Mercedarian Friars Spotlighted in Vintage 1951 Video

The 1950’s debuted rock and roll, pop art, and booming sales of television. That was part of the cultural scene in America. But what was going on in religious orders? And in Spain, especially with such men’s orders as the Mercedarian Friars?

The Spaniards endured a bitter civil war that lasted from 1936 to 1939. The official history of the Mercedarians, or Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, states that, “A collusion of liberals, socialists, Marxists and masons imposed the 1931 Constitution which was nothing less than a frontal attack against the Church and religious orders.”

In fact, 19 Mercedarian Friars who died during the war were named martyrs by the Vatican in 2011. The Nationalist force, however, led by General Francisco Franco, was eventually victorious, and now Christians were finally free to practice their faith.

Video Offers Glimpse

A black and white video – in Spanish naturally – that was filmed in 1951 by the Mercedarians has been made public by the Order recently. (See all of our videos on YouTube.) Although the clip sidesteps the recent civil strife — no doubt as to avoid bitter memories — it relates the noble calling of Mercedarian men that began centuries ago in this country.

With stirring music, it shows everyday community life: the celebration of the old Latin Mass, eager young friars studying subjects both ancient and new, chores, praying in choir, recreation, and the beautiful architecture of their monastery.

Mercedarian friars in class, from 1951 video
The video features Mercedarian seminarians in class.

The video discusses the Order’s foundation, the early martyrdom of its members, and life within their huge and ancient monastery. Only eleven minutes long, and clearly made to attract new vocations, it shows young men in clean white habits not only praying and studying, but sewing, reading the newspaper, playing handball against a wall, washing clothes in an outdoor cistern, and enjoying a lively game of ping pong.

“We don’t wash clothes in outdoor cisterns any more — at least in the U.S.,” joked Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M., vocation director of the U.S. province. “But the noble history of the Mercedarians, the devotion to communal prayer, and the spirit of fraternity among the friars is the same.”

At Work, Prayer, and Rest

In the video, two friars play chess while another, older friar is seen leaning back in his garden seat, apparently in quiet sleep with a prayer book in his lap. A group of friars say common prayers in an outdoor garden while one man reads the Hail, Holy Queen in Spanish. In another dramatic scene against the backdrop of the monastery’s tall arches and towers, hooded friars carry long, lit candles down a stairway and enter the chapel for a ceremony in which they receive a blessing from a priest shaking the aspergillum, a tool used to sprinkle holy water.

Mercedarian men singing the Salve
Mercedarian friars receive a blessing during the Saturday Salve.

The Saturday Mass and the Salve

This is the Saturday Mass of Saint Mary, along with the singing of the Salve in her honor, and it is a beautiful custom. It is a fact that in 1307, Galcerán de Miralles donated three pounds of wax to the church of Santa María de Bell-lloch so that, every Saturday, it would have lighted candles during the celebration of the Mass of the Virgin and the singing of the Salve.

“The friars in the video are taking part in one of the oldest rituals of our Order, ‘the Saturday Salve,’” Fr. Joseph said. “This beautiful rite, which we still do today, was started by our founder, St. Peter Nolasco to give honor to Mary on her day, Saturday. This immemorial Marian custom was also performed in thanksgiving when the redeemers returned with the redeemed Christian Captives.”

Mercedarian men singing with gusto
Singing with great gusto

At the end of the video, one priest walks down the hallway shaking the aspergillum, with holy water, at the doors as a good night blessing for the men.

Active in Four States

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is active in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and Ohio in the United States, with its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia. Active in twenty-two countries, it was founded in 1218 in Spain to support the work of ransoming Christian captives from the Saracens. The Mercedarians take a “Fourth Vow” — to give one’s life for someone in danger of losing their Christian faith.

Do you have a vocation as a Mercedarian friar? Read a letter from our vocation director, or visit our Mercedarian Facebook page. Contact Vocation Director Fr. Joseph Eddy, at

A Mercedarian from the United States joins friars from all over the World at the Vatican

Fr. Justin Freeman, O. de M. joined several Mercedarian friars from over the world at a continuing formation week in Rome. Here is an interview with Fr. Justin on his experience:


The Master General and the other friars stand inside Vatican square.

1) So, Fr Justin you are a Mercedarian Friar. Can you tell us about your apostolate in the Vicariate? How is this fulfilling your 4th vow?

I serve as Catholic chaplain of MetroHealth Medical Center, a large inner-city hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. MetroHealth is the “safety-net” hospital for Cuyahoga County, serving the needs of residents who otherwise lack access to healthcare. Serving as a chaplain in a healthcare setting allows me to live the fourth vow in a very concrete manner. Everyday I “visit” and seek to bring “redemption to those Christians who are in danger of losing their faith” because of their health problems.

2) What was the great experience that you have had over the past few weeks?

From 2 September to 22 September, I participated in the General Government’s Continuing Formation Course. The course was held at the Istituto Maria Santissima Bambina right across St. Peter’s Basilica. The course had 18 friars from about a dozen countries. Four language groups were represented.


After Mass, the friars pose for a picture in front of St. Peter Nolasco inside St. Peter’s Basilica

3) What sort of programs/experiences did you have during your time in Rome?

I and the other friars explored Rome during our free time. We saw the sights of Rome. After the course was over, an Indian friar and I went to the Order’s famous shrine on the island of Sardinia–Our Lady of Bonaria. We got to witness the universality of the Church by attending a Papal Audience. After the Papal Audience, people from around the world approached us to have their pictures taken with us.

HABEMUS PROVINCIALUM (We have a Provincial!!)

June 8, 2012: Today we prayed and then elected a new provincial and council for the next 3 years.

The morning was dedicated to reflection and prayer, with the help of the meditation given by Fr. Ugo Mesini, SJ. The Mass of the Holy Spirit was concelebrated in the shrine of the Crucifix at 12pm.

Here Fr Franco plays the organ, but he will not have much time for this the next 3 years.

In the afternoon, beginning with the ritual prayer, we began the process of voting for the Provincial and his counselors among the candidates that resulted from the ballots opened the previous evening.

Fr. Francesco Podda was elected and he accepted and was confirmed by Father General.

After making his profession of faith he received the congratulations of the capitulars.

Fr. General then gave the capitulars an hour pause to rest and reflect before the election of the counselors.

At 5:45, with the reading and approval of the minutes of the previous day, we continued with the election of the Provincial Counselors. The vote resulted with the following being elected.

Fr. Eugenio Caramia
Fr. Nunzio Masiello
Fr. Efisio Schirru
Fr. Giuseppe Celano
We concluded with the ritual prayers and promises in the shrine.

Thanks you for your prayers. Continue to pray. The work of the chapter has not ended, and the work of the triennium has yet to begin.

The Capitular Fathers Discuss the 800th Centennial of the Order

June 7th
Thursday of the 9th Week of Ordinary Time
Intention: Vocations and Formation of Vocations

Our day began with Office of Readings, Lauds, and Mediation.
After breakfast, we reconvened in assembly with the ritual prayers to the Holy Spirit. After a few words about contemporary captivity from a special guest we had the reading and subsequent approval of the minutes from the previous day.

Fr Ken spent 13 years in the Mission in India helping to form new friars.

Since one group needed one half hour to finish their group work, the rest of the assembly enjoyed an unexpected break.
After we reassemble, the daily well wishes from around the world were read, and we proceeded with the brief reports of the secretaries of the small group work.

Following important dialogue on various issues, the assembly discussed and voted upon a proposal regarding the erection of a third community in India and the project proposal for the Mission in India.

The hard work of the previous days blessed us with the benefit of finishing the morning session early (after a prayer to the Blessed Mother), giving us a well-deserved hour of fraternity and relaxation.
At dinner (pranzo), we celebrated the official birthday of Fr. Francis Davidraja.

The afternoon session began with a prayer, followed by the various greetings we received, and the continuation of discussion of various issues and proposals. We then discussed the initiatives for the celebration of the 8th Centennial on the Provincial Level.

Finishing the afternoon session with the ritual prayers, we concelebrated the Mass of Corpus Christi at the parish in Nemi followed by a Eucharistic Procession to our shrine. After a late supper (cena), we reconvened for the opening of the ballots. The day ended at 11:55pm.

Tomorrow is a day of recollection and prayer as we prepare for the election of our government for this triennium.

May our Father and Founder St. Peter Nolasco and the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy present your prayers for us to Father, through Christ our Lord, that we may discern the movements of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. Truly your prayers are sustaining us through this process. Thank you.

Small Groups Discuss the Most Important Aspects of our Communal Life

June 6, 2012
Wednesday of the 9th Week of Ordinary Time

Day 5 – Intention: The deceased of the triennium

After praying the Office of Readings, Lauds, and meditation, and after eating breakfast, we began the work of chapter at 8:45am.
After the ritual prayers to the Holy Spirit, the day began with the approval of the minutes from the previous day and the reading of several greetings and well wishes. We also acknowledged the birthday of Fr. Aurelio Monasso, who is with us at chapter.

The Captiulars meet several times a day to discuss various aspects of the Province.

We then continued the small group discussion begun on the previous day. The fruit of the group discussion was then presented to the entire assembly for further discussion and clarification. The group leaders and the secretary would then meet to consolidate the points discussed in the assembly. We ended the morning session with a prayer to prepare for dinner and the afternoon pause.

The afternoon session began, as always, with the prayers to the Holy Spirit, followed by various greetings sent to the chapter. We then continued work within the chapter assembly, later splitting into another phase of the group discussion. The group discussions convene late in the afternoon as we prepared for Vespers and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Tomorrow we should complete this phase of the chapter, moving into the election phase of the chapter.

May the intercession of our Mother of Mercy, and reception the Body and Blood of Christ, keep us all united in mind and spirit. God Bless.

The Province Begins to Work on Goals for the Next 3 Years

June 5, 2012 (Tuesday)
Memorial of St. Boniface. Bishop and Martyr

Day 4 – Intention: For the oppressed and the persecuted
After praying the Office of Readings, Lauds, and meditation, and after eating breakfast, we began the work of chapter at 8:45am.
After the ritual prayers to the Holy Spirit, the day began with the reading of several greetings and well wishes were communicated to the Chapter, followed by the approval of the minutes from the previous day.

Fr. Eugene, Fr Tim, and Fr Richard chat inbetween meetigns.

We then continued with the final to relations:
• India, Munnar – Fr. Peter Tajish Katancherry
• India, report of the representative of the non-capitulars – Fr. Francis Davidraja

Following the reports there was a period of questions, clarifications, and discussion. We then split into groups according to country to discuss several reflection questions proposed by the president of the chapter. After returning to discuss the results of the discussion groups, we then presented the instrumentum laboris, and split into groups comprised of members of each country in order to begin the work of editing the program for the triennium.

We ended the day’s work with the ritual prayers, then gathering for Vespers and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Once again, thank you for your prayers. May God continue bless you and bless all of us through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.

Day 3 of the Provincial Chapter

Day 3 of the Provincial Chapter we continued to discuss the individual communities and how each can continue to grow in the Mercedarian Spirit of redemption. – Intention: Apostolic Works and Mission in India

Fr Tony does the translation from English to Italian and Italian to English

After praying the Office of Readings, Lauds, and meditation, and after eating breakfast, we began the work of chapter at 8:45am fifteen minutes earlier than originally planned.
After the ritual prayers, the day began with the reading of several greetings and well wishes that were communicated to the Chapter, followed by the approval of the minutes from the previous day.

The reading of the reports from the communities continued with the following, in this order:
• Roma, Santa Maria dell Mercede – Fr. Giuseppe Celano
• Roma, Studentato – Fr. Ettore Ricci
• San Cataldo – Fr. Enrico Schirru
• San Vito dei Normanni – Fr. Giovannino Fabiano
• Italy, report of the representative of the non-capitulars – Fr. Samuele Salis

After a pause for questions and clarifications, the relations continued with the United States:
• Cleveland, Saint Rocco – read by Fr. Richard Rasch
• Cleveland, Mount Carmel – Fr. Anthony Fortunato
• Le Roy (Mercygrove and 2 parishes)– Fr. Timothy Brady
o Novitiate – Fr. Eugene Costa
• Philadelphia, Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy (Student House) – Fr. Matthew Phelan
o Vocation Office and Postulancy – Fr. Joseph Eddy

After the pause for pranzo, and the afternoon break, we reconvened at 4pm.

After the reading of several greetings from provinces and lay fraternities, the reports continued:
• Philadelphia, Our Lady of Lourdes, Casa Massabielle – Fr. James Mayer
• Saint Petersburg – Fr. Kenneth Breen
• United States, report of the representative of the non-capitulars – Br. James Chia

This was followed by questions and clarifications, a short break, and a continuing of the reports from India.
• Edacochin (Student House)– Fr. Vincenzo Pennella
• Novitiate (Edacochin) – Fr. Peter Tajish Katancherry
• Elantikara and Postulancy– Fr. Jaison Valiaparambil
o Patlur – Fr. Vincenzo Pennella
o Jeevadhara – Fr. Francis Davidraja
• India, report of the representative of the non-capitulars –Fr. Francis Davidraja

This ended the day’s work as we convened with the ritual prayers and prepared for Vespers and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, may we continue to be united in the Body of Christ. Thank you for your prayers.

Day 2 of the Provinical Chapter

Day 2 of the Provinical Chapter in Nemi, Italy. The Province begins going through a discussion of each house – Intention: Superiors of the Order of the Mercedarian Family

The Americans chatting about "things and things"

We proceeded with the reports of the United States, India, and the provincial economy, followed by questions from the floor. Running ahead of schedule, we then continued with the other reports, with periodic pauses and breaks for meals and prayer. The reports given, but not necessarily in this order, were:
• Alghero – Fr. Eugenio Caramia
• Vocational promotion in Italy – Fr. Nunzio Masiello
• Calgliari – Salvatore Mura
• Carpignano – Fr. Nicola Di Rienzo
• Florence – Fr. Dino Lai
• Naples – Fr. Tonino Miliddi
• Nemi – Fr. Nicola Bocuzzo
• Orvieto – Fr. Antonio Lattarulo
• Padua – Fr. Eraclio Contu
• Palermo – Fr. Aurelio Monasso
After each four to five reports, there were opportunities to ask questions or request clarifications on the reports.
We then ended the day of work with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass followed by supper.
N.B. – If anyone wishes to send a formal message to the Chapter, please send messages to the following email address:

Again, we thank you for your prayerful support.

More to come in the following days…

Holy Week at the Order’s Basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Bonaria

In this installment of “A Mercedarian Journel From Rome” Deacon Scottston tells us of his experience of spending Holy Week in the Order’s famous Shrine to Our Lady of Bonaria.

Holy Thursday

Just a quick update from the Eternal City. Today we returned to class after our Easter break… and I can honestly say I was not ready to go back, but we do what we must.

As for Holy Week, I spent it in Sardinia at our Shrine of Bonaria (which as you remember we have had since 1334). Every Mass was full – standing room only – but it was a wonderful experience spending the Triduum with our community there.

Palm Sunday had a beautiful procession, and the youth performed a Passion play that was very well orchestrated.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday were spent with Archbishop Pier Giuliano Tiddia of Oristano…as well as the Vigil. I must admit, the most moving celebration was Holy Thursday… and nothing quite compares to sitting there in layers of antiquated grandeur (gold thread is heavy btw), with the central doors of the basilica open…. overlooking a sea of faces….and watching the ships move through the harbor as they enter the Mediterranean….all while listening to ancient Latin hymns sung in a most excellent fashion by a talented choir……… definitely makes a ceremony seem like a dream……

Veneration of the Cross

Good Friday was enveloped in clouds – a fitting ambiance – and the ceremony was particularly moving given that the Cross used for the veneration was practically life sized, and the Corpus was (in that lighting) rather authentic looking. An interesting tradition here is the presentation of Our Lady of Sorrows to the Crucified Christ after the veneration by the people.

The Vigil went well as did the celebrations for Easter Sunday. After the morning Masses, there was another “meeting” of the Blessed Mother, but this time with the Risen Christ that was VERY well attended.

Before returning to Rome I accompanied the Provincial to visit our community in Alghero. I was there two days before returning to Cagliari, and the next day returned to Rome. The day after my arrival I attended the Priestly Ordination of a Jesuit classmate at the Church of the Gesu, and afterwards was taken to the rooms used by St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) and ultimately where he died. After a day of “rest” (Sunday), we returned to classes.

The Risen Lord meets Our Lady

All of those were great experiences, even if they left me tired before returning to class. I am truly thankful for the graces of this Easter Season, and I pray you are experiencing the same.

I’ll be in touch. -Deacon Scottston-


Santuario Nostra Signora di Bonaria

The Latest News from Our Friar Studying in the Eternal City

Deacon Scott Brentwood, O. de M. is an American Mercedarian Friar studying Canon Law in Rome. Over the past 3 years, he has been giving our readers updates on his experiences as a religious preparing to become a Canon Lawyer. Here’s his latest ponderings from his second semester at the Gregorian:

Deacon Scottston (middle) at his Ordination.

Just a quick update to let everyone know how things are going here in the Eternal City.

I trust all is well back in the United States; here things are rather quiet.

We began our second semester at the Gregorian in mid February, and I must admit that this semester is rather challenging – Temporal Goods of the Church, Processes (inner workings of the various tribunals, but specifically tribunals for nullity cases), the Relationship between Religious Professions and the State, Penal Law, a Praxis in Penal Law, a Praxis in Rotal Matrimonial Jurisprudence, and Canonical Latin. I also have a seminar on the Apostolate of Institutes of Consecrated Life in the Local Church that requires a 20 min presentation based on a text I have to write. Most of these are interesting, but it is a rather heavy load,especially given that everything is done in Latin (primarily) and Italian. Fiat voluntas tua.

Aside from school, there is very little going on – I have 4-6 hours of class every day, and with 1.5 hrs total spent on the METRO (subway) going to and from class, there is little time to do much else. I still find myself in various places throughout the city…churches mostly… or an obscure museum… but the majority of my time (lately) is spent with books, or with translating etc. in preparation for the Chapter.

A classroom at the Gregorian where Deacon Scott studies.

I have been spending more time with our friars in the Generalate, and last week I was invited by the General for lunch. After a nice meal we spent the next few hours chatting about various things, and as he too had studied Canon Law, we discussed briefly what was going on with the revisions for the New Constitutions. From a juridical point of view, this really is an exciting time for the community… as we prepare for the eighth version of the Constitutions of the Order.

Aside from that, as I said before, all is quiet. I hope everyone is well, and I will be in touch soon.

In Our Lady of Mercy and St. Peter Nolasco,

-Deacon Scottston O. de M.-

The Order’s Mission in India Continues to Grow as New Houses Open.

Fr. Ken Breen, O. de M. and Fr Vincent Pinella, O. de M. worked together for 13 years to establish a formation house in India. There efforts have born great fruit as over 30 friars have completed formation and been ordained priests. Here is a letter from Fr Vincent telling of the joyful news of a new house and apostolate for the Mercedarian Friars in India:

Dear Fr. Ken,

Fr. Ken when he was in India.

Sorry if it has been a long time since I send you an e-mail. But I was thinking to write you in these coming days in order to let you know about the new house which we have opened in Tamil Nadu. Last Friday, February 3rd, Fr. Cyril, Fr. Antony, and Bro. Victor took charge of the substation of Patlur in the Salem Diocese. There are 60 Christian families of good tradition living there. Another substation with 30 families, has been entrusted to our religious as well. It is 3 Kilometers from Patlur. Fr. Jaison, Fr. Siju and myself have accompanied our brothers as they went to their new assignments. The bishop couldn’t come, because he was participating to the Conference of Indian Bishops in Bangalore. It was the first Friday of the month so, more or less, all the priests were busy with functions in their churches. Only Fr. Francis, Vicar Forane, and Fr. Michael (a parish priest where the substation is located) were present. Fr. Antony celebrated mass in Tiruchengode in order to allow Fr. Francis to accompany us to the new substation.

Everything was simple and good. At 6.30 p.m., we celebrated mass followed by a small reception and supper with porrotas and vegetable curry. In this place, there is a round new beautiful chapel and the old chapel in good condition where the religious will stay as accommodation. Two small bathrooms are here and nearly 3 cents of land. It is located not so far from the river Cauvery, therefore, they have good water.

In these months till the Provincial Chapter they will work in that area, looking also for a future land and to discern if it will be the proper place or we will go to another substation suggested by the bishop. This decision will be by the new government after the  Provincial Chapter. The bishop assured us that, after making the final decision, he can erect the substation as a parish. It seems that the three religious are happy.

Several of the young Indian friars.

Please send this report to the other community of USA, because I will send to Fr. Provincial the same in Italian to be sent to the Italian community. About the emblems, we need a good number (at least 100) of metal. If you arrange those in cloth is also good.

Greetings to everybody. In Christ,

Fr. Vincent

Also see “Amazing India”

Our Lady’s Coat of Arms Stands With the Rescue of Captives

This article is about the Order of Mercy, by Barbara E. Stevens. It has been subtitled, “The swashbuckling history of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Ransom of Captives.” Despite some inaccuracies, it gives a fair account of the Order’s history.

Virgen Merced

The Mother of God graces America’s Hispanic Southwest in a multitude of glorious guises. While Our Lady of Guadalupe is certainly la favorita, countless other images color Marian devotions in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, and their heritage stems from medieval Spain.

But among all the Old World Madonnas revered, only one counts among her accessories a royal coat of arms. La Merced, or “Our Lady of Mercy,” emerges from the storybook era of Marco Polo and Don Quixote, and her 13th century history rivals Hollywood for intrigue, romance and adventure.

In the 1200s, the Moors were very efficiently rampaging through Spain. As they advanced, the Spanish were simultaneously penetrating Arab territories, bent upon converting “infidels” to Christianity and defending Crusader strongholds in the Holy Land.

At home and abroad, then, from the early 13th century until near the close of the 18th century, the Spanish faced capture and imprisonment. If they refused to renounce their Christianity, they were almost certainly marked for torture and death.

While some Spanish religious orders of a military nature (peculiar to that time and place) were dedicated to nursing and giving comfort to the captives, a totally unique and dramatic approach to their relief was effected by the Virgin Mary.

In a vision to a young nobleman, Mary urged the formation of a military fraternity that would rescue prisoners by means of ransom.

Military orders

St. Peter Nolasco (c. 1189-1258) was born in France, educated in Spain and, through the fortunes of war, was eventually appointed tutor to King James of Aragon. From childhood, he had exhibited a unique spirituality and disregard for the luxurious environment to which he was born.

He habitually gave lavishly to the poor, and fashioned for himself a very austere and prayerful lifestyle. His vision of the Blessed Mother in 1218 not only catapulted him into the unlikely role of sword-bearing leader, but it would also touch the lives and times of future centuries of Spanish-speaking peoples—wherever they were destined to plant and preserve the faith.

After securing the required sanction of King James of Aragon, Nolasco initiated the military Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Ransom of Captives (O de M.) in 1218.

The order originally attracted young noblemen whose heritage equipped them to practically address the matter of ransom. They were known as “knights,” and it was only later that clergy were represented in the ranks.

Although he was the first commander general of the order, Nolasco was not himself a priest, nor did he ever become one. It was 100 years until a papal order required that at least the leader of the community must have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The founder required of himself and his followers a special vow in addition to the usual three—to devote their “whole substance and very liberty to the ransoming of slaves,” even to the point of acting as hostages in order to free others.

70,000 Rescues

According to records, the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Ransom of Captives accomplished approximately 70,000 rescues—some 2,700 during the founder’s lifetime.

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

Shield of Mercy

The Maltese Cross is its most striking component—a unique cruciform that commemorates Malta’s steadfast defense against the Turks.

Papally confirmed in 1235, the fraternity became popularly known as the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, or the Mercedarians. It rapidly spread throughout Western Europe, and some of its friars eventually sailed with Columbus to America.

Those who later accompanied the conquistadors’ relentless march through the New World and New Spain were extremely vigorous in the conversion of indigenous peoples.

Almost 300 monasteries and convents were rapidly established in Latin America, and all required appropriate decoration. La Merced therefore became a very popular subject of Spanish colonial paintings.

Our Lady of Mercy is frequently portrayed in a queenly stance, extending a generous mantle to either side. Huddled beneath its protection is a group of the faithful.

Begging for Mary’s Intercession

Virgen Merced, with captives begging Mary's intercession.
Virgen Merced, from the Museum of Bellas Artes, Valencia.

There is a less common La Merced. The Madonna format is embellished with a base of supplicants—captives begging Mary’s intercession. This glowing rendition, by Manuel de Samaniego (1767- 1824), can be admired today in a historic Mercedarian church in Quito, Ecuador.

The ethereal luminance of the background smacks of the influence of the Spanish painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-82), whose popular Marian prints were provided as models to Indian and mestizo artists.

The bold colors and lavish embellishment with gilt brocade are characteristic of the paintings accomplished in the great colonial art centers of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

However varied her portrayals may be, La Merced is immediately recognizable. Without exception, on her breast and often repeated on the scapular extended from her hand, is the distinctive royal signature of the Mercedarian order: the splendid arms of the King of Aragon.

What an incredible journey in time and place from medieval Spain and Africa to the missions of the New World and New Spain, and hence to the American Southwest, where Our Lady for the Ransom of Captives continues to respond to prayers murmured in “the language of the angels.”

Modernized mission

Mercedarians evangelizing the New World.

The Mercedarians remain an active order, principally in Spain and Latin America. Lacking a military mission, they have long since turned to education and social causes.

Only a bit of chain attached to the belt remains as a reminder of its ancient accommodation of swords, but the order persists in its original concern for captives: they are often prison chaplains.

Nolasco died in 1258, after a lifetime dedicated not only to the rescue of Spanish captives, but to the simultaneous and massive conversion of Moors to Christianity. Countless miracles are attributed to his relics, and he was canonized in 1628.

St. Peter Nolasco, who obviously relished a military ambiance, must be delighted with the reputation and honors that his Lady of Mercy has acquired—especially in Peru. In 1615, she was credited with saving Lima from an invasion by Dutch pirate ships.

Not surprisingly, she became patron of the country. General San Martin, Latin America’s great revolutionary leader and liberator of Peru, promoted her to Marshal of the Peruvian Army in 1823.

Among Lima’s magnificent Spanish colonial churches is La Merced, a Baroque extravagance fitted with exquisite silver altars, bejewelled gold appointments and wall and ceiling carvings of lacelike delicacy.

In 1921, its ancient Spanish statue of Our Lady of Mercy was formally crowned in an elaborate ceremony. On Sept. 24, the anniversary of that coronation, the president of Peru and top officials of all the armed forces stand tall before Our Lady for the Ransom of Captives.

The dignitaries wear full military regalia, which in Latin American nations are extraordinarily “spiffy.” It isn’t difficult to imagine the figure of St. Nolasco there among them—sword at his side, proudly displaying on his white habit the ancient arms of the king of Aragon, respectfully waiting for his Lady to address her commander general.

Stevens writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. This article was taken from the December 15, 1996 issue of Our Sunday Visitor. To subscribe, write Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, In 46750.

Our Sunday Visitor is published weekly.

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN Online Services.

Provided courtesy of: Eternal Word Television Network PO Box 3610 Manassas, VA 22110 Voice: 703-791-2576 Fax: 703-791-4250 Web. Read original article.