, etc., were in grave danger of denying their faith if they were not liberated. Pope Sixtus IV considered favorably the reasons given by the Mercedarian redeemer. He revoked the suspension of indulgences that he had just decreed for three years and exhorted the faithful to cooperate in the redemption of captives. All of this is found in the bull Dudum siquidem of April 12, 1481, addressed to the religious himself. This was the first time that a Mercedarian redemption had come to Rome. For their part, the kings of Aragon and Castile also revoked their royal orders against redemption and gave all their support to this charitable work. The zeal, diligence and love of Brother Luis calmed this terrible storm and the Mercedarian work of redemption was able to continue with greater determination.
Sardinia and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
Due to the Catalan and Aragonese expansion in the Mediterranean, in 1324, Infante don Alfonso had a castle and a church built in Bonaria, similar to Cagliari’s. As king, in 1335, he donated the church to the Order of Mercy with the obligation to send two religious immediately, then six more after the death of the rector of the church, Guillermo Jordán, who died in 1348. The Mercedarians accepted the donation and they established themselves there. The church soon became an important Marian sanctuary thanks to a beautiful image of Mary with the Child in her arms which had miraculously arrived floating on a large wooden box. No one had been able to pick up the statue until Mercedarian friars easily lifted it out the waters and took it to their church. This happened in 1370.
When Alfonso V took possession of Naples in 1442, he built a church dedicated to Saint Mary of Peace and of Mercy. He gave it to the Mercedarians who established a convent there.
The presence of the Order of Mercy in Palermo goes back to 1462, when King John II of Aragon allowed a foundation in Sicily at the request of Brother Gomes de Borzega who admitted to the Order Francisco Bertolone who built the convent of Santa Ana in 1473.
In the fourteenth century, several convents were set up, an unequivocal sign of the Order’s vitality and of the increase in personnel.
Agramunt was founded at the beginning of the century.
The Guadalajara convent was established by doña Isabel, daughter of Sancho IV the Brave.
In Tarragona, the Mercedarians established themselves in the Saint Lazarus Hospital which was donated by the University (1300).
The houses of Tudela and Badajoz were also of this same period.
The neighboring university presented the Order with the sanctuary of Santa María de Bell-loch (Beautiful Place) with all its lands and possessions (1307). Thus, the Order came to Santa Coloma de Queralt.
Around the same time, they opened the Estella house, part of the Pamplona house.
The Salamanca community started in 1317 in the Puente district. In 1410, when Saint Vincent Ferrer and the Venerable Juan Gilabert Jofré were preaching in that city, the Jews who had been converted by these saintly friars gave their synagogue to be transformed into a Mercedarian convent called the Veracruz convent. The Mercedarians went there as they left their first location in Puente.
The Mercedarian monasteries of Barbastro, Huete, Tárrega, Berga (1326) and Olmedo are foundations from the same time.
The Algeciras convent goes back to the Reconquest realized by King Alfonso XI in 1344. The Mercedarians received their share in the distribution of the Moors’ possessions. In 1369, Algeciras was destroyed by the Moslems of Granada and the city rose up again only in the middle of the seventeenth century. The Mercedarian convent was restored through a grant from Philip V.
The new monasteries of Segovia and Burceña were the fruits of the generosity of pious people.
The redeeming friars also settled in Colindres (Santander), Uncastillo (Saragossa), Villagarcía (Badajoz) and Fuentes where Brother Juan de Solórzano, protomartyr of America, received his formation.
Four foundations were established in 1467: Pancorvo, Rivadeo, San Pedro de la Tarza and Cazorla where the Retamal battle against the Moors took place in 1469. The trophies obtained were placed in the Mercy Church, at the feet of the liberating Virgin.
The convent of Santa María de Conxo in an area of Santiago de Compostela became very important for the Order. Benedictine nuns had left it and it was donated by Archbishop Fonseca and confirmed by Sixtus IV in 1483. The convent became very prestigious and it came in second place among the monasteries of the Province of Castile.
The Monterey convent is from the same period. When the town population dwindled, the convent was moved to Verín.
After the recapture of Málaga (1487), Mercedarians opened a convent there and when the Spanish Reconquest ended with the capture of Granada (1492), the religious were lodging less than a mile from the city. Around 1500, Father Gonzalo de Ubeda, the auxiliary bishop of Granada and superior of the Mercedarian convent transferred it to the environs of Puerta de Elvira where he built a beautiful church and a convent in Mudejar style.
The Bordeaux convent was founded in the year 1320. In 1418, the bishop of Marseilles donated a house and other city holdings to the Order of Mercy with the obligation of preferential attention to the redemption of captives from Marseilles.
In 1429, the Mercedarians settled in a former hospital in Cahors.
In 1434, the Avignon town council gave to the Order of Mercy the Church of Saint Mary of the Miracles along with a house and an orchard.
The Riscle foundation dates back to 1456.
Around that time, the Province of Aragon crown had 50 houses and the Province of Castile 22. France had 14 houses and 70 friars and Italy had 3 houses and 20 friars. There were approximately 650 religious.
Masters General of this Period
After Raimundo Albert, on January 27, Berenguer Cantull was elected (1331-1343). He was a Catalan, a theology master and he was confirmed by the bishop of Barcelona. But an unusual situation developed: his election as Master General was declared null and void by Benedict XII who re-appointed him alleging that conferring the highest position in the Order only belonged to the Holy See. Berenguer governed with simplicity and prudence. He expanded the Barcelona convent and built two new chapels in the church. He obtained the donation of Santa María de Bonaria for the Order. He had Father Albert’s remains transferred from Valencia to El Puig. He died on December 2, 1343.
Vicente Riera (1344-1345), born and professed in Barcelona, succeeded Berenguer as Master General. He was unanimously elected at the Barcelona chapter of February 1344, and was immediately ratified by the pope. His government lasted only one year since he died on March 25, 1345.
Domingo Serrano (1345-1348), a Frenchman, formed in the convent of Montpellier where he received his doctorate, was a professor and a superior. Clement VI named him Master General on April 17, 1345. He dedicated himself to visiting monasteries to promote observance, the redemption of captives and culture. He died in Montpellier on July 9, 1348, of the Black Death.
Poncio de Barellis (1348-1365), a Frenchman from Toulouse, with a law doctorate, became the new Master General. Pope Clement VI appointed him between August and September 1348. He was very active in spite of the Black Death which was devastating Europe and had slowed the growth of the Mercedarians, whose members were reduced to their numbers of 1317. During his government, 1600 captives were redeemed and he achieved remarkable works of restoration and building convents. He died in Toulouse on October 17, 1364, and was buried in the Perpignan convent.
Nicolás Pérez (1365-1401), from Valencia, was the Master General who governed the longest time. Urban V appointed him on January 5, 1365, ahead of the decision of the chapter which was already gathered in Barcelona. He looked after the Order zealously visiting monasteries and striving earnestly to fulfill his redemptive ministry. During his government, 1,444 captives were redeemed. From King Peter the Ceremonious, he obtained the return to the Order all of the possessions, which had been inappropriately alienated, and measures against those who had dared to attack and rob the Master General on his way to Castile. He honored Saint Mary Cervellon by transferring her body to the most prominent place in the Mercy Church of Barcelona (July 17, 1380). He died in Valencia on March 18, 1401.
The next Master General was Jaime Taust (1401-1403), also from Valencia. He was elected in Tarragona on June 13, 1401, and confirmed by Benedict XIII. He died in his native city on August 28, 1405.
The eminent Antonio Caxal, a master in theology and arts (1405-1417), was elected by the friars in September 1405, and was quickly confirmed by the pope. The Order really benefited from his rich personality and spirituality. However, precisely because of these talents, his time was taken away from the Order because the kings of Aragon found him to be a great ambassador. He became ambassador to John II of Castile and to the king of Fez. He took part in the Councils of Perpignan and Constance and fought with influence and vigor to overcome the schism in the West. He was appointed bishop of Lyons but he did not accept until the union of the Church was achieved. He died in Constance on May 25, 1417. He had the reputation of a holy man and he left the Order internally stronger and doing its utmost for the redemption of captives.
A Frenchman, Bernardo de Plano (1417-1419), was elected on November 3, 1417. As Master General, he arranged the Marseilles foundation and paid up the outstanding accounts of the 1415 redemption. He died two years after his election on January 12, 1419.
Jaime Aymerich (1419-1428), from Barcelona, was elected Master General on April 8, 1419. He completed the Barcelona church and canceled its debts. He improved the monasteries of Valencia, Arguines and Algar. He dedicated his efforts and sacrifices to redemption. Alfonso V made him his adviser. He died in Valencia on December 23, 1428.
Antonio Dullán (1429-1441) was the Barcelona prior. He sought to be Master General of the Order and was elected on March 13, 1429. He wanted to continue as prior but the Barcelona community voted for Father Nadal Gaver. Chapters were taking place on a regular basis and redemptions were carried out normally. Antonio accepted the Avignon foundation in 1435. However, there was general discontent among the friars and he was deposed by the Council of Basel on April 6, 1441, and finally by Eugenius VI on January 13, 1444.
Nadal Gaver (1441-1474), from Barcelona, was one of the most important Masters General of the Order. He was promoted to that post by the Council of Basel on April 6, 1441. He was in love with the Order and worked for it fervently. He visited all monasteries, convened chapters, he fostered redemptions by creating awareness among capitulars that they had to work harder for captives and he insisted on the fact that each house had the commitment in conscience to pay the responses. He had the misfortune of seeing the capture of redeeming Fathers Lorenzo Company and Pedro Bosset. For their liberation, he arranged for the Order to mortgage its possessions, although it was not sufficient. In addition, he had to ask Pope Nicholas V for the transfer of the solitary Arguines hospital to the convent because the Moors attacked the hospital, profaned the church and killed the conventual friars. Nadal Gaver died on April 27, 1474.
Father Nadal Gaver had the great merit of laying down the foundations for the history of the Order. Going back to his time, we have minutes of the general chapters, records of redemptions, detailed minutes of canonical visits to monasteries, collections of bulls and records of the General’s decisions.
His masterpiece is Speculum Fratrum, Mirror of the Friars of the Order of the Blessed Mother of God, Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives. It is the first known history of the Order and the compilation of its laws. Nadal Gaver wrote it by hand. He drew from the original a valuable codex which is kept in the Archives of the Crown of Aragon. This work contains: the history of the Order from its foundation until his time, the complete texts of the 1272 Constitutions and the 1327 Constitutions of Father Albert, the Rule of Saint Augustine, an account of the schisms or divisions which occurred in the Order from 1301 on, the names of the Masters General from the time of the foundation until 1445 and of the priors who governed the Barcelona convent and the list of the Supreme Pontiffs who granted privileges to the Order from its beginning until 1445.
Lorenzo Company (1474-1479) came to the generalate exalted by 15 years of harsh captivity in Tunis. Elected Master General by the Barcelona chapter on June 23, 1474, he humbly resisted. But faced with the quick papal approval, he accepted. He governed with prudence and was an outstanding model of religious life and love for captives. He had become their father and protector in Tunis. He died in 1479.
Antoine Morell (1480-1492), from Toulouse, was a professor and dean of the University of Toulouse. He was elected on February 25, 1480. During his generalate, the Order became very strong in France. In 1482, two redeemers sent by him, Fathers Juan de Zorroza and Juan de Huete, were martyred. He encouraged observance and the regularity of redemptions. He died in Toulouse on June 15, 1492.
Since its foundation, the Order had held its general chapters according to the norms established in the 1272 Constitutions. After the promulgation of the Albertine Constitutions, chapters were held in accordance with their norms which established a new structure in their make up and operation. They dealt with the daily chapter, the provincial chapter and the general chapter.
The daily chapter was reserved to the different communities which were to deal with matters within their own competence.
The provincial chapter was held annually in each province and every three years, it was also a general chapter in one of the two provinces. It was a provincial-general chapter in the province in which it was held and for the other province, it was only a general chapter. The Master General, the superiors and other religious who could be invited took part in provincial chapters.
For the purpose of the general chapter, the Order was divided into two provinces: Catalonia and Castile. Its members were the four definitors of the province in which the chapter was held and the two general definitors of the other province. With norms meticulously explained for voting, together they considered, directed, defined, approved and corroborated everything that seemed of value to the entire Order. They were especially concerned with concrete and practical aspects referring to the redemption of captives.
The elective general chapter takes place at the Master General’s death or resignation. It is convened by the prior of Barcelona as vicar general. For that purpose, the Order is divided into five provinces. Each of them sends a general elector. With the prior and a delegate from the Barcelona community, they constitute the seven electors of the elective general chapter.
In 1467, a remarkable chapter general was held in Guadalajara. It is known in the Order as the Chapter of Concord . This is because during that chapter, there occurred a consolidation of the Order which was practically split in two groups since 1441: the group of the Aragon Crown under Master General Nadal Gaver and the group of the Castile Crown whose king, John II, had obtained from Pope Eugenius IV the nomination of religious Pedro de Huete as Master General in 1441. In 1447, Pope Nicholas V declared Gaver’s government legitimate for the Province of Aragon but he kept Pedro de Huete at the head of the Province of Castile until his death. The origin of this division came from the desire of the Mercedarians of the Province of Castile to modify the system of electing the Master General so that they could attain the generalate of the Order. In fact, ever since the Order’s foundation, the Master General position had always gone to a religious from the Province of Aragon or of France.
The chapter did not change the electoral system but from then on and during the following years until the Tridentine reform, the provincial of Castile governed his province independently from the Master General who continued to be in charge of all Mercedarians.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, two-thirds of the friars were tonsured. The Constitutions requested that redeemers be well-versed in theology, shrewd in order to debate with Moslems, able to justify our beliefs and they demand a type of preaching superior to the models of the time. There were undoubtedly wise men in the Order from the start.
During these years of rising cultural development, the Order of Mercy was beginning to compete with Mendicant Orders and with the clergy who presented all kinds of obstacles. The 1467 Guadalajara Chapter is an important example of the process of cultural enrichment. Of the 78 capitulars, 6 were theology masters, 12 doctors, 13 were graduates (one in medicine) and 2 retired. Five religious were studying in Salamanca and 5 in Valladolid. Ignorant religious were censured. To stimulate them, all theology and law graduates were allowed to vote for the provincial and a good number of houses or positions as superiors were assigned to them.
Consequences in the Area of Culture
One should note how this cultural enrichment would lead the Order to look back to its origins. In the fifteenth century, there was renewed pride for what was Mercedarian; the rich heritage left by Peter Nolasco was valued again and this recovery of lost memory brought forth about a dozen outstanding figures like Juan Gilabert or Lorenzo Company. Authors of the first historical treatises like Pedro Cijar, the pioneer and Nadal Gaver, were also emerging.
More religious were writing and the following deserve to be mentioned:
Antonio Pons (+1296) wrote on Genesis and Diálogo entre el alma y el Creador; Rodolfo Anzio (fourteenth century) is the author of De vera et evangelica paupertate; Severino de Traller (+1317) wrote De erroribus fraticellorum; Felipe Claro (+1353), preacher of King Alfonso V of Aragon, wrote De Conceptione B. Mariae Virginis; Arnaldo de Arench (+1394), a professor of medicine in Montpellier, is the author of a book entitled De cognitione rerum naturalium et applicatione suarum virtutum morborum qualitatibus; the Códice de Gerona, written in 1400, and including biographies of Mercedarian saints is attributed to Pedro de Sumanes; Dionisio Rabinis (+1413), an erudite and holy French religious, wrote several treatises against heretics; Bartolomé de Celforés (+1419) is the author of Arte Lógica and seven volumes of sermons; Pedro Cijar, general procurator of the Order in Rome in 1464, wrote especially: Opusculum tantum quinque, De potestate papae et votorum commutatione, De rebus mirabilibus Ordinis, Historia de la Religión de la Merced, etc.; Louis de Becofén (+1472) wrote in French Treatise of Scholastic Theology and of Mystical Theology; Lorenzo Company (+1479) is the author of De laboribus captivitatis; Bishop Diego de Muros (+1492) wrote Constituciones sinodales de Tuy y Vida de fray Juan de Granada, a Mercedarian martyr; in Paris, Juan Solís (+1500) wrote a Gramática de lengua hebrea; Martín Haresches, a famous preacher, published Conciones de tempore et de Sanctis in France.
Of the 57 houses which the Order of Mercy already had at the end of the thirteenth century, 27 of them had churches. The friars who had to force their way into this apostolate were carefully looking after them. The clergy did not meddle in the ministry of redemption except in the case of alms collection which fell down considerably in the fourteenth century. The number of redeemed captives was also decreasing.
The introduction of the devotion to the Virgin of Mercy in Barcelona was the result of the fruitful pastoral work which the prior, Brother Bonanato de Prixana, accomplished in the 41 years he was at the head of this sanctuary. He built most of the new church and expanded the convent. He obtained valuable papal indulgences (1343) for his church which brought prestige to the sanctuary and increased the cult to Mary of Mercy.
The convent and sanctuary of Santa María de El Puig was a great center of worship and pastoral planning. The Roger de Lauria family did its utmost to build a Gothic church and to endow it. In turn, King James II honored it with a perpetual wax offering.
In Castile, the Guadalajara convent had the greatest Marian irradiation thanks to doña Elvira Martínez’ help and the thrust which its superior, Brother Diego de Muros, gave to it.
The following houses were outstanding: Montflorite in Aragon, Pamplona in Navarre and Toulouse and Montpellier in France. However, few convents attained the renown of the Bonaria Sanctuary which was the spiritual center of Sardinia.
The first appointments of Mercedarian friars to govern dioceses were the fruit of the growing prestige of the Order and the consequences of royal recommendations.
Antonio Blas Dexart was the first bishop of Cádiz and then (1388) archbishop of Athens. From there, he went to the Cagliari Diocese and as its representative, he attended the Council of Perpignan.
The most important bishop of this period is undoubtedly Diego de Muros, pastor of the Tuy See. He was a doctor in philosophy and theology from Salamanca and also a renowned preacher and redeemer in Moorish lands. In 1477, when he was already a prelate of the Galician See, he was captured by the Portuguese who kept him locked up in an iron cell until 1479. Once he was liberated from his jail, he was sent as an ambassador to the Holy See where he was very successful. The pope entrusted him with the ruined monasteries of San Martín de Santiago and Tojos Outos which were both restored by him. Taken prisoner by the Count of Camiña in 1484, he had to pay 700,000 maravedis for his ransom. The pope sent him as a bishop to Ciudad Rodrigo, a diocese which he ruled until his death on December 9, 1492.
Another remarkable bishop also appeared in Galicia, Diego de Saldaña, titular of Beirut and auxiliary of Santiago de Compostela. We owe him the foundation of the famous Mercedarian convent of Conxo (Santiago de Compostela) and the convent of Monterrey (Verín).
Antonio de Medina, the titular of Ronda and auxiliary of Carthage (1470), was the protagonist of the foundation of the convent of Mercy of Elche.
Juan Gilabert Jofré and his Social Work
Juan was born in Valencia on June 24, 1350. He studied law in Lérida. When he returned to his city, he received the Mercedarian habit in 1370 in El Puig where he studied theology. After being ordained to the priesthood (1375), he devoted himself to preaching, a “ministry in which he excelled,” according to Gaver. When he was the vicar of the Lérida convent (1391), he became interested in the lot and the sufferings of the poor and appealed to King John I in favor of the redemption of captives. The fact that he resorted to the king when he was only a vicar indicates that he already had prestige. He participated in the Tarragona chapter at which Father Jaime Taust was elected Master General and Juan Gilabert went to Rome to obtain papal confirmation. When he came back, he was named superior of Perpignan. From there, he went back as superior to El Puig where he stayed four years. He was appointed superior of Valencia in 1409, a year marking the start of the most fruitful period of his ministry as he devoted himself to preaching with Saint Vincent Ferrer. They traveled together evangelizing Valencia, Aragon, Castile, Catalonia and Portugal. He was with Saint Vincent in 1417 when the Dominican informed Juan that death was approaching. The Mercedarian made his confession, he said good bye to his friend, left for Valencia and died on May 18 when he was entering the Church of Santa María de El Puig. San Juan de Ribera, the archbishop of Valencia, had a beautiful urn made in which his body clothed in the Mercedarian habit was exposed in the sacristy of El Puig. He remained in this transparent urn until 1936. Today, his remains repose in a stone sepulcher which the Valencia Council dedicated to him in 1946. Valencians have always held him to be a saint. Valencia considers him as one of its most illustrious sons and clamors to have him declared a saint. The diocesan process of beatification has started.
In addition to being an administrator, a good preacher, astute in dealing with political matters, a redeemer of captives (he worked 3 redemptions), Juan was also a charismatic Mercedarian devoted to the poorest and the most abandoned. He founded an orphanage for abandoned children in Valencia (1410) and a hospice for poor pilgrims in El Puig (1416). The work for which he is universally known is the establishment in Valencia of the first mental asylum in the world in search of a solution to the problem of mental patients. It is said that on February 24, 1409, he was on his way from the convent to the Valencia Cathedral to preach the homily of the first Sunday of Lent when he saw two young lads who were brutally attacking a madman. Our friar ran to protect the man, he drove the assailants away and took the wounded man to his convent. Prompted by the event, he returned to the cathedral to preach a vibrant sermon. He spoke of the urgent need to have a charitable institution to welcome mental patients. When he left the pulpit, 11 Valencians, headed by Lorenzo Salom, proposed their services to support his project which became a reality on March 9, 1409.
Other Exemplary Religious
In the eyes of God and of the Order, the most illustrious religious are those who gave up their lives to rescue captives for their faith. Yet, there were also other religious who merit to be remembered.
Guillén Vives was the Barcelona prior. Although he was a peaceful and a very humble man, he had to confront the abusive and wrong meddling of the bishop. He had to send an informant, Father Bartolomé de Celforés, to Rome and he had to spend the enormous amount of 3,000 florins to remedy the situation. As a result, King Martin IV, placed the Mercedarian community with its members, its house and its assets under the protection of the Aragon Crown. Guillén wrote a life of Saint Peter Nolasco and a life of Saint Mary Cervellon which was incorporated in the process of Saint Mary.
Guillermo Camino was appointed redeemer with Raimundo Roca at the 1419 chapter. While they were sailing to Africa, there was a storm and a beam of the topsail fell on the priest and shattered his head. His body was thrown into the sea.
Juan de Granada, the son of a well-known Saracen convert, was born in 1358 in the city which gave him his name. He served as superior in Córdoba for 13 years during which he built a new church. Then he was elected provincial of Castile in 1407. As provincial, he promoted the observance of the rule. With Brother Pedro de Malasang, he realized two redemptions in Africa in 1415 and 1427. In the last one, when they were returning with the redeemed, Genoese pirates attacked their boat in the Mediterranean and they murdered both redeemers.
Juan Segalars, from Barcelona, led a very active life. In 1439, he was sent to the Council of Basel to negotiate several affairs for the Order. From there, he went to Naples to speak with King Alfonso V. The next year, he was sent to Basel again. From that city, he went to see the pope several times and went back to Naples to the king. Appointed prior of Barcelona, he went for a redemption in Tunis with Brother Bernardo Grallera. But the latter died on the way and a large amount of money for the captives was lost. In 1447, on his way to Tunis as a redeemer, Juan’s boat was shipwrecked on Holy Thursday. Several crew members died and Juan was miraculously spared although he lost all the redemption money and even the clothes he had on. The following year, he was in Naples trying to obtain peace between Tunis and Alfonso V. Finally, he was elected prior of Barcelona for the third time and he died in his city on October 24, 1466.
Louis de Becofén. This French religious was born in Languedoc. He joined the Order of Mercy at a very early age and made rapid progress in spiritual life. His superiors sent him to study at the Universities of Perpignan and Montpellier where he became a professor. Louis XI who knew of his virtues and erudition made him the court’s theologian and preacher. Appointed redeemer, in 1471, he was on his way to Algiers with Father Diego de Luna. A victim of the Moors who mistreated him and threatened him with death for preaching the Christian faith, Louis redeemed 213 captives with whom he returned to Barcelona. The king of France asked the Master General to send him back to his court and Louis XI sent him to Rome as a peacemaker between the Pontifical State and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Welcoming him with full honors, Sixtus IV wanted him to stay in Rome but Louis preferred to go back to France. Not satisfied with court life, Louis retired to the Perpignan convent where he devoted himself to prayer and to writing several works of scholastic and mystical theology which, unfortunately, were not published. He died a saintly death in 1475.
Lorenzo Company and Pedro Bosset. These two religious, from different nationalities, were companions in the redemption of captives. The first one endured a long captivity and the second one suffered martyrdom.
Lorenzo Company was born in 1415 in El Puig where he received the Mercedarian habit and he made his profession in Barcelona. He was named superior of El Puig when he was very young. Because of his wisdom, his modesty and the compassion he felt for captives, he was designated for a redemption. Inspired by grace, Pedro Bosset, from France, joined the Order of Mercy. He made such progress in his studies and piety that he acquired great renown. After having worked as a professor of theology and a preacher, he was elected redeemer.
In 1442, these two religious were on their way back with 83 liberated captives when a violent storm forced them to go back to Tunis. The few who escaped the shipwreck were taken captives again along with the redeemers. During their first years in captivity, they were treated very severely by the king of Tunis. Later, the Mercedarians obtained a degree of kindness from the king who allowed them some freedom of movement. This enabled them to alleviate the prisoners’ sufferings as the redeemers were ransoming the greatest possible number of captives with the money—always insufficient—which the Order was sending for their liberation.
The king of Tunis sent Father Company to Naples twice as ambassador to King Alfonso V of Aragon in order to obtain the restitution of the ships that the king had taken from the Turks. During the 1452 trip, Father Bosset who remained in Africa, devoted himself to encourage captives and to preach the Gospel. After he had made a renegade come back to his faith, the Moors, blinded by their religious hatred, silenced him and imprisoned him. To anger him, the Moors would bring him people who uttered horrible blasphemies against Jesus Christ’s divinity, they would beat him, giving him only some bread and water until they left him without food for four days. Then when Pedro felt he was losing his strength, he addressed the Lord entrusting the captives to him and gladly offering the sacrifice of his own life. He died embracing the cross.
After Father Company returned to Tunis, he remained in captivity. During that time, he wrote prayers and litanies which he would recite every day to implore divine help for the liberation of captives. After 15 years in captivity, Father Company was finally liberated in 1457, after King Alfonso V gave a few ships back to the Moors. Father Company was elected Master General “having lived 55 years in the Order with great virtue,” as can be read in the letter which John II sent to the pope to request his confirmation. He died as a saint in Valencia on December 20, 1479. His remains were buried in the Church of El Puig. Mercedarian chroniclers highly praised him, calling him blessed or holy and this is the way he was venerated by everyone.
Juan de Zorroza and Juan de Huete were part of another holocaust of the Mercedarian redemptions. They were killed in Baeza in 1482 because they had encouraged the faith of Christian captives at a time when Moors were exasperated by the capture of Alhama by the Reyes Católicos. Both redeemers spent a long time in jail where they endured all kinds of insults. They were taken out into the street to be exhibited with shame and handed over to boys who beat them to death.
Alonso de Sevilla was a most humble religious who had the reputation of being a saint. He worked hard in the Order’s most modest houses like Uncastillo and Sangüesa. In a decree of February 5, 1472, to confer full powers over the city of Sangüesa to Brother Alonso, King John II defined him as an “honest, faithful and well-loved religious.” He died in the odor of sanctity in the vicinity of Lérida, around 1495, praying before a cross along the way. He was walking to Barcelona to attend a chapter. He was buried in the old cathedral of Lérida.
Natalia of Toulouse. She was born in 1312, in Gaillac in the Albi Diocese. When she was 17, she moved with her parents to Toulouse. She started spiritual direction under a Mercedarian religious who had been in that city since 1256. She felt called to religious life and made her wishes known to Father Bernardo Poncello. He advised her not to leave her parents alone and to receive the habit of a Mercedarian tertiary. She was very devoted to the crucified Jesus. She is supposed to have had the gift of bilocation: she went to Africa to convert and to free a slave girl from Calabria. Natalia died on July 4, 1353 and was buried in the Mercedarian church of Toulouse. Ever since she died, she has been venerated as a saint. The process of immemorial custom in the Toulouse Diocese was concluded in 1907 and it was moved to Rome.
Expansion of Marian Devotion in the Order
The preeminence of the Virgin Mary appears in the Constitutions. She is the one who gathered the Mercedarian Brothers as she gathered the disciples of the early Church around her so that they might share what they had with one soul and one heart. The friars are to bow their heads when they hear or pronounce her name. In Nadal Gaver’s Speculum Fratrum, Mary appears as the central figure of the Order as the inspirer, foundress, mother, coredemptress and mediatrix. Writing in the same Marian theological line, Gaver’s contemporary, Pedro Cijar, always presents the Virgin with the Child in her arms.
The first morning prayer is to Mary in the recitation of the Office of Saint Mary offered daily in her honor. The 1445 Constitutions contain a norm for reciting the Office of Saint Mary on Saturdays, with special prayers in honor of the Mother of Mercy who is called Redemptrix captivorum. Each liturgical hour was to conclude with the words: In omni tribulatione et angustia subveniat nobis Virgo Maria.
The Toledo General Chapter (1466) issued dispositions referring to the praise of the Virgin Mary, making the special Marian Office a precept for Saturdays and setting up the recitation or singing of the prayers Virgo Parens Christi, Salve Regina, Sancta Maria virginum piisima and Sub tuum praesidium at the different canonical hours of the day.
At the General Chapter, held in Pamplona in 1487, it was decreed that all religious were to kneel at the versicle Monstra te esse Matrem and that the four major feasts of the Blessed Virgin, to be prepared by acts of penance, were to be celebrated with solemn octave: The Nativity, Purification, Annunciation and Assumption. With this, the chapter of the Praises to the Blessed Virgin was almost completed. It is part of the codexes of the late fifteenth century Constitutions which will continue until now, with very few changes, in all subsequent Mercedarian legislation.
When the feast of the Virgin of the Snows also spread outside of Rome in the fifteenth century, Mercedarians adopted it as a family feast to remember the foundation of the Order on August 10. Later, the special feast of the Virgin of Mercy would be set for September 24.
The bull Sane dilecti filii was issued on October 17, 1379. It favored the works of the Barcelona church which is the “main house and head of the Order where the Blessed Virgin Mary works many miracles.”
In Palma de Majorca there is a stone sculpture (1295) of Mary of Mercy as a Mother protecting a group of people under her cloak. In 1391, the people of Pollensa (Majorca) built a chapel to honor the Virgin of Mercy even though there never was a Mercedarian convent in the town.
In 1388, the Order was entrusted for a while with the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This indicates the special fervor of the Mercedarians to honor the Virgin. For a time, the Mercedarians were also entrusted with the Marian sanctuary of Aránzazu and the Aragon basilica of Santa María del Portillo.
In 1397, Queen doña María had given the name of Saint Mary of Mercy to an elegant merchant vessel sailing on the Mediterranean sea.
Mercedarian confraternities were increasing in various houses and the confraternity of weavers was set up in the Barcelona church under the protection of Mary of Mercy.
When the kings granted privileges to the Order, they usually made references to their love of the Virgin.
In 1414, Master General Antonio Caxal addressed the Holy See in these words: “In special praise and glory of God and of his glorious Mother, the Virgin Mary who is the foundation and the head of our Institute…”
From the records of Master General Nadal Gaver’s canonical visits, it is clear that the image of the Virgin of Mercy presided in many of the Order’s churches. When Master Urgel started to visit convents in 1492, he found that the Virgin’s image was venerated on the main altar of almost all Mercedarian churches.