Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy

Last updated
Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives
Ordo Beatae Mariae de Mercede redemptionis captivorum
Coat of Arms of the Mercedarians.svg
AbbreviationO.de M.
Type Catholic religious order
Headquarters Rome, Italy
Master General
Juan Carlos Saavedra Lucho (2016 - ) [1]
Key people
Peter Nolasco, founder
Website Mercedarian Friars, 2
Our Lady of Mercy - From the Generalate of the Mercedarian Order Virgin of Mercy.JPG
Our Lady of Mercy - From the Generalate of the Mercedarian Order

The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives (Latin : Ordo Beatae Mariae de Mercede Redemptionis Captivorum, abbreviated O. de M.), also known as the Mercedarians, is a Catholic mendicant order established in 1218 by Peter Nolasco in the city of Barcelona, at that time in the Crown of Aragon, for the redemption of Christian captives. [2] [3] Its members are most commonly known as Mercedarian friars or nuns. One of the distinguishing marks of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is that, since its foundation, its members are required to take a fourth vow: to die, if necessary, for another who is in danger of losing their faith. The Order exists today in 17 countries.


General background

Between the eighth and the fifteenth centuries, medieval Europe was in a state of intermittent warfare between the Christian kingdoms of southern Europe and the Muslim polities of North Africa, Southern France, Sicily and Moorish portions of Spain. According to James W. Brodman, the threat of capture, whether by pirates or coastal raiders, or during one of the region's intermittent wars, was a continuous threat to residents of Catalonia, Languedoc and the other coastal provinces of medieval Christian Europe. [4] Raids by militias, bands and armies from both sides were an almost annual occurrence. [5]

For over 600 years, these constant armed confrontations produced numerous war prisoners on both sides. Islam's captives were reduced to the state of slaves since they were considered war booty. In the lands of Visigothic Spain, both Christian and Muslim societies had become accustomed to the buying and selling of captives, so much so that tenth-century Andalusian merchants formed caravans to purchase slaves in Eastern Europe. In the thirteenth century, in addition to spices, slaves constituted one of the goods of the flourishing trade between Christian and Muslim ports. [6]

Starting before the First Crusade, many hospices and hospitals were organized by the chapters of cathedrals or by the monastic orders. Within the communal organizations of towns, local charitable institutions such as almshouses were established by confraternities or guilds, or by successful individual laymen concerned with the welfare of their souls.[ citation needed ]

Broader-based and aristocratically-funded charitable institutions were more prominent, and the episodes of aristocratic and even royal ransom and its conditions, were the subject of chronicle and romance. The knights of the original Order of St Johnthe Knights Hospitaller and the Templars in their origins are well known, and the impact of their organized charity upon the religious values of the High Middle Ages.[ citation needed ]

Peter Nolasco (1189-1256) San Pedro Nolasco, por Jusepe Martinez.jpg
Peter Nolasco (1189-1256)

Peter Nolasco

Sources for the origins of the Mercedarians are scant and almost nothing is known of the founder, Peter Nolasco. A narrative developed between the 15th and early 17th centuries that culminated in Nolasco's canonization as a saint in 1628.[ citation needed ]

All the biographers agree that, at some point in his youth, Nolasco became concerned with the plight of Christians captured in Moorish raids and that he decided to establish a religious order to succor these unfortunates. [4] Nolasco began ransoming Christian captives in 1203. After fifteen years of work, he and his friends saw that the number of captives was growing day by day. His plan was to establish a well-structured and stable redemptive religious order under the patronage of Blessed Mary. [7]

Foundation of the Order

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (or the Order of Merced, O.Merc., Mercedarians, the Order of Captives, or the Order of Our Lady of Ransom) was one of many dozens of associations that sprang up in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries as institutions of charitable works. The work of the Mercedarians was in ransoming impoverished captive Christians (slaves) held in Muslim hands, especially along the frontier that the Crown of Aragon shared with al-Andalus (Muslim Spain).

The Order of Mercy, an early 13th century popular movement of personal piety organized at first by Nolasco, was concerned with ransoming the ordinary men who had not the means to negotiate their own ransom, the "poor of Christ."

Hagiographical origins

From the year 1192 certain noblemen of Barcelona had formed a confraternity for the purpose of caring for the sick in hospitals, and also for rescuing Christian captives from the Moors. [8] Tradition has it that around 1218, Nolasco and King James I of Aragon experienced separately a vision of the Virgin Mary, who asked them to found a religious order dedicated to rescuing the many Christian captives held by the Muslims. [9] Nolasco's confessor, Raymond of Penyafort, a Dominican friar and former canon of Barcelona, encouraged and assisted him in this project; and King James also extended his protection. [8]

On August 10, 1218, [6] the new religious order for the Redemption of Captives was officially constituted at the main altar erected over Eulalia of Barcelona's tomb in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross (also known as the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia) in Barcelona. Bishop Berenguer de Palou gave Nolasco and his companions the white religious habit that they would wear as characteristic of the Order; he put them under the Rule of Saint Augustine [8] as a norm for their life in common and he gave his authorization for the sign of his cathedral, the Holy Cross, to be on the habit of the Order. After that, Nolasco and the first Mercedarians made their religious profession there before the bishop. Their headquarters was the Monastery of St. Eulalia of Barcelona, which served as the first Mercedarian convent and as a house of welcome for redeemed captives. [8]

Documentary records

Reconstructing the Order's beginnings from the documentary record produces a far less detailed story. In this, the year 1218 plays no role. The founder first appears ca. 1226 as a collector of alms in Perpignan. By 1230 he was collecting alms for captives in Barcelona as the head of a small lay confraternity. On August 12, 1230, Maimó Gombal, a resident of Barcelona and a man of some property, directed in his will that 100 Papal States scudi be handed over to Nolasco for the ransoming of captives. The bequest was not unusual, either in amount or intent, for Catalans of this era frequently included this pious good work in their testaments. What sets this particular bequest apart is that it contains the first notice of the redeeming work of Nolasco. Nothing is known about him before his appearance in Maimó's will and only very little afterwards. [4]

During the next six years, the confraternity slowly evolves into a religious order, as members obtain properties in Catalonia. While Nolasco, by all accounts, first established his movement at Barcelona and then on Mallorca, its first acquisitions of note were in the Kingdom of Valencia. Here special circumstances associated with the frontier —an abundance of new land awaiting Christian settlement and an arena for the practice of charitable ransoming— created an ideal environment for the new Order. Consequently, the preponderance of what Mercedarians came to possess here were lands donated by the king, successful crusaders and other patrons. [4]

La Merce basilica in Barcelona where the Mercedarian mother church, current building built between 1765 and 1775. BarcelonaMerce 9263.jpg
La Mercè basilica in Barcelona where the Mercedarian mother church, current building built between 1765 and 1775.

In 1236, Pope Gregory IX granted the Mercedarians formal recognition as a religious order under the old Rule of St. Augustine. The small order gained additional members, property and support in the 1250s and 1260s. While evidence is scant, one has to assume that this support came in recognition of the Order's work in ransoming captives in a war zone that remained quite active. The growing pains, however, also caused institutional turmoil, whose outlines can only be glimpsed. The visible result was a reorganization in 1272 by a new master, Pere d'Amer.

James I, whose descendants claimed him to be the Mercedarian founder, had in fact no documented contact with the Order until the late 1230s and early 1240s, at which time he granted formerly Muslim lands in Valencia, especially the Shrine of Santa Maria del Puig, patron saint of the kingdom. It was not until the 1250s that royal patronage becomes evident, when the king granted the Order his guidaticum (a form of diplomatic protection), economic privileges that promoted gifts to the Order, and, at least temporarily, the important shrine of St. Vincent in the City of Valencia. Claims by King James II and Peter IV of a royal foundation of the Order reflected not real history but their own designs upon the Order's financial resources and personnel.

Constitutions of the Mercedarian Order

Convento de la Merced, founded in 1607, is a Merecedarian convent, which now serves as a church, in the small town of Valdunquillo, in northern Castile. Iglesia de Valdunquillo.jpg
Convento de la Merced, founded in 1607, is a Merecedarian convent, which now serves as a church, in the small town of Valdunquillo, in northern Castile.

In the preface of the first Constitutions of the Mercedarian Order of 1272, three key elements referring to the foundation stand out: the name, the founder and the purpose of the Order.

The name with which the Order founded by Nolasco is identified, is mentioned first. Prior to the 1272 Constitutions, the Order had several names among which: Order of Saint Eulalia, Order of the Mercy of Captives, Order of the Redemption of Captives, Order of Mercy. Those of 1272 established a dual patronage: The Order of the Virgin Mary of the Ransom of Captives of St. Eulalia of Barcelona. But the proper and definitive title is: Order of the Virgin Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives. This name, however, does not come into general use until the 1290s and is not codified until the Albertine Constitutions of 1327.

The 1272 Constitutions, further, establish Nolasco as the Order's founder:he has been constituted "servant, messenger, founder and promoter" of the new Institute. Peter Nolasco is the real founder of the Order or the "Procurator of the alms of captives" as defined on March 28, 1219, by the first document referring to him.

Basilica of La Merced in Cusco, Peru, built between 1651 and 1696. Cusco - panoramio (9).jpg
Basilica of La Merced in Cusco, Peru, built between 1651 and 1696.

Finally, it is clearly specified that the purpose of the Order is "to visit and to free Christians who are in captivity and in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law… By this work of mercy… all the brothers of this Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up his for us."


In the 15th century, a movement grew up among the monasteries of the Order seeking a stricter lifestyle, keeping more exactly the Rule of St. Augustine under which the friars live. This spread and gained approval by the Master General of the Order. As a result of the Counter-Reformation, spurred by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), this goal was revived and further developed by Friar John Baptist of the Blessed Sacrament (Spanish : Juan Bautista del Santísimo Sacramento).[ citation needed ]

A small community of friars were allowed to open their own monastery under the leadership of Friar John Baptist in 1603. Adopting a simpler form of life and of their religious habit and wearing only sandals, they became known as the Mercedarian Recollects, later as Discalced Mercedarians. They were approved as a semi-autonomous branch of Order by Pope Gregory XV in 1621. [11] They eventually separated and became a fully independent Order.[ citation needed ]

The fourth vow

Some orders and congregations add particular vows, besides the three vows of religion.

These additional vows are part of the nature of the profession of each order and are permitted by the church. They can be solemn or simple, perpetual or temporary. The Fourth Vow of the Order of Mercy is a Solemn Vow. In accordance with the general principle of a vow, it is an act of the will and an authentic promise, in which the reason for the vow is perfection. It also presupposes a sincere will of obligation in conscience and by virtue of the community.

Fourth vow in the various constitutions

Church of Our Lady of Ransom, Eastbourne, East Sussex Church of Our Lady of Ransom, Eastbourne (IoE Code 471324).jpg
Church of Our Lady of Ransom, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Our Lady of Ransom

Eventually a feast day was instituted and observed on September 24, first in the religious order, then in Spain and France, and on February 22, 1696 Pope Innocent XII extended it to the entire church. The Mercedarians keep this day as a first class feast, with a vigil, privileged Octave and Proper Office under the title: Solemnitas Descensionis B. Mariæ V. de Mercede. [12]


Our Lady of Ransom is the principal patron of Barcelona; the proper Office was extended to Barcelona (1868) and to all Spain (second class, 1883). Sicily took up the old date of the feast (Sunday nearest to August 1) by permission of the Roman Congregation of Rites of August 31, 1805.

In England, Our Lady of Ransom is also venerated as “Our Lady of the Dowry” in the context of a revival of devotion to her “to obtain the rescue of England as Our Lady's Dowry”, [13] i.e., to reverse England's formal separation from the Roman Catholic Church and restore papal supremacy.

In the Philippines, particularly Barangay Mercedes, Catbalogan City, Roman Catholics have been devoted to Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes as their principal patroness, often invoked for protection against Moro raiders.

See also

Related Research Articles

Trinitarians Catholic religious order

The Trinitarians, formally known as the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives, is a mendicant order of the Catholic Church for men founded in Cerfroid, outside Paris, in the late 12th century. From the very outset, a special dedication to the mystery of the Holy Trinity has been a constitutive element of the order's life.

Jacaltenango Municipality in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Jacaltenango is a town and municipality situated in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It is located in a valley surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains. Jacaltenango serves as the municipal seat for the surrounding municipality of the same name. In 2002, its urban population was about 23,500 but at the 2018 census the town's population has decreased to 22,533.

San Pedro Soloma Municipality in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

San Pedro Soloma also Tzu'luma in Qʼanjobʼal language is a town and municipality of Huehuetenango, a department of Guatemala. It is located in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes at 2,300 m above sea level. The municipality covers a total area of 264 km2 with elevations ranging from 1,900 m to 3,500 m. Its population of 49,030 is spread over the town of Soloma, 19 villages and 50 smaller rural communities (caserios).

San Juan Ostuncalco Municipality and town in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Ostuncalco, full name San Juan Ostuncalco, is a town, with a population of 20,763, and a municipality in the Quetzaltenango department of Guatemala. Beside Spanish, local people speak the Mam language. La Victoria is a village in this municipality.

Peter Nolasco 13th-century Spanish Catholic religious founder and saint

Peter Nolasco, Pere Nolasc in Catalan, Pierre Nolasque in French and Pedro Nolasco in Spanish, is a Catholic saint, born at Mas-des-Saintes-Puelles, Languedoc, today's France, although some historians claim he was born in Barcelona.

Raymond Nonnatus Medieval saint from Catalonia in Spain

Raymond Nonnatus, O. de M., is a saint from Catalonia in Spain. His nickname refers to his birth by Caesarean section, his mother having died while giving birth to him.

John of Matha Italian saint

John of Matha (1160–1213) was a Christian saint of the 12th century and founder of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, dedicated to ransoming Christians who had been captured by marauders from North Africa.

Feast of Our Lady of Ransom

The Feast of Our Lady of Ransom/Our Lady of Vallarpadam is a Roman Catholic liturgical Marian feast. In the General Roman Calendar of 1960, it was celebrated on 24 September, commemorating the foundation of the Mercedarians. After Vatican II, the name for the Marian commemoration on September 24 was changed to "Our Lady of Mercy".

Mary de Cervellione was a Catalan superior of a Third Order of Mercedarians. She is a Catholic saint; her following, which began immediately after her death, was approved by Pope Innocent XII in 1692.

Virgin of Mercy Depiction of the Virgin Mary sheltering a group using her outspread cloak

The Virgin of Mercy is a subject in Christian art, showing a group of people sheltering for protection under the outspread cloak, or pallium, of the Virgin Mary. It was especially popular in Italy from the 13th to 16th centuries, often as a specialised form of votive portrait, and is also found in other countries and later art, especially Catalonia and Latin America.

Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom Roman Catholic devotional garment

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mercy is a Roman Catholic devotional scapular that traces its roots to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy also known as Our Lady of Ransom which was founded by St. Peter Nolasco in the city of Barcelona, at that time in the Kingdom of Aragon, for the redemption of Christian captives.

Iglesia de La Merced, Antigua Guatemala Building in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

La Merced Church is a baroque church in Antigua Guatemala.

Joan Gilabert Jofré

Joan Gilabert Jofré (1350–1417), also known as Padre Jofré or Pare Jofré, was a member of the Christian religious Order of Mercy and the founder of what is claimed to be the first psychiatric care institution in Europe, in Valencia, Crown of Aragon.

Basilica and Convent of Nuestra Señora de la Merced Church in Lima, Peru

The Minor Basilica and Convent of Nuestra Señora de la Merced is a Roman Catholic church located in Lima, Peru. It was designed in the Baroque style known as Churrigueresque. The church was built under the supervision of Friar Miguel de Orenes in 1535. The Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, the patroness of the Peruvian Armed Forces, is venerated in the Basilica. The Mercedarians, who evangelized the region, helped to develop Lima by building many of the churches preserved today.

Nuestra Señora de la Merced y San Judas Tadeo, Montevideo Church building in Montevideo, Uruguay

The Church of Our Lady of Mercy and St. Jude Taddhaeus, popularly known as La Merced, is a Roman Catholic parish church in Villa Muñoz, Montevideo, Uruguay.

The Discalced Mercedarians are members of a mendicant order, which is a reform branch which developed in the 17th century of the Mercedarian Order, founded in the 12th century primarily to assist Christians who had been taken prisoner by Muslim armies or pirates. They use the postnominal initials O.M.D.

Mercedes refers to a barangay or village in Catbalogan City, Philippines located between Maulong and Downtown Catbalogan. Barangay Mercedes is one of the 57 barangays of Catbalogan City.

Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Barcelona, Spain

The Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy is a Baroque-style basilica in Barcelona, Catalonia. It was built between 1765 and 1775, being the work of Catalan architect Josep Mas i Dordal. The dome of the church is crowned with a statue of Our Lady that is visible from the seaside promenade near the drassanes. This church was the second in Barcelona to receive the title of minor basilica, preceded only by the Barcelona Cathedral. The title was granted in 1918 by Pope Benedict XV, commemorating the seven hundredth anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin to St. Peter Nolasco, founder of the Order of Mercy.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Merced may refer to:

Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Quezon City, Philippines

The Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Our Lady of Mercy is a Roman Catholic church under the Diocese of Novaliches. It is the oldest parish in the diocese, established in 1856 by the Augustinian missionaries from Spain.


  1. AICA. "AICA: Fray Juan Carlos Saavedra Lucho es el nuevo maestro general de los mercedarios" . Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  2. Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN   0-87973-910-X page 525
  3. Mary's Praise on Every Tongue: A Record of Homage Paid to Our Blessed Lady by Chandlery Peter Joseph 2009 ISBN   1-113-16154-X page 181
  4. 1 2 3 4 Brodman, James William, Ransoming Captives in Crusader Spain:The Order of Merced on the Christian-Islamic Frontier, 1986
  5. Ibn Khaldun, Histoire des Berbères et des dynasties musulmanes de l'Afrique septentrionale, ed. Paul Casanova and Henri Pérès, trans. William MacGuckin, baron de Slane (Paris, 1925-56), 3: 116-17
  6. 1 2 "Home" . Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  7. Allaria, Anthony. "St. Peter Nolasco." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 22 February 2013
  8. 1 2 3 4 "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Mercedarians" . Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  9. "University of Dayton". Archived from the original on 3 January 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  10. William Newton (1 March 2014). "La Mercè". catholicbarcelona.com.
  11. "Fray Juan Bautista del Santísimo Sacramento". Orden de Descalzos de Ntra. Sra. de la Merced (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  12. ""Feast of Our Lady of Ransom", The Mary Page, University of Dayton". Archived from the original on 2015-04-16. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
  13. "Feast of Our Lady of Ransom - Encyclopedia Volume - Catholic Encyclopedia". Catholic Online. Retrieved 2020-08-20.

Further reading