CHARISMATIC AND CULTURAL GROWTH
Situation of the Order at the End of the Sixteenth Century
The Order of Mercy had not yet completed its reform in terms of the full introduction of the decisions on religious life mandated by the Council of Trent. Pope Pius V and Philip II, the King of Spain, were interested in the concrete application of the Tridentine dispositions.
When changes come from the outside and are imposed, they are not always received obediently. In general, the reform created opposition and tension in many religious institutes. Within the Order of Mercy, there was a legion of venerable, virtuous and wise religious who assumed the protagonism of their own reform with profound sincerity and firm determination. As a result, the Mercedarian reform was more effective because it came from within, from the heart of each friar.
After the death of Master General Matías Papiol, in a papal brief of August 2, 1569, his Holiness Pius V arranged the appointment of two Dominican religious as apostolic visitators, one for each province of the Order in Spain. For four years, the visitators traveled to the houses of the two provinces and after concluding their visitation, the Barcelona prior, Father Juan Enríquez convoked his friars to the elective General Chapter of November 8, 1574, in Guadalajara. The chapter, which is known in the Order as Chapter of the Reform, was one of the most significant Mercedarian chapters because of the reforms which were made to apply the norms of the Council of Trent and for the Order’s life and government.
Tridentine Decrees Applied to Structures
It was decided that the elective general chapter would be held alternately in Aragon and in Castile. For each province, those who voted were the provincial and two general electors, selected by the respective provincial chapter. The alternance system was introduced in the Order for the Master General’s election, that is to say, one time the Master elect will be from the Province of Castile or the Indies and another time, he will be from the Province of Aragon, Italy and France. Together, the Master General and the chapter select the procurator of the Order in Rome, where he is to reside and be the prelate of said house in order to handle matters before the Holy See.
Once again, the Master General is “the universal head of all religious of the Order in any kingdom or province such as Castile, Aragon, the islands, the Indies (America), France and Italy.” Castile renounces an ancient bull which granted it a century of absolute autonomy. Masters General will serve for six years instead of for life. Until the reform is completed, they will reside in the Aragon kingdom. In the course of the six years, they will visit the entire Order and they will hold an intermediate general chapter after three years. If the generalate see is vacant, the Barcelona prior temporarily succeeds in the government until an elective chapter is convened. In keeping with the decree of Trent, the election will be by secret votes. The Master General will no longer have the power to name provincials. He is to live like the rest of the reformed friars, without privileges, and he is to be the servant of all friars. The Master General is to renounce the title of lordship as well as pages and servants. He must stay in the convent and eat in the refectory like other friars. He will not have his own property, income or inheritance from deceased superiors or provincials, except what the Order has in Algar “for common expenses.” He must render an account of what he spends to the general or intermediate chapter. Finally, he is advised “not to stay too long in convents because of the poverty of the houses and his entourage is to be reduced to two friars, one serving as a secretary and the other, as a companion.”
Provincials will be elected by the respective provincial chapters and their term will only be three years. They will not be eligible for reelection until after six years.
In the Province of Aragon, some houses have only one friar and others are very poor; they will have to be reduced according to the papal bull. Thus, there will be only one province. It will be called the Province of Aragon and it will include the kingdoms of Catalonia and Valencia, Aragon and Navarre, Naples and the islands of Majorca, Sardinia and Sicily.
Superiors will be appointed by the provincial and his definitors at the same chapter. Their term will start and end with the provincial’s term. They will be able to repeat a three-year term in the same house only once. The norm for the Barcelona house is different: the prior will be elected secretly by the conventuals, as Trent wants, and his term will last three years, unless there is a justified order from the Master General.
Application to the Common State of the Order
Precise norms are set up concerning the observance of communal life, a life of poverty, the application of income and the census for each convent and account giving.
Praying Matins, already done at midnight in some convents, is to be extended to all convents. Enclosure applies to every part of the convent except the church, the cloisters and the chapel. The prescribed numerous norms of personal and communitarian discipline remain in effect. Punishments are set. The provincial and general archives are to be put in order with all the deeds on the convents’ revenues, properties and assets.
Novices are not to go out to collect alms for redemption. Suitable houses for the novitiate are established in Aragon and Castile. Novices are sons of the house where they enter. However, they are allowed to go from the Province of Castile to the Province of Aragon and vice versa while retaining all the rights they had in their province of origin. Take care of the spiritual and Mercedarian formation of masters and novices.
Each provincial indicates its houses of studies. The degrees given by the Order are regulated: titles of grace are suppressed. A province is not to have more than 24 candidates or more than 12 masters with a university position.
The new Provinces of the Indies—Guatemala, Lima, Cuzco and Chile—previously under the jurisdiction of the provincial of Castile, are henceforth to be under the Master General like the other provinces. The tax of 100 ducats, which the Province of Cuzco sends to the Castile provincial, is maintained. Guatemala, Lima and Chile will pay new taxes to the Master General for his expenses and those of the Order.
On February 20, 1576, the pope confirmed the decisions of the Guadalajara Chapter. The judgment was accepted by most of the Order’s religious.
Although all these decisions were not immediately implemented, the renewing and unifying thrust was firmly established. Prior capitular decisions and those contrary to this chapter were suppressed.
Government of the Order and Masters General of this Period
At the Guadalajara Chapter which had made the important and renewing decision of reducing the generalate to a six-year period, Father Francisco de Torres, the first term Master General was elected. But he died in Saragossa on September 29, 1575, while traveling with his secretary, Father Francisco Maldonado, to visit the Catalonia convents. The nuncio and the king put Father Maldonado in charge of completing the visit to the Catalonia convents and of preventing the election of the new Master General, This is what Catalans wanted and succeeded in doing.
Since the pope had not yet approved the Guadalajara Chapter and its dispositions, Catalan religious who saw themselves as defenders of the Order’s tradition held a chapter in Barcelona on November 6, 1575. It was presided by Father Luis Valls in the presence of three French electors: Antoine Tremoulières, the superior of Toulouse and provincial of France, Peter Masson, the prior of the Paris College and Domingo Castet. Father Antoine Tremoulières, a very worthy man, was elected. Obviously, the pope annulled the election. Father Antoine Tremoulières died a holy death in Toulouse in August 1577.
Following the Aragon provincial chapter on May 20, 1576, in El Olivar under Father Maldonado’s presidency, a General Chapter was convoked in Saragossa for June 10. Peruvian Father Francisco Maldonado was unanimously elected. He was the first American Master General of the Order. He took special interest in applying the decrees of reform ordered by the chapter and he fostered piety and divine worship.
After Father Maldonado’s six years (1576-1582), there was no chapter held immediately and there was a five-year vacancy in the position of Master General. King Philip II was interested in what was happening in the Order, where Catalan religious, with the support of the people of Barcelona, wanted the chapter to be held in their city. The king opposed this and he had Bishop Benito Tocco appointed as apostolic commissioner. The bishop entrusted the government of the Order to the provincials of Aragon and Castile and immediately to Father Francisco Salazar who was elected provincial of Aragon in 1585. Confident in tradition, Catalans were opposed to this election and they attempted to place the government of the Order under the prior of Barcelona, Pedro Castellón, who died shortly after and then under Father Vicente Mendía whom they elected against the commissioner’s will. Given this uncertain situation, the apostolic commissioner ordered the visit to the houses of the Province of Aragon, while in a short period, there were two more priors in Barcelona: Francisco Serafín, named by the commissioner and Juan Antonio Barray who died eight months after his election. Finally, in May 1585, prior Francisco Esteve was elected. He held this post for two years until the May 23, 1587 General Chapter, held in Saragossa, elected Father Francisco Salazar as Master General (1587-1593).
This chapter put Father Francisco Zumel in charge of preparing a new edition of the Constitutions of the Order incorporating in them all the reforms of previous chapters, in addition to those imposed by the Council of Trent. The new edition was published in Salamanca in 1588, with interesting commentaries and a brief history of the Order, that is the opuscule De vitis patrum. With these Constitutions, the formula of profession with the express fourth vow became obligatory. It had already been in use for a few years according to Gaspar de Torres’ observations in 1565. This chapter established thirty minutes of mental prayer twice a day, a prescription which is still observed although in other ways.
From Francisco Salazar until the time of suppressions and persecutions, there were no other periods of vacancy in the government of the Order except those due to the end of a term, the promotion or death of a Master General. Many of them were appointed bishops and one Master General, Pedro de Salazar, even became a cardinal.
In addition to special initiatives indicated elsewhere, the Masters General of this period guided the Order with a view to its progress and expansion. They sent missionaries to America to evangelize; they appointed respective vicars with the intention of fostering a life of observance. They were also interested in the formation of religious and in increasing personnel and convents, all of which allowed the creation of new provinces.
As far as Europe was concerned, the Masters General’s main concern was regular discipline and observance. To that end and depending on the circumstances, they named visitators and punished, at times rather severely, those who did not comply. They gave a remarkable impulse to the promotion of culture with religious specializing in disciplines of which they would later become professors in universities and to the publication of important works in different branches of knowledge. The Masters General of that period did not fail to observe the rhythm indicated by the Constitutions in holding chapters at which many important decisions for the Order were often made. However, it should be pointed out that the religious entitled to participate in these assemblies, especially those from America, did not always attend regularly. With the approval of new foundations in France and in Italy, the Order expanded in these nations. Recollection started to blossom in the Order itself and the Masters General supported it, both what later became concretized in discalced Mercedarians and also within the Order with the institutions of houses of greater austerity and observance which formed the adequate setting for countless religious’ holy lives. The Masters General also fostered devotion and veneration to the Order’s saints, most of whom were canonized during this period.
Concerning activities, the Masters General methodically extended rural and popular missions and, in particular, they increased the rhythm of redemptions as they multiplied their efforts to ransom the highest possible number of captive Christians. They had to oppose those who wanted to abandon redemptions and captives to their fate under the pretext that those ransoms were making the Moors rich. This was the period of the greatest redemptive activity of the Order which succeeded in redeeming many captives. The documentation with details of the redemptions is rather well-known. This was also the time when redemptions of the traditional type ended. About one hundred redemptions were carried out, more or less one every two years, with a total of 19,352 captives redeemed.
Acts Related to Redemption
As time passed, the redemption of captives adopted certain methods which were codified in successive rituals of the Order, especially starting with this historical period. The many circumstances related with redemption provide a clear view that this event was experienced by the whole Order as an expression of communion with the religious who were going to redeem and it concluded with a ceremony of an ecclesial nature. In fact, three moments stand out in the realization of a redemption: the redeemers are sent off, the entire Order accompanies them during the redemption and the redeemers return together with the redeemed.
After they had been elected by the authorities of the Order, the redeemers, that is to say, those friars who had been assigned to go to Moorish territories, had to obtain the necessary authorizations from civil authorities (safe-conduct, permissions, etc.); they had to announce the redemption to the people, collect alms, prepare the expedition and also prepare a banner which they would take along hoisted on the ship. The image of the Crucified or Christ’s descent into limbo was painted on one part of this redemption banner, and on the other, an image of the Virgin Mary who protects captives with her mantle. They were also to take the shields of the ruling Pontiff, of the king of Spain and of the Order. The redeemers’ departure was preceded by a liturgical ceremony with the entire religious community attending. During the ceremony, the provincial would give the sending off order, recommending faithful observance of the constitutional provisions about redemption.
During the entire redemption time, that is to say, from departure to return, religious communities of friars and nuns accompanied redeemers in the daily recitation of redemption litanies with psalms and prayers for the success of the friars’ mission in Moorish lands.
After completing the redemption, the redeemers, along with the redeemed, would start out the return voyage and informed the superior of their return. The superior had to notify the bishop of the redeemers’ arrival and agree on the welcome of the redeemed with the bishop. Once a day was set, a procession was organized in which all diocesan and religious clergy of the city participated. The redemption banner headed the procession, followed by redeemed captives wearing the Mercedarian scapular and redeemers at the end. Singing hymns, they all headed to the main church or the cathedral where the redeemed were welcomed by the bishop. They sang a Te Deum of thanksgiving and celebrated the Mass of the Virgin of Mercy. During the Mass, after the Gospel, one of the redeemers or another Mercedarian religious gave the talk telling people about the details of the redemption and of the sacrifices endured. Then, the redeemed were lodged in houses of the Order until, according to the circumstances, their dismissal and reinsertion into their own families were organized.
When they returned from redemptions, at times, redeemers and redeemed had to go through a quarantine, or a period of isolation and recovery because many came back sick and could present a danger of infection.
Ways of Collecting Alms and of Carrying out Redemptions
The system of responses, or annual quotas, which every convent had to give for redemption, implied an excessive burden in the daily lives of the friars who were rather poor. At times, they resorted to mortgaging or even pledging the goods of the Order to be able to fulfill this essential work of redemption. With changing times and circumstances, the system of responses had become very difficult and at times, even impossible. General chapters often dealt with this matter and they gradually dispensed from the yearly obligation so that it was no longer observed at the beginning of the sixteenth century. To replace that system, houses were asked to make offerings in extraordinary situations. As of the 1588 Constitutions, responses no longer appear in the legislation of the Order. A few houses had properties—though not many—destined to the liberation of captives. The income which they produced were destined to the redemption fund.
Captives were ransomed with goods, cattle, Moslem captives serving in the exchange and, especially with money. One source of money involved institutions, relatives or others concerned about the situation of their loved ones. They would give the amount destined for their liberation to the redeemers. Another source entailed the collections done by religious for the redemption of captives who had no one to look out for their interest. Religious would beg for the faithful’s offering, soliciting from door to door or collecting it in churches and town squares after they had preached about redemption, making the captives’ sufferings known.
The 1574 Chapter gave concrete norms for collecting alms and these norms were later included in the Constitutions. It was established that the begging friars had to be honest, wise, virtuous and God-fearing. They had to carry letters of recommendation with a clear indication of the indulgences conceded by popes to Christians who helped with redemptions. In preaching about redemptions, they were to present only the truth without exaggerating their descriptions of the captives’ situation. They were to limit themselves to the territory assigned to them. They were not to be a source of scandal to others. They were to be moderate in terms of food, drink and clothes without spending the money collected for captives on themselves, either directly or indirectly, except what was strictly necessary. In addition, the chapter ordered that all alms be recorded in the Redemption Book and that, if someone had received money for redemption, he was to communicate this immediately and, within twenty-four hours, place it in the Redemption Box found in every house and under lock and key given to other religious to keep. All of this was mandated under penalty of serious sanctions. The legislation of the Order always had a strict ban on using redemption goods for any other purpose.
Until Philip II, the Order was totally free to carry out redemptions.
It was always a great honor to be a redeemer. Other friars considered redeemers as their representatives since all joined in spirit in this liberating, charismatic endeavor at the heart of being a Mercedarian.
To be named a redeemer, a friar had to be mature, virtuous, endowed with learning and utmost prudence; he had to be shrewd to negotiate the liberation in order not to run the risk of being deceived by infidels. With compassion, the redeemer had to redeem captives by himself, not through arbitrary persons and he had to buy them prudently from Saracens as demanded by the captives’ greater need and danger. To increase the number of redeemed: captives who were in danger of apostasy and if there was not enough money to redeem them, then one of the redeemers had to stay behind as a hostage in the place of the redeemed captives, following the example of Jesus Christ the Redeemer. When it was impossible to go to Saracen lands to redeem personally and, only then, could redemption be entrusted to other people. However, extreme care had to be taken not to lose the money of the goods of redemption.
Having accomplished the redemption by means of a public document, redeemers returned to Christian lands with the liberated captives who, for a period not to exceed two months, stayed in the service of the Order to accompany redeemers in collecting alms for the next redemption. After that period of time and before they left the Order’s houses, the redeemed were provided with clothing, shoes and all they needed for their return trip to their families.
Redeemers had to present a detailed account of what they had spent at the first provincial or general chapter held after the redemption. If, at times, the money received for the liberation of a determined captive or captives had not been used, it had to be returned to the donors.
At the conclusion of each redemption, a detailed report of the total cost was generally written and a poster or document was also prepared to indicate the year and place of the redemption, the number of redeemers and the list of the redeemed, specifying their place of origin, the length of their captivity and the price paid for each person’s liberation.
Contribution of the American Provinces
Once the convents of the New World were organized and the American Provinces established, they did not forget to help with the redemption of captives with cash which they sent to Spain.
In 1576, the first royal cedula on that matter was issued. It stipulated that alms should no longer be sent by provincials or visitators but instead, by fiscal employees or by the judges of the Audiencia to the Casa de Contratación [chamber of commerce set up by Isabella I and Ferdinand V] in Seville. This royal provision created difficulties for the Order which felt limited in its institutional prerogative and by the monarchy represented by the Council of the Indies. The difficulties came from the fact that it was not always possible to use the money for the specific purpose for which it was solicited from the faithful and sent to Spain and that the Order was forced to pay a tax on the amount it used. From New Spain and Central America, alms were sent to the Mexico convent and, from there, to Seville. The Provinces of Lima, Cuzco, Chile and Tucumán sent their collections to the Lima convent and, from there, they were sent to Seville. Panama sent its collections directly. In Castile, redemptions were organized with American money—fruit of the efforts of the missionary friars—which the procurator general or the redemption commissioner would withdraw from the Seville Casa de Contratación. Already in the seventeenth century, Father Gabriel Gómez de Losada, a Castilian definitor, used to say at the time that “most of the alms for captives came from the Indies where our faith is so widespread” and he added: “there are days when 4,000 pesos have come from Lima alone.”
Several deeply rooted methods were used for collecting alms. In Cuzco and elsewhere, religious used to place a money box with a key in the church, with the shield of the Order and a sign saying: “This is the place to put alms for the redemption of poor captives.” In addition, in churches and other places, there were Redemption Confraternities whose members were collecting alms for this noble goal.
In spite of all this, it was especially the religious themselves who solicited alms as they traveled from one place to another or in the exercise of their apostolic ministry. In this service, they had to adjust not only to the norms established by the Constitutions but also to the severe prescriptions of the chapters of the American Provinces. The doctrineros, who might have failed in their obligation to collect alms for redemption, were removed from their positions. This alms ministry demanded enormous work and quite a few sacrifices on the part of religious. There is a pathetic description of the difficulties which friars had to face in this mission in the memorandum which Father Guillermo Ubalde, the redemption procurator, presented to the Cuzco provincial chapter of June 12, 1795: “I have endured many rejections, slights and even insults in order to comply fully with this obligation. Oftentimes I have endured the rigor of the sun in the valley under a tree with mosquitoes feeding on me, with no other food than a mouthful of bread that I take along for such occasions… I have continued in this ministry with no other interest than to comply with the fourth vow that I have professed until death; I have endured natural indigence because I had no temporal help either from my church or from my relatives but only the help of divine providence which never falls short in my needs…”
Some Important Redemptions
As the rhythm of the redemptions was restored, three very significant redemptions took place under Father Maldonado’s generalate.
In 1575, according to the king’s cedula, there was a redemption in Algiers in which Fathers Rodrigo de Arce and Antonio de Valdepeñas were involved as redeemers. We know that the redemption banner was used in this expedition. There were 143 captives redeemed.
Fathers Jorge del Olivar and Jorge Ongay led another redemption which took place in Algiers in 1577. On that occasion, Rodrigo de Cervantes, the younger brother of the author of Don Quixote, was among the 106 ransomed captives. Even though they tried, the friars could not redeem Miguel because of the high price set by his captors. Father Jorge del Olivar stayed as a hostage for a year during which time he became friends with Miguel de Cervantes with whom he planned his unsuccessful escape. Fathers Jorge del Olivar and Rodrigo de Arce left a profound imprint on Cervantes’ soul. He recalled them with fondness and quoted them with praise in Los baños de Argel and Los tratos de Argel, two of Cervantes’ works with autobiographical aspects.
In 1579, in Tetuán, Fathers Rodrigo de Arce and Luis de Matienzo were successful in redeeming 220 captives among whom was a group of important Portuguese gentlemen and the cost of redemption was raised because of their presence. Father Matienzo had to stay as a hostage for almost three years during which he was cruelly treated. It was necessary to mortgage the goods of the Province of Castile to gather the 12,000 gold escudos needed for his ransom.
Other Works of Mercy
The religious of the Order were convinced that the ministry of the redemption of captives included the practice of works of mercy for others and, when circumstances demanded it, they did not hesitate to offer their services to the needy even in dangerous situations.
In Palermo, there occurred a terrible plague which devastated the city in 1625. Prompted by the demands of their fourth vow, the religious decided to put themselves at the material and spiritual service of the plague-stricken people. This is reported by an eyewitness, Chronicler Bernardo de Vargas in his opuscule De contagioso morbo regni Siciliae. In this heroic and charitable service, Mercedarians Juan Bautista de Zurita, Vicente Calderón, Nicolás Noara, Antonio Braco, Buenaventura Palmieri, José Latona and Pedro Martínez died and so did a Mercedarian tertiary, Ninfa Vicenta Cuzco.
Other religious who had been infected went back, after they recovered, to serve those plague-stricken without worrying about the risks. Among them was Vicente Salanitro, a contemplative and penitent, who died a holy death on October 17, 1626. Several prodigious healings were attributed to his intercession.
The Mercedarian Order was growing and becoming established in different places and countries. A better government and the specific characteristics of each kingdom or country suggested creating new independent provinces. Father Francisco de Salazar was elected Master General at the 1587 Saragossa General Chapter and the Province of Andalusia, which was part of the Province of Castile, was created. The Guadiana river would be the dividing line. Juan de Ribas was its first provincial.
At Master General Alonso Monroy’s request, in a brief of May 5, 1603, Pope Clement VIII granted the division of the Province of Aragon, which was too extensive, into three provinces: the Provinces of Aragon and Valencia with convents located in Spain and the Province of Italy with the convents which were there. The division was ratified at a provincial chapter held in El Olivar and the Province of Valencia was established immediately. However, the creation of the Province of Italy was postponed until the 1606 provincial chapter which elected as first provincial the renowned preacher, Father Hernando de Santiago, called silver tongue by Philip II. He had been living in Rome for several years. Master General Alonso Monroy asked the provincial to establish regular discipline in the new province. As his mandate was being implemented, several difficulties arose and led to suspending the creation of said province and Father Hernando de Santiago was ordered to rejoin his Province of Andalusia. As a result, the convents of the Italian peninsula went back to their situation before 1606, that is to say, under the authority of the vicar general, while Cagliari was reincorporated in the Province of Aragon in 1607.
Toward the end of 1610, discalced Mercedarians arrived in Italy where they founded several convents in a few years. In 1618, there were the following convents: Rome, Rocca di Papa, Naples, Palermo, Traetto, Messina (2), Mineo (2), Agrigento, Vizzini, Cattolica Eraclea and Francofonte. By virtue of the June 12, 1619 papal brief, the provincial chapter of Italy was held in Naples with the participation of the superiors of 7 convents, plus six discalced Mercedarians. The Province of Italy was restored at that chapter and Father Juan Hurtado was elected provincial.
The Congregation of Paris, equivalent to a province, was approved by Rome in 1672. This congregation with many professors and doctors, scholars and renowned redeemers was born of the Parisian friars’ desire to have more self-government since the Southern, Mediterranean province was far away and it did not take them into account. The congregation included the following convents: Chenoise in the Sens Archdiocese, Nantes in Brittany, Paris with two major houses, one in the Marais district and the other, the University College, next to the Sorbonne. It was very prosperous until it disappeared at the time of the French Revolution.
In the meantime, the following convents had been established in Sardinia: Alghero, Sassari, Villacitro, Muravera, Bolotona and Bono. A brief from Benedict XIII, on May 14, 1750, constituted the Province of Saint Serapion, separate from the Province of Aragon. It included the Cagliari convent and these new foundations. Father José Valonga Sisternes was its first provincial. But the province only lasted 18 years since by a brief from Clement XIII on October 7, 1768, the convents of Bono and Bolotona were suppressed because they were very poor. As a result, the province was transformed into a Congregation with special statutes.
The Province of Tucumán, taken from the Province of Cuzco, was founded on January 6, 1593, under the title of Santa Barbara. Father Pedro Guerra was its first provincial. It included the convents of Santiago del Estero, Talavera del Esteco, Jujuy, Tucumán, La Rioja, Salta, Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Santa Fe, Asunción (Paraguay), Corrientes, Catamarca and the hospice of San Ramón de las Conchas.
The Province of Santo Domingo was established in 1607, with the convents of Santo Domingo, Concepción de la Vega, Santa Cruz de la Vega, Puerto Príncipe, Toza and Santiago de los Caballeros. Father Pedro de Torres was its first provincial.
The Province of Mexico was established in 1616, and it was confirmed by Pope Paul V. It was formed by eight convents: Mexico, Veracruz, Puebla, Morelia (Valladolid), Tacuba, Oaxaca, Atlisco and Colima. Father Baltasar Camacho was its first provincial.
The Province of Quito, taken from the Province of Lima, was established in 1616, with the following convents: Quito, Pasto, Cali, Portoviejo, Guayaquil, Riobamba, Ibarra, Latacunga, Ambato and Santa Marta (Colombia). Father Antonio de Pesquera was its first provincial.
The Marañon Congregation was formed by religious from Quito in 1635. It had several convents. The most outstanding were: Belem do Pará (1639) and San Luis del Marañon (1654). Although it had a peak period with one convent in Lisbon, it was never more than a vice-province.
The Vicars General for America
Since at that time, Masters General did not go to America for the visitation, the 1574 Guadalajara Chapter determined that the Master General would appoint for the Indies a vicar general who would always be from Castile. This did not take effect until the 1587 chapter dealt with the matter again and established that by decree and with the view of the definitors in general chapter, after his election, the Master General would name two vicars general for the American Provinces: one for Peru with a residence in Lima and the other for New Spain and Guatemala with a residence in Mexico. The vicars had to be instituted and named alternately only from the Provinces of Castile and Andalusia. These decisions were incorporated in the 1588 Constitutions. The jurisdiction of the Peru vicar included the Provinces of Lima, Cuzco, Chile, Quito and Tucumán. New Spain, Guatemala and Santa Domingo pertained to the Mexico vicar. Their function was to be responsible for regular observance, fraternal correction, the authority to convene and preside over provincial chapters, to confirm or cancel the elections of provincials, to mediate in conflictive cases, etc.
Given the extent of the vicars’ powers, the American Provinces always resisted the presence of those vicars on their territories. The friars of America complained that vicars abused their authority, they restricted the friars’ activities and invalidated their autonomy. In addition, vicars occasionally took advantage of their attributions to send significant sums of money to Spain. As a result, between indigenous friars and superiors from Spain there were disputes that even reached the Council of the Indies. In the end, vicars were seen as intruders.
To avoid problems of this type, by an agreement between the Council of the Indies and the Order of Mercy, on March 29, 1639, the vicars’ prerogatives were restricted and their jurisdiction was limited. Vicars general lasted until 1769. They were part of a concrete historical reality that cannot be ignored. That same reality rings differently when it is seen from America or viewed from Europe.
Characteristics of the Formation Plans
The Council of Trent found a favorable echo in the Order in what pertains to the formation of its friars. This is reflected in the new edition of the 1588 Constitutions as well as in the 1692 Constitutions of Father José Linas. Both have this formation plan: two examiners, to be named by the community, investigate aspirants before they join the Order. This type of probe deals with their morality, ability, character and suitability for religious life. Aspirants should not have “vanity of nobility or property interests.” In order to ascertain the seriousness of a candidate’s decision, the superior “sends him to confession and dismisses him indicating the day when he is to return.” There is no room for easy deceit. When he returns, the candidate will need the community’s vote in order to join.
There are meticulous norms concerning the formation of novices. Starting with the novice master: he is appointed by the superior and he must have sufficient religious competence and be diligent, learned and pious. The school for novices must be in a remote place, separate from the professed. Novices will be properly instructed about the Rule, the Constitutions, religious life and the liturgy. They will also be taught to read, to pray, to observe the common office and Gregorian chant. They are to be totally dedicated to their formation as religious, not distracted by philosophical or theological studies which will come later. They are to be simple and humble. They are to wear the habit out of devotion and surrender rather than out of curiosity or vanity. The shield of the Order is to be simple, made of wool or silk, not of gold or silver. They are to confess every 15 days and to go to communion each month. The master hears their confessions although it can be another priest if they wish. There is a special emphasis on devotion to Mary, a devotion they will have to manifest throughout their religious lives: “All things must be started and done in her name.”
The superior listens to the master’s opinion and he consults the community before novices are professed. Candidates to the priesthood must be proficient in Latin. The vows are steps to imitate and to follow Christ the Redeemer. For the first time, it is mandated that the fourth vow, like the others, be expressly made. It is expressed in the formula of profession: “and I will remain captive as a pledge, in the power of the Saracens, if it should be necessary for the redemption of Christian faithful.” It is manifestly explicit although it is less expressive than before. At least three years of profession are required before being ordained to the priesthood. Studying “to defend the faith” is highly valued. In large houses, there are studies in scholastics, philosophy and moral theology.
In addition to the university colleges of Salamanca, Paris and Alcalá de Henares of the sixteenth century, others are created in Europe as well as in America.
The Province of Andalusia founded the San Laureano College (1589) in order to be able to graduate its friars without having to send them to Salamanca or Alcalá. Its first rector was Father Francisco Beamonde.
In the Province of Aragon, there were Saint Peter Nolasco Colleges in Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia and Saragossa.
On January 11, 1665, by a royal cedula, the Province of Lima founded Saint Peter Nolasco College. Its first rector was Father José Barrasa who was named by Pope Alexander VII on the same day. Its Statutes or Constitutions, written by its rector, Father Barrasa, were published the following year in Madrid. Distinguished university professors and famous bishops came from this renowned Lima College, like Juan Durán, Francisco Padilla, Sebastián de Almoguera y Pastrana, Pedro Sanz de la Vega, Francisco Gutiérrez Galiano, Juan Manuel García de Vargas y Rivera and José Higinio Durán Martel.
Another Saint Peter Nolasco College was founded in the Province of Cuzco in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Thanks to these colleges, arts, theology and Sacred Scriptures chairs at the University of San Marcos were held by Peruvian Mercedarians from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. The most outstanding were Fathers Nicolás de Ovalle, Luis de Vera, José de Ondarza, Juan Báez, Bernardo Mispilivar, Sebastián and José de Almoguera y Pastrana, Jerónimo Calatayud and Melchor Talamantes.
The San Ramón College for jurists was founded in Mexico in 1654. Father Francisco Pareja was its first rector. Numerous good jurists and several bishops came from that establishment. In 1665, Aguas Calientes was the site of another College whose first rector was Father Nicolás de Arteaga. The San Pedro Pascual College of Belén was established in 1774. Father Vicente Garrido became its first rector.
Santa Domingo also had its own Mercedarian College where Tirso de Molina taught three semesters of theology.
In Quito, Mercedarians graduated from their own college and then attended the San Gregorio Jesuit University.
The Province of Santa Barbara de Tucumán created the San Ramón College which operated in the San Ramón Convent in Buenos Aires.
In the Province of Chile, the San Pedro Pascual College was established in 1574, in the city of Santiago.
Starting with the fifteenth century, the Order of Mercy started to stand out in university milieus first by the quality and quantity of its student religious and then, by its university professors. This was not to emulate or to copy other orders. It was the logical thrust which the Spanish Golden Age communicated to peninsular institutions, including the Order of Mercy. Capitular records show the increase of students with university degrees and titles. The passage from a lay to a clerical Order helped clerics to be more interested in studies.
In the sixteenth century, Francisco Zumel emerged in Salamanca as the Order’s most eminent figure in theology.
Zumel was born in Palencia in 1540. He was a professor of moral philosophy in Salamanca and the Master General (1593-1599). He is the author of extensive commentaries on Saint Thomas Aquinas’ works and he also had several volumes printed in Salamanca. He took part in the polemics between Jesuit Luis de Molina and Dominican Domingo Bañez. He sent his report to Rome with his personal point of view on this delicate question of the relation between free will and divine grace. Zumel proposed an intermediate way on the theme: divine grace assists free will which does not suffer from it nor is it conditioned. Zumel was a free-minded Thomist. After his death, he received the admiration of the Calatayud chapter (1615) which stipulated that Father Zumel should be followed in “the article of the Pure Conception of the Virgin, Our Lady, as we want her Immaculate Conception to be inviolably defended in the whole Order from the pulpit as well as in teaching.” In his Historia, Fray Gabriel Téllez spoke of this capitular mandate which he and his companions put into practice in Santo Domingo where no one was preaching on the subject. The result of his preaching on the Immaculate Virgin was notorious: the faithful immediately filled the Mercedarian church which was almost empty before.
The Order of Mercy had many renowned theology professors until the nineteenth century: Machín de Aquena, Francisco de Mendoza, Silvestre Saavedra, a mariologist, Juan Prudencio, Ambrosio de Almendea, Antonio de Solís, Francisco Echeverz, Pedro Salazar and Manuel de la Peña.
Mystical writers: Juan Falconí, Pedro de la Serna, Mateo Villarroel, Francisco de Ribera, Gaspar Prieto, Marcos Salmerón, Antonio Centenero, Venerable Pedro Urraca, Blessed Mary Ann of Jesus.
Discalced Mercedarians: Pedro de San Cecilio, José de San Marcelino, Gabriel de la Concepción, Celestino del Santísimo Sacramento, Francisco de San Marcos and Manuel de la Natividad.
For the history of the Order: Bernardo de Vargas, Alonso Remón, Gaspar de Torres, Gabriel Téllez, Felipe Colombo, Marcos Salmerón, Mariano Ribera, Martín de Murúa, Felipe Guimerán, Melchor Rodríguez de Torres, Agustín Arqués, Juan Antillón and Jean Latomy.
In America, the following historians deserve to be mentioned.
Mexico: Francisco Pareja and Cristóbal de Aldana; Peru: Luis de Vera, Francisco de Miranda Valcárcel and Diego de Mondragón; Chile: Simón de Lara, Alonso Covarrubias and Rafael Cifuentes; Ecuador: Antonio de Pesquera, Esteban Mosquera, Juan Narváez and Juan Aráuz.
Literature and Other Disciplines
Father Jaime Torres, master of Tárrefa and of the Argensola brothers, is the author of a delightful poetic play: Divina y varia poesía (1579). In 1598, Father Juan Suárez de Godoy published his voluminous Renaissance work Misericordias Domini in Barcelona. Father Alonso Remón (1571-1632), a playwright, was a friend of Lope de Vega . We still have eight of his comedies, among which, El hijo pródigo and Tres mujeres en una.
Fray Gabriel Téllez, known by his pseudonym Tirso de Molina, is without a doubt the key figure of Mercedarian literature. He was a poet, a playwright, a novelist, a theologian and a historian. This Madrilenian friar admits he wrote more than 400 plays in verse. He published five volumes of 12 plays each, several separate comedies, Cigaralles de Toledo (1624), Deleitar aprovechando (1635) and finally, he left a manuscript of his Historia General de la Orden de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes in two thick volumes kept at the Academy of History of Madrid. These volumes were just published by the Order in 1974. His best-known comedies, the source of his fame are: El burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de piedra (he invented the character of Don Juan), El condenado por desconfiado, La prudencia en la mujer, Don Gil de las calzas verdes, La villana de Vallecas, Los balcones de Madrid, La Dama del Olivar, Tanto es lo de más como lo de menos, La venganza de Tamar, La mujer que manda en casa, etc. And auto sacramentales: El colmenero divino and Los hermanos parecidos.
In America, two men were outstanding in literature, the Peruvian Fray Francisco del Castillo, called the Ciego de la Merced and in Chile, Father Juan Barrenechea y Albis.
Father Juan Interián de Ayala, a trilingual professor in Salamanca, was eminent in another field. He was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language and the coordinator of the etymologies of the first Diccionario de Autoridades as the Dictionary of the Royal Academy used to be called. He published a very interesting work in classical Latin, Pictor Christianus Eruditus, a work which he himself translated into Spanish: El pintor cristiano erudito. He also wrote Opuscula poetica, a summary of his excellent poetic work in Latin, in which he was a better poet than in Spanish and two volumes of his Sermones, a valuable work in Spanish prose. He had great academic success. He died in 1730. Another Mercedarian, Fray Francisco de Mendoza, from the San Laureano College of Seville, replaced him at the Academy of the Spanish Language.
Fray Augustín Leonardo Argensola (+1643) was a renowned painter. He painted in the El Puig monastery in 1620. He went to Andalusia and Castile where he decorated various convents. There are 38 of his paintings in El Olivar convent.
Fray Eugenio Gutiérrez de Torices (+1709) was a famous sculptor who dedicated himself to work on colored wax with such perfection and naturalness that his works were acclaimed by other artists of the period. In the field of sculpture, we have to mention Fray Pedro Pascual García
(+1756) who worked in the Mercy church of Verín and several churches in Orense (Galicia).
In architecture, two religious from Lima who left important works should be mentioned. In 1698, Cristóbal Caballero (1631-1702), an architect, sculptor and joiner was named “Chief Master of the factories of the Lima Cathedral” and later, he was given the official post of “Chief Master of the royal factories or chief architect of the Peru viceroyalty.” This eminent architect designed and built the beautiful façade of the Mercy church and that of Santa Catalina in Lima. He also sculpted an image of Santa Rosa for the cathedral main altar and he rebuilt the city walls and many other works which are still admired today. The other architect, Pedro Galeano, sketched the plans and built the Mercy church of Lima as well as the churches of Copacabana and the Prado in the same city.
In several other fields of inspiration: Mexican Diego Rodríguez published several works of logic, geometry and arithmetic and the Arte de fabricar relojes. Juan Aparicio de Játiva, a very talented Mercedarian, wrote several Treatises of arithmetic and geometry, De los diez elementos de Euclides on square root, geography, astronomy and planets. Fray Gabriel Palmer, from Majorca, left a Manual de hacer relojes (eighteenth century).
Evangelization of America and the Doctrinas
In America, the Mercedarians were attending to the religious life of the peninsulars and the Creole Mestizos in the cities and in the rural doctrinas, they were teaching the natives the truths of the faith and how to live as brothers.
From the beginning and through its competent bodies, the Order showed its ongoing concern for the good care of the doctrinas in its charge. In appointing vicars general, the Master General selected religious of exemplary conduct and well-versed in doctrine to be doctrineros. There is abundant legislation concerning the doctrinas and the doctrineros from the chapters of the different American Provinces. The minutes of a chapter, which we mention as an example, state: “This definitorium mandates all priests and doctrineros to be very careful and vigilant in looking after the spiritual welfare of their flock, teaching them Christian doctrine with love and charity, instructing them in the mysteries of our holy faith and in administering the holy sacraments promptly.”
Throughout America, in 1576, the Mercedarian Order had 50 convents with 340 religious who were looking after many doctrinas. Each one of these was made up of one or several villages.
The main doctrinas entrusted to the Mercedarians in different countries are:
Guatemala: Malacatán, Huehuetenango, Jacaltenango, Chantla, Zacatepequez, San Cristóbal de Chiapas, etc.
Honduras: Rencas, Cururú, Gracias a Dios, Tencoa, Cares, Tatembla, etc.
Nicaragua: Pozoltega, Cebaco, Somoto, Coindega, etc.
Panama: Chririquí, San Pedro de Aspatara, San Pablo del Platanar, Camaná, etc.
New Granada: Cali, Valle de Cali, La Montaña, Digua, Mallama, Cumbla, Calimba, etc.
Quito: Otavalo, Tulcán, Tuza, Huacán, Lita, Quilca, Nanigal, Picoasa, etc.
Lima: Lati (now Ate), Carabayllo, Huamantanga, Bombón, Churín, Ichopincos, Collanapincos, Pacaraos, Bagazán, Huambos, Moche, Virú, etc.
Cuzco: Paruro, Accha Anansaya, Acca Hurinsaya, Livitaca, Checacupe, Pampacucho, Yanaca, Pocoanca, Huancaray, etc.
Upper Peru (now Bolivia): Huarina Anansaya, Huarina Hurinsaya, Coata, Capachica, Huata, Yúrac, etc.
Tucumán: Santiago del Estero, Chiquilligasta, Ampatagasta, Later, in 1768, the Mercedarians from Argentina took over the 10 doctrinas which the Jesuit Fathers had been in charge of before their expulsion from America.
In Chile, Mercedarians had few permanent doctrinas. But from the start, they developed a system of circular missions, a method which made it easier for them to go to places farther away from urban centers. They were already in Castro in 1567, evangelizing in the Chiloé Archipelago. Later on, in the eighteenth century, the Order had the following doctrinas around its convents: Colchagua, Copiapó, Huasco, Castro, Osorno, Valdivia, Peumo, Legueimo, Nancagua and Pichidegua.
Almost everywhere, when the doctrinas were well organized, bishops became interested in converting them into parishes and in giving them to the clergy. Many of these former doctrinas are now capitals of provinces, episcopal sees or major parishes.
Popular Missions and Mission Colleges
Groups of preachers of redemption started to form around Father José Montagudo (1657-1729), an eminent missionary. They would travel throughout the peninsula in their liberating mission. When the number of redemptions decreased, Father Montagudo and his group took advantage of the experience they had gained to continue their evangelization in Spanish towns. Father Francisco Echeverz, his most outstanding disciple, was an apostolic soul devoted to popular missions. This missionary approach was so successful among the faithful that it became necessary to establish authentic missionary schools which were called Mission Colleges. Thus, a Mission College which began with 12 missionary friars was created in the Convent del Pilar in Embún. Then, Father Echeverz founded the Moratalla Mission College. Castile founded the Olmedo Mission College; Valencia, the Burriana Mission College; Aragon had its college in Montblanch and France had one in Bordeaux. Later on, there were other foundations in cities where the Order was present.
These mission centers were so beneficial and so well-accepted that many bishops were constantly requesting the presence of Mercedarian missionaries in their dioceses.
In a decree of October 23, 1740, Master General José Mezquía published the Estatutos de los colegios y seminarios de misiones in which he sought to provide a structure and organization more suited to the purpose for which these colleges had been founded. Prepared religious or those who had to prepare to give missions among the faithful through preaching, confessions and explanations of Christian doctrine, used to flock to these colleges and seminaries.
Pope Benedict XIV approved these Statutes in the bull Explicare verbis non possumus of March 24, 1741. In it, the pope said that among Mercedarians “some devote themselves to liberate others from the Turks’ tyranny, others to teach the mysteries of the Catholic faith and still others, to confirm the faithful in their faith with greater benefit for souls.”
The system of popular missions and the creation of Mission Colleges also spread to America. In 1789, the great El Tejar convent of Quito was converted into a College for Missionaries among the faithful. Chile had its own Mission College (1740) in the large Chimbarongo convent, geographically located in the center of the country. From there, missionaries covered all the territory included between Copiapó to the North and Chiloé and the nearby archipelagos to the South. This explains the existence of countless towns, churches and chapels dedicated to the Virgin of Mercy and also the abundance of Mercedarian vocations from this central region of Chile.
Father José Linás’ Constitutions (1692)
Taking advantage of the experience accumulated in the many years during which the early 1327 Constitutions were in force, at the 1686 Huete General Chapter, the Order decided to prepare a new, better structured and more actualized legislative code. In his bull Militantis Ecclesiae of May 15, 1687, Pope Innocent XI granted the Order full power to reform its laws, both in form and substance. To elaborate this new codification, a commission was appointed and it succeeded in having the text of the new Constitutions ready at the end of 1691. Master General José Linás, with the power of the 1686 capitular decision, requested the Apostolic See’s approval. Pope Innocent XII approved them in the bull Ex iniuncto nobis divinitus on December 7, 1691, and the Constitutions became effective in 1692. They were approved by the Holy See without prior discussion in general chapter. They were also called Constitutions Matritenses because they were published in Madrid.
A new terminology is evident in the title: Constitutions of the Friars of the Sacred and Royal Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, Redemption of Captives. The Constitutions start with a great emphasis on Mary as they insist on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparition to Saint Peter Nolasco entrusting him with the foundation of the Order. The goal is very clear: to liberate captives from the infidels’ tyranny, underlining that it was Mary who founded this work.
After the mentioned Proem, comes the body of the Constitutions, as such, divided into eight distinctions or parts. These are made up of several chapters which are themselves subdivided into numbers. Contents: divine worship and prayer, redemptions, the vows specifying the fourth Mercedarian vow of redemption, regular discipline and communal life, entrance and profession, transgressions, faults, offenses and penalties. It concludes with what pertains to chapters, elections and rules for houses and provinces. The Constitutions also legislate for nuns, tertiaries and brothers. The sixth part, “Exercise and profession of letters,” is entirely new.
The Order of Mercy, a Mendicant Order
Mendicant Orders had in their rules the observance of strict poverty, not only for individuals but also for convents and the institution. They obtained what they needed to survive by begging for alms which they received from the faithful. These Orders emerged in the thirteenth century as an expression of the evangelical ideal of poverty. The first were Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians. The Trinitarians, a redemptive Order, destined a third of the alms for redemption.
For a long time, the Order of Mercy had enjoyed all the privileges of the Mendicant Orders which had been granted by several pontiffs. However, Pope Benedict XIII declared it to be a Mendicant Order in his July 8, 1725 bull Aeternus aeterni Patris without ceasing to be a redemptive Order since, from its origins, it possessed goods in order to redeem captives.
Situation of the Order at the End of the Eighteenth Century
From a numerical viewpoint, this was undoubtedly a period of growth. The houses and provinces of Europe and America seemed firmly established, including the vice-province of Marañon.
France was recovering from the losses caused by the bloody struggle against Protestantism. There, in 1674, Father Andrés Navas y Quevedo, later Bishop of Nicaragua and Guatemala (1677-1683), founded a convent in Mas Saintes Puelles, Saint Peter Nolasco’s home, near Castelnaudary in the San Papoul Diocese. In Brazil, Father Marcos de la Natividad founded a convent in Río Mearim (1669). In 1674, in Huanca, a place near Cuzco, the Lord appeared to a peasant, Diego Quispe. The Lord left his sorrowful image painted on a large rock on a Mercedarian property which is now a great sanctuary. Everywhere, vocations were invading convents which had to expand to accommodate such a large number of friars.
In 1770, the Order of Mercy had 229 convents with 4,495 religious in the following provinces or vice-provinces: Aragon, 27 convents and 590 religious; Castile 20 convents and 589 religious; Valencia, 15 convents and 430 religious; Andalusia, 22 convents and 705 religious; France, 16 convents and 81 religious; Paris, 3 convents and 23 religious; Italy, 7 convents and 75 religious; Sardinia, 5 convents and 70 religious; Mexico, 20 convents and 427 religious; Santa Domingo, 7 convents and 148 religious; Guatemala, 17 convents and 161 religious; Quito, 10 convents and 145 religious; Lima, 15 convents and 271 religious; Cuzco, 12 convents and 310 religious; Tucumán, 12 convents and 227 religious; Chile, 16 convents and 174 religious and Marañon, 6 convents and 70 religious.
During this long period of history, the Order had countless religious who gave testimony of their consecration to God and to the service of others. They lived the Mercedarian spirituality intensely and they are its fruits of sanctity.
Gonzalo Díaz de Amarante. He was born in Amarante (Portugal) in 1540. As a sailor, he traveled to Peru where he became a Mercedarian religious in the Lima convent in 1603. He distinguished himself by his surrender to a life of prayer and by the practice of charity with natives and the most needy. He humbly and effectively carried out his doorkeeper role giving admirable examples of virtue to everyone coming to the convent. He moved to the Callao convent where he exercised the function of a beggar. This is where death caught him by surprise on January 27, 1618. The diocesan process of beatification was already concluded in 1621 and in 1675, the apostolic process was initiated and progressed with justified hope. Since 1746, the body of this servant of God lies in the Mercedarian church of Lima.
Venerable Pedro Urraca de la Santísima Trinidad. He was born in Jadraque (Spain) in 1583. His brother, a Franciscan, took him to Quito where Pedro was inspired by the Virgin to join the Order. From an early age, he devoted his life to virtue and distinguished himself especially in penance, abnegation, prayer and humility. After being ordained a deacon, he was sent to the Belén Mercedarian Recollect convent in Lima where he was ordained a priest in 1610. After that, he dedicated himself to preaching and to evangelizing the poor. He went back to Spain in 1621, with the innermost desire to go to Africa to redeem captives. After seven years, he returned to Peru and exercised the ministries of preaching and hearing confessions, at the same time as his renown in the practice of virtues was growing. Though he was paralyzed in the last years of his life, he still continued his apostolate in the spiritual direction of many souls until his death on August 7, 1657. The process of beatification was initiated immediately and once concluded, it was taken to Rome in 1678. The decree on his heroic virtues has been proclaimed on January 31, 1981.
Antonio de San Pedro. He was born in Portugal in 1570. He was baptized as a Christian but, when his parents converted to Judaism, they raised him in that faith. He went to Lima where he was engaged in trading. Discovered as a practicing Jew, he was arrested by the Inquisition on March 22, 1604. Moved by grace, he abjured to come back to the Catholic faith. In punishment for his error, he was given three years of public penance which he did in the Mercy convent of Lima as a kitchen helper. There he met the servant of God, Gonzalo Díaz de Amarante, who instructed him in the truths of faith and in the practice of Christian virtues. As a consequence of the penalty imposed on him, he had to go back to Spain where he was a donate in a Dominican convent. Since it was known that he had been Jewish, he was denied the habit. Then he entered the Osuna convent of the discalced Mercedarians as a donate in June 1614, and made his profession two years later. His religious life was one of penance and mortification, service and charity to the needy and to the imprisoned whom he served with abnegation without neglecting prayer and union with God. He showed his love for souls, especially prostitutes. He converted many of them and founded a home where they were welcomed after they had returned to the right path. In the Church of Santa Ana of his Order, he set up the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament which had 4,000 members. He was a mirror of virtues, especially faith, charity, humility and the observance of the vows. Such a saintly life was blessed with special graces which God granted through his intercession before and after the death of this servant of God. He died in his Osuna convent on July 30, 1622. The process of beatification was opened shortly after his death.
Peter Nolasco Perra. He was born in Gergei (Sardinia) at the beginning of 1574, and was baptized on February 15 of the same year. He received the Mercedarian habit in the Bonaria convent on February 14, 1598, and made his profession on February 19 of the following year. He was sent to pursue theological studies in Valencia where he was ordained in 1602. He was a model of interior life, obedience and sensitivity in dealing with people. His recollection and fervor in celebrating Holy Mass deeply moved the faithful. He had words of encouragement and consolation for everyone especially during the long hours he devoted to the sacrament of penance. He died young in Valencia when he was only 32 on June 15, 1606. A church called Santu Impera (Saint Peter in Sardinian dialect) was built in his honor in his hometown. The villagers venerate him as a saint with love and faith in the church which is still there today.
Alonso Gómez de Encinas. He was born in Cuéllar (Segovia). He received the habit in the Valladolid convent and completed his studies in Salamanca where he was enrolled in 1597 and 1598. In 1609, at the age of 44, he went to Mexico as a secretary and preacher with Vicar General Antonio Mendoza. After concluding his mission with the vicar, he asked to stay on as a missionary and he was appointed doctrinero or priest of the Puná island in the Gulf of Guayaquil. While he was there, he was caught by surprise by the arrival of the Dutch pirate Jacobo L’Hermite. After crossing the Strait of Magellan with several ships, the pirate sacked the defenseless coasts of the Pacific. He also planned to attack Guayaquil but the people put up a heroic defense forcing him to reembark with grave losses. The pirate withdrew to Puná where he unleashed his hatred and spite over his defeat on the Mercedarian ordering him that he be disemboweled to look for the Eucharist. This took place on June 13, 1624, and on July 10, the Quito Audencia gave a detailed account of what happened to King Philip IV. Father Encinas is one of the best-known Mercedarian martyrs of the period. Since the year of his death, he has been venerated in the Mercy Church of Barcelona.
Juan Falconi de Bustamante. He was born in Almería in April 1596. He joined the Order of Mercy in 1611, and studied theology in Salamanca. Then he dedicated himself to teaching, especially in the colleges of the Order. Assigned to the apostolate by his superiors, he devoted himself to the ministry of spiritual direction, hearing confessions and preaching at every level of Madrilenian society. He promoted the practices of meditation, frequent confession and especially daily communion. He wrote many works or theology and mysticism, the most important being El pan nuestro de cada día on communion. He died in Madrid on May 31, 1638. The beatification process was initiated after his death.
Luis Galindo de San Ramón. He was born in Trujillo (Peru) in 1634. He entered the Order of Mercy of Lima where he made his profession on April 6, 1660. Ordained a priest, he moved to the Belén Recollect convent to devote himself to a life of prayer and penance. He was an outstanding preacher and spiritual director. He also had the gift of prophecy and he announced the October 20, 1687 earthquake which destroyed the city of Lima. He was very devoted to the Virgin Mary in whose honor he wrote De la Concepción Inmaculada de María, published in Lima in 1663. He left many poems of a mystical nature and about death, both in Spanish and in Latin. Some of his manuscripts are preserved at Yale University (USA). In the last years of the century, he was busy building the lovely façade of the church which is one of the most beautiful in the city. He died on March 8, 1704. His body lies in the sacristy of the Mercedarian church of Lima. Shortly after his death, the ordinary initiated the beatification process and in October 1943, the Trujillo National Eucharistic Congress requested the continuation of the process.
Buenaventura Guisado, a man of admirable virtue, was a contemporary of Father Galindo and he lived in the same convent. He wrote Colloquia spiritualia concionatoria, a work of mystical theology which was published in Seville in 1645. After a holy and exemplary life, he died on September 25, 1704. Two years after his death, the ordinary informative process of beatification was initiated and on August 16, 1710, his corpse was juridically examined for the non cultu process.
José Montagudo. He was born in Saragossa in 1657. His parents were Juan and María Fernández. He received a strict education from his mother. Drawn to the religious state, he entered the convent of his native city where he received the Mercedarian habit in 1672, and he made his profession on June 24 of the following year. Soon after his ordination, he was named novice master at the Bonaria convent in Sardinia which belonged to the Province of Aragon at the time. Back in Spain, he performed the difficult task of begging for redemption for twelve years. He collected many alms and proved to be an excellent preacher. This helped him to dedicate himself to the missionary apostolate to which he gave the last thirty-six years of his life. It is estimated that he must have heard some forty thousand confessions. At the end of his life, he became involved in the redemption of captives. At his own request, he was named redeemer for the Province of Aragon in 1727. Even though he was 70 years old, he started his pilgrimage to collect alms with the same fervor as when he was young and he managed to collect 3,000 pesos. With other redeemers, Rafael Suriá and Vicente Ibañez Rubio, he embarked in Barcelona for Tunis. During the crossing, a violent storm forced the ship to dock in the port of Cagliari where, at the archbishop’s request, Father Montagudo preached a sermon to ask for rain. In Tunis, the redeemers were able to rescue 129 captives. When he returned to Barcelona in August 1729, he was asked to deliver the official speech for the return of captives. He surrendered his soul to God on October 9, 1729.
In 1741, Father Francisco M. Echeverz, his disciple as a preacher, wrote the life of this exemplary religious, fervent missionary and tireless apostle.
Andrés Garrido. He was born in Vallada (Spain) in 1663. At baptism, he was given the name of Bartolomé, the patron of the town. On June 18, 1679, he received the white Mercedarian habit in El Puig where he had an uncle who was a religious. He was a sensitive, penitent soul and very patient with physical sufferings. An eminent preacher in Valencian, he was effective and fervent in his exhortations. He never despaired of the conversion of the greatest sinners and he was always generous with the poor. He was the superior of Valencia and Játiva. In the eighteenth century, at a time when the number of priests seemed excessive, Father Andrés would spend entire days in the confessional without eating. His only interruption was the time he needed for Mass. He used to say: “How could I leave these poor people waiting—in danger of being condemned—to go eat and rest?” He died in Játiva where he had spent most of his life on February 23, 1728. Master Vicente Oliver, the Mercedarian provincial of Valencia and Father Andrés’ companion for forty years, delivered his eulogy at the funeral. He spoke for three hours and fifteen minutes and, yet, his discourse seemed short to his compatriots who rushed to have it printed in order to savor it fully.
Sebastián del Espíritu Santo. He was born in Cajamarca (Peru) in 1668. He was brought up as a Christian. After the deaths of his parents, he moved to Lima to look for the wise and virtuous religious, Luis Galindo de San Ramón who already had the reputation of being holy and he approached him with these words: “I have come to seek you, Father, so that you may teach me how to be holy.” He entered as a donate, made rapid progress in the paths of virtue and he remained pure and humble. He did not accept to be a coadjutor brother because he considered himself unworthy. He worked eagerly for the dignity of the church and for the splendor of worship. He was very devoted to the Lord of Perpetual Help for whom he had an altar built. He devoted five hours to prayer every day. God rewarded his sanctity by granting him exceptional privileges which drew everyone’s admiration and love. The viceroy chose him as his daughter’s godfather. He died on July 17, 1721. The process about his life, his fame as a saint and the miracles of this servant of God was started immediately. It was concluded in 1734.
Francisco Salamanca. He was born in 1668 in Oruro (Bolivia) where he entered the Order. He was ordained a priest in Cuzco. On May 16, 1695, the provincial, who requested the degree of master in theology for Father Salamanca, said: “He is a very talented man and he is so virtuous that he is the example of this entire city.” Father Salamanca loved to live in his cell, dedicated to prayer and penance. He was a great preacher, a missionary, a musician (he built an original organ which still exists), a poet, and above all, a painter: he himself decorated his cell with extraordinary mural paintings. This cell is preserved intact in the Cuzco convent. He died in 1730.
José de la Puerta. He was from the city of Ecija where he received the habit in 1681, and took his vows on December 4 of the following year. He studied in his own Province of Andalusia and in the course of his studies he showed great love for recollection and prayer which would characterize his life. In the investigation on his life and virtues done at the request of the bishop of Seville, witnesses declared that “everyone knew his absolute withdrawal from any secular contact, from his relatives and even from religious except for community acts and that, in over thirty years, he did not spend an entire day outside the convent.” With great devotion, he would celebrate Mass daily and after giving thanks, he would withdraw to the choir to pray. He only ate at noon and mortified his body with scourges and a hair shirt and he mastered his irascible character through self-control. He died on October 1, 1738. He was buried in the tomb of the Marquis and Marquise of Peñaflor. From there, his remains were transferred to the Church of Santa María de Ecija where his sepulcher can still be seen. Many miracles were attributed to him, both during his life and after his death.
Francisco de Jesús Bolaños. He was born in Pasto (Colombia) on October 4, 1701. He entered the Order in that city when he was 15 years old. His brothers José and Pedro would also become Mercedarians. After he finished his studies, he was ordained a priest in Quito on March 17, 1727. Then he dedicated himself to his own sanctification and that of others through his ministry of preaching and in the confessional. At age 32, he withdrew to the hermitage of El Tejar where he built a convent, a church and a retreat house nearby. Religious, lay people, young and old, poor and rich, would flock there in search of the spiritual nourishment which Father Bolaños would lavishly give them. A poor, humble, austere, virtuous religious, he was especially charitable with the most needy and he was admired by everyone. He died on December 14, 1785. At the present time, his beatification process is underway in the Quito Archdiocese.
Blessed Mary Ann of Jesus. She was born in Madrid in 1565. Her mother died when she was barely nine years old and her father remarried. Mary Ann’s stepmother began to make her life impossible and to take her away from the house, she arranged her marriage. But the young girl had already chosen Jesus as her only spouse. In anguish, Mary Ann went to the Mercedarian chapel of the Virgen de los Remedios. There she met Father Juan Bautista González who illumined her steps and guided her along the paths of perfection. He was her spiritual director from 1598 until his death. A serious illness prevented Mary Ann from entering any convent as a religious. However, she set up residence in a small house, next to the convent of the Recollect Mercedarians. She spent several years there dedicated to prayer and penance. She was finally accepted as a tertiary and received the Mercedarian habit from Father Felipe Guimerán, the Master General of the Order, who received her profession the following year on May 20, 1614. Wearing the habit, she lived in that house and dedicated herself to works of charity for the sick and the needy. In addition, she distinguished herself by her humility, her devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to the Blessed Sacrament. She wrote her spiritual autobiography. Stricken with acute pleurisy, she died on April 17, 1624. Her uncorrupted body is preserved in the Madrid church of Don Juan de Alarcón and it was examined in 1627, when the beatification process was initiated. Her body was re-examined in 1731, in 1755, in 1924, on the occasion of the third centennial of her death and in June 1965, on the occasion of the fourth centennial of her birth. Pius VI solemnly beatified her in the Vatican Basilica on May 25, 1783.
From the trunk of the tree solidly planted in the bosom of the Church by Saint Peter Nolasco, a series of institutes began to emerge. Animated by the same charism and nourished by the same Marian redemptive vitality, together with the laity, these institutes make up the Mercedarian Family. They are: the discalced Mercedarians (men and women), the Mercedarian Sisters and laity with the Confraternity, the Slaves of the Order of Mercy and the Third Order.
During Father Alonso Monroy’s generalate (1602-1609), at Father Juan Bautista González’ initiative and with the financial help of the Marquise de Castelar, doña Beatriz Ramírez de Mendoza, the Order of the Discalced came into existence in Spain. It was initiated with the appointment of Father González as chaplain and sacristan of the Madrid chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. This is where he established a recollection house with the authorization of the Master General (1602). Master Monroy himself wrote the first Constitutions for the Mercedarian Recollection.
Father González started to use the name Juan Bautista del Santísimo Sacramento and soon, he founded convents in Almoraima, El Viso, Ribas del Jarama, Santa Bárbara (Madrid), Alcalá de Henares and Huelva. Father Juan had been in Peru in charge of the Huamantanga doctrina and in Madrid, he had been the friend and confessor of Blessed Mary Ann of Jesus. During his life, he never sought separation from the Order. He died on October 5, 1616, at the Santa Bárbara convent. In 1617, the discalced already had 7 convents in Castile, 10 in Andalusia and 6 in Sicily. Along with the Mercedarian sisters, they quickly multiplied in the Mancha and Andalusia. By a decree of November 26, 1621, Pope Gregory XV declared them separate from the Order and under the government of a vicar general. They kept the fourth Mercedarian vow and, for the redemptions, they joined the calced and worked in collaboration with them. The discalced Mercedarian nuns also prayed and collected alms for redemptions. During the eighteenth century, they had many mystical writers and some eminent philosophers and theologians.
Austere and dynamic, the discalced increased in vocations and convents in Southern Spain with the help of noble families. They also expanded in Italy. In 1774, the Province of San José in Castile had 12 convents with 352 religious; the Province of Concepción in Andalusia had 19 convents with 581 religious and the Province of San Ramón in Sicily had 12 convents with 120 religious. In addition, the Rome vice-province had 4 convents and some 30 religious.
As of the Council of Trent, the existing Mercedarian beaterios were transformed into monasteries of cloistered nuns. At first, the monasteries of nuns were under the jurisdiction of the Order. All religious considered themselves as heirs of the first monastery of Saint Mary Cervellon. They felt identified with the charism of the redemption of captives. They lived the spirit of the fourth vow and participated in it. They used to collect alms in a small chest for redemption, they prayed and recited litanies for the happy outcome of redemptions.
These are the convents of nuns founded in this period: Ibarra-Orozco (Biscay) in 1652, Guernica in 1625, the Alarcón (Madrid) convent founded on January 11, 1606, the San Fernando convent also in Madrid, founded in March 1676, Miguelturra founded in 1682 and the Salerno convent (Italy) founded in 1692.
With the emergence of the Discalced Mercedarians, the women’s branch of Discalced Mercedarian nuns started in order to live in strict enclosure and to dedicate themselves exclusively to contemplation. Their first monastery, Lora del Río (Seville), was founded in June 1617. In 1620, the Fuentes de Andalusia monastery was founded, in 1626, another one in Osuna, San José of Seville in 1633, Marchena in 1637, Toro in 1648 and the Lima beaterio founded in 1670, was transformed into a cloistered monastery in 1724.
According to statistics about cloistered nuns in Spain, presented by the minister of Charles III, Count of Floridablanca, there were 560 Mercedarian nuns in the two branches in 1724.
Many of these nuns distinguished themselves by their exemplary lives and the practice of virtues and they left behind a trail of sanctity. Some of them are: María de la Antigua (+1617), María de la Paz (+1630), Ana de la Cruz (+1636), Jacobella de la Cruz (+1643), María de la Santísima Trinidad (+1653), Magdalena de Cristo (+1706), María Angela del Santísimo Sacramento (+1726), María Antonia de Jesús (+1748), Melchora de Jesús (+1781) and María Josefa del Rosario (+1805).
Several nuns were also outstanding writers: María de la Antigua, Luisa de la Ascensión, Gregoria de Jesús María, Isabel del Santísimo Sacramento, Teresa María Angela del Santísimo Sacramento, Paula de Jesús Nazareno (+1787), Melchora de Jesús (+1725) and María Antonia de la Natividad.
In keeping with the most constant Mercedarian tradition, lay people have always been actively united and closely associated with the Order. Ever since Saint Peter Nolasco’s original companions, brothers were very significant. The Supreme Pontiffs often granted indulgences, graces and privileges to all Mercedarian Confraternities. These were present in all the main convents of the Order and they had lots of members. In order to avoid excessive proliferation, in 1668, Clement IX limited the right to establish confraternities to the Master General, the vicar general of the discalced and to the respective procurators general.
Another form of association was the one called the Slaves of the Order of Mercy. On November 13, 1613, Paul V granted many indulgences to the Confraternity and Congregation of the Servants, popularly called the slaves de la Virgen de los Remedios, established in the church of the Madrid convent. These indulgences were confirmed and expanded on May 28, 1646. Meanwhile, as shown in the previously mentioned bull by Paul V, these confraternities were known among the people under the name of slaves. A truly perfect example of this organization is the Slaves of the Order of Mercy of Seville which was there since the beginning of the Order. After a period of decadence caused by the 1598 plague, it became active again in 1644, and it achieved a vitality never reached before. It was solemnly approved, along with its Statutes by Pope Innocent X in a bull of March 2, 1655, and it was enriched with countless indulgences and spiritual benefits by another bull issued two days later.
The theoretician of the Mercedarian Slaves of Mary was discalced Pedro de la Serna or Pedro de Jesús María (1583-1642). According to him, no religious order had the right to call and to consider itself Mary’s object and family as the Mercedarian Order did. The notion of seeing themselves as slaves of Mary was connatural to the spirit and practice of the Order of Mercy which dedicated itself to the rescue of slaves in Mary’s name: slaves freed from the material power of the lords of the earth acknowledged Mary as their Lady in the spiritual order.
Worthy of note is the Confraternity of the Knights of Our Lady of Mercy of Lima, in existence since the eighteenth century.
The most committed lay people in the Order were the Mercedarian tertiaries who started in the seventeenth century. In 1680, it was determined that superiors would confer the habit to these brothers of the Third Order of Mercy. They could delegate formation to other virtuous religious. The Third Order had its own Rule. In 1624, Father Bernardo de Vargas published a Rule and Constitution of the Third Order of Mercy in Palermo. In 1728, Benedict XIII granted Mercedarian tertiaries the same privileges as Franciscan tertiaries had at the time.
The purpose of the brothers of the Third Order, as well as the goal of the other fraternities, was their own sanctification, participation in the Order’s spiritual benefits and collaboration in redemptive work. Therefore, being enrolled in these fraternities in the Order meant being part of a school of perfection and moving toward sanctity. It is only when we keep this interior aspect of Mercedarian fraternities in mind that we can understand the flourishing of holy souls which history recorded among these faithful.
People united to the Order in this manner would wear Mary’s habit: a scapular which was blessed with a special formula. In addition to enrolled members, ordinary people also wore the Mercedarian scapular over their shoulders as a pledge of identification with Mary and of her motherly protection.
In this period, among the associates most distinguished by their sanctity, we must mention Blessed Mary Ann of Jesus. There were—and still are—noble, wise, holy associates who are very committed to the Mercedarian charism in Europe and in America.
The Feast of Mercy in the Church’s Calendar
Ever since the foundation of the Order of Mercy, the cult to Mary had deep roots and her feast was celebrated with fervor and filial love with the participation of the people of Barcelona. From the beginning, on the Sunday closest to August 1, date of Mary’s revelation to Saint Peter Nolasco, the liturgical feast was celebrated by praying the Office and by the Mass of Our Lady of the Snows (which was celebrated on August 5). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were two different dates for the feast of Mary of Mercy: September 8, made official at the 1599 Valladolid General Chapter, and September 24, since 1696. In many places, the September 8 feast was transferred to September 24 or both feastdays were kept. Before 1614, a text prepared by Father Francisco Andreu for the Mass and the Office of the Virgin of Mercy had been presented to the Holy See. In 1616, Paul granted the three proper lessons of the first nocturn of matins and the proper of the Mass was approved in 1685.
In 1680, Innocent XI extended this feast to all of Spain and its dominions. In 1690, the King of France, Louis XIV, requested the feast to be extended to his country, which was granted. In 1696, the feast of Our Lady of Mercy was definitively transferred to September 24 and with its proper Mass and Office, it was extended to the calendar of the universal Church. Most of the liturgical texts were taken from the Song of Solomon. The readings for the second nocturn were relatively historical and they narrated the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Peter Nolasco. The hymns were those of the Common of the Virgin Mary for the whole Church and proper to the Order as were the very expressive antiphons referring to captivity.
Liturgy and Saints of the Order
Initially, the liturgy of Mercedarian churches was the same as the liturgy of any church of the time except for Saturdays which were always especially Marian. Mercedarians did not have a uniform liturgy until 1327, when the Agramunt chapter ordered the adoption of the corrected Dominican breviary. The uniformity thus obtained was very relative until Master General Juan de Urgel had a breviary printed in Venice in 1503, according to the particular customs of the Order of Mercy. Thus, for over 250 years, the Order had its own liturgy for the celebration of the Mass and the Divine Office. In 1576, in honor of Holy Mother Church, the Saragossa Chapter General agreed to accept the Roman liturgy which had been reformed by Saint Pius V although the Order was allowed to keep its own liturgy because it had existed for over 200 years. But the differences were really minimal and the distinction was not worth it.
The main Mercedarian saints with immemorial custom were canonized during the eighteenth century. The Order was interested, above all, in its Founder Saint Peter Nolasco and in Saint Raymond Nonnatus. On September 30, 1628, Pope Urban VIII granted the Propers of the Mass and Office. On October 11, the confirmation brief was granted. The Order was overjoyed and at the beginning of 1629, solemn festivities took place in all the convents to celebrate the confirmation. These two feasts would be extended to the universal Church on June 12, 1664.
On June 4, 1670, immemorial custom was recognized for Saint Peter Paschasius. However, he was only included in the Roman Martyrology on September 8, 1675.
Immemorial custom for Saint Peter Armengol was approved on March 28, 1686. He was included in the Roman Martyrology on October 14, 1688.
Immemorial custom for Saint Mary Cervellon or the Helper was approved on February 13, 1692. Her memorial was introduced in the Martyrology in 1629. She had been invoked as the patroness of sailors for a long time.
Finally, the official approbation of immemorial custom for Saint Serapion occurred on April 14, 1728. Much later, on August 24, 1743, he was included in the Martyrology.
As a result of the first canonizations, it became necessary to publish a breviary of the Order according to the Roman liturgy and, for the first time, including the saints of the Order. By a provision of Master General Francisco Antonio de Issasi, this edition was completed in 1683. The first Missal with Propers of the Masses was published in 1694.
The 1692 Constitutions had special regulations for the liturgy in the convents and churches of the Order. On special feasts, the conventual Mass had to be sung and all friars had to attend. There were also prescriptions concerning the time when the seven hours of the Divine Office in common had to be recited according to the Roman breviary. They insisted on praying matins at midnight, a prescription which disappeared in the next legislation.
Renowned Sanctuaries and Images
This list should start with the Mercedarian Basilica of Barcelona and the first historical image of the Virgin of Mercy. Today they are no longer in Mercedarian hands.
The Province of Aragon heads the list: Santa María de El Puig (Valencia), Virgen de El Olivar (Teruel), Santa María de la Guardia dels Prats (Tarragona), Santa María de Sarrión (Teruel) and Santa María de Arguines (Segorbe). In Castile: Our Lady of Mercy of Jerez de la Frontera, patroness of the city. In Italy: Our Lady of Bonaria (Cagliari). In Mexico: Our Lady of Mercy of the Belén Church in the capital and the one in Guadalajara church. In Ecuador: Our Lady of Mercy (Quito), a very ancient stone sculpture venerated in the basilica. In Peru: Our Lady of Mercy (Lima), a beautiful and ancient image in whose honor the Lima Basilica and the sumptuous niche were built; the image of the Cuzco Basilica and of Our Lady of Counsel, venerated since the sixteenth century, in the Mercy Church of Arequipa. The image which is venerated in the Paita sanctuary is also famous. Chile: Our Lady of Mercy (Santiago), an image brought by Father Antonio Correa in 1548. Argentina: Our Lady of Mercy (Córdoba) and Our Lady of Mercy (Buenos Aires), venerated in the Basilica of Our Lady of Buenos Aires and commonly called Virgin General. Both wood carvings are very old.
The Constitutions speak lovingly of Mary. The Ritual organizes her feast and ceremonies.
In the evangelization of America, Mercedarian missionaries left Mary’s image and her name in numerous places of the New World. The center of popular piety and of apostolic life revolved around Mary, the best way to come to Christ the Redeemer.
Around 1536, the name Mercedes [Mercies] appeared for the first time in Peru as the plural form of this title and from there it spread everywhere. The significance of Mercy was expanding: the people made it a synonym of favor or grace and they invoked Mary with the expressive title of Virgin of Mercies.
In Europe and in America, the image of Mary of Mercy, in a variety of forms, inspired manufactured arts (sculpture, painting, illustrations). The legendary traditions of the Order started with Mary: Mary appearing to Saint Peter Nolasco to order him to found the Order; Mary protecting the captives and their redeemers under her mantle; Mary the Superior of the Choir who replaced absent friars in praying matins at midnight at the Barcelona convent and Mary blessing the rooms of the friars at night while they were resting.
Mercedarians have always been staunch defenders of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In prose and in verse, in writing and in person, our theologians, poets, playwrights and orators have sung the greatness of the one who called herself the servant of the Lord.
According to Father Linas’ Constitutions, no Mercedarian was admitted to the Order’s academic degrees or numbered among preachers of God’s Word, without having first sworn to “believe, support, defend, preach and teach the Immaculate Conception of Mary.”
It is interesting to observe that two Mercedarian prelates, Ambrosio Machín de Aquena, Archbishop of Cagliari, and Gaspar Prieto, Bishop of Alghero and Viceroy of Sardinia, proposed and promoted a public oath, issued on March 7, 1632, by virtue of which all Sardinian people represented in three orders, ecclesiastical, civil and military, pledged to “believe at all times and everywhere, to hold, teach and defend the natural and authentic conception of the most pure Virgin without original sin.” On that occasion, Archbishop Machín delivered an eloquent discourse in praise of the Immaculate Virgin who was declared Patroness of the city of Cagliari in 1667.
All this Mercedarian Marianism is concentrated in the maxim found in Father Linas’ Constitutions. According to it, religious are to find nothing pleasing without Mary and nothing displeasing with Mary: “Nihil sine Maria sapiat; nihil cum Maria displiceat.”