She was born sometime in 1230, some think around December 1, and was baptized on December 8* in Santa Maria del Mar parish in Barcelona. Her name was Mary de Cervellon, and she was the daughter of a Spanish nobleman, William de Cervellon.
As a young woman, Mary began working in Saint Eulalia Hospital tending to the sick, the poor and also those who were prisoners. One day she heard a sermon given by Bernard de Corbarie, who was the superior of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Ransom, also known as Mercedarians.
She was so moved by what she heard she vowed right then and there to do all she could to help alleviate the suffering and misery experienced by those who were prisoners of the Muslim Turks. Working at the hospital, Mary was able to come in contact with the great leaders of the Mercedarian order, including the order’s founder, St. Peter Nolasco.
Inspired by these pious people Mary, in the year, 1265, joined a small group of women who lived near the monastery. These ladies spent their lives in constant prayer and doing good works for those in need.
In due time the women asked for and received permission to form the Third Order of Our Lady of Ransom. In addition to the normal three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience they also vowed to pray for all Christian slaves. They were all given permission to wear the white habit of the Mercedarians and Sister Mary de Cervellon was elected their first Mother Superior. Sister Mary had such an empathy and devotion to the poor and needy that soon she began to be called Maria de Socros (Mary of Help).
Mary de Cervellon passed away on Septemeber 19, 1290. During Mary’s life and after her death, there were people who swore that they saw Mary literally on the “wings of the wind”, reaching down and saving floundering ships from rough seas so they might stay their course and continue on their journey to free Christian prisoners from the Muslims.
A great devotion grew in her honor and it was given approval by Pope Innocent XII in 1692. She is the Patroness of those shipwrecked and paintings of Mary show her with a ship cradled in her arms as she saves it from the roaring seas around it.
Mary de Cervellon’s body lies incorrupt to this very day in the Mercedarian Basilica in Barcelona, Spain.
The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, more commonly known as the Mercedarians, was founded in the year 1218 by St. Peter Nolasco. His purpose was the redemption of Christians captured and imprisoned by the Muslims. To become a Mercedarian requires an additional commitment on the part of those wanting to join the order. It is known as the “fourth ” vow.
In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Mercedarians also vow to willingly trade their life for another who is in danger of losing their faith. What follows is a brief visit into the life of one of the original Mercedarians, St. Raymond Nonnatus.
Raymond came into the world in the year 1204. His birth was anything but normal. His mother died while she was giving birth to her son. His father is credited with saving the baby’s life. I cannot imagine what this man was going through or the emotions that were flooding him. His wife had died before his eyes, yet he had the presence of mind to remove his unborn child from her womb with his own dagger.
He and his wife had agreed on naming the child, Raymond. This was done by the child’s dad. However, the last name of Nonnatus may seem a bit strange. That is because it is Latin and it means, “not born.” Raymond became known as the child who was “not born.”
Raymond’s father owned several farms, and he wanted Raymond to manage one of them. But Raymond was obviously drawn to religious life. He possessed a deep devotion to God and the Blessed Virgin. Nearby was the ancient chapel of St. Nicholas, and he would frequent there to pray and meditate. Eventually, his father realized that his son would not be a sheep-herder or farmer and gave in to the boy’s wishes to join the Mercedarians in Barcelona
Raymond’s life was now on track for him to fulfill his God-given destiny. Empowered by his father’s permission, Raymond told the Mercedarians that he had personally taken a vow of perpetual virginity and was determined to join the Mercedarian order. He was accepted and (this is not definite) it is said that St. Peter Nolasco, the founder of the Mercedarians, is the one who presented Raymond with the Order’s habit. The young man was probably ordained a priest in his early twenties although there is some uncertainty as to the exact date.
In 1224, Father (aka Friar) Raymond began his first redemption journey to Valencia which had been conquered by the Moors. Raymond Nonnatus managed to gain the freedom of 233 captive Christians. He was just beginning his work.
In 1226, he traveled to Algiers, in Northern Africa. Offering to remain behind as a replacement prisoner for the Moors, he managed to free another 140 captives. Three years later he went back to Algiers again. This time he was accompanied by his friend, Friar Serapion.
Friar Serapion, after having fought alongside Richard the Lion-Hearted during the Crusades, became a Mercedarian. He had decided he would rather surrender his life for captives rather than kill infidels. The two of them managed to free 150 captives from slavery on that journey. In 1232, Raymond and Serapion managed to free 228 captives from the prisons and dungeons of Tunis.
St. Raymond’s last redemption was in 1236. It was in Algiers again, and this visit is not known for the number of freed prisoners. Rather, it is known as the torture Raymond was forced to endure. Having exhausted all funds, Raymond stayed behind as a hostage. He spent his time in the dungeons preaching the message of Jesus and Christianity. This flew into the heart of the Muslim teachings, and his captors would have none of it.
Raymond was taken away, and they used a searing iron to bore holes through his upper and lower lips. Then they placed a padlock through the holes in an attempt to keep the suffering man quiet. The padlocks remained in place for eight months at which time ransom was received for Raymond’s release. He was returned to Spain in 1239.
Raymond Nonnatus died toward the end of August, 1240; the exact day is unknown. He was 36 years-old. Tradition has it that the town, the local count, and the friars all claimed his body. They resolved the dispute by placing Raymond’s body across the back of a blind mule. The mule was let loose and wherever it stopped would be Raymond’s burial place.
The mule ambled slowly to the chapel where Raymond Nonnatus had prayed so frequently as a teenager. That is where he was buried and many miracles at the site have been attributed to his intercession.
St. Raymond Nonnatus was canonized a saint by Pope Alexander VII in 1657. He is the patron saint of childbirth, children, and pregnant women. He is also patron for priest defending the seal of confession.
St. Raymond Nonnatus, please pray for us and all of the unborn.