St. Friar Nuno de Santa Maria Alvares Pereira – Religious – 1360-1431
Feast Day – November 6th (moved from April 1st)
One of 26 children, Nuño Álvares Pereira was born on the feast of the birth of John the Baptist in 1360. When he was just 13, he fought admirably and effectively against the invading Castilians. During the next several years, in addition to marrying at the age of 17 and having a daughter, he earned a reputation as a courageous warrior, precociously inspiring leader and brilliant military strategist. When he was 23, he was so effective as a field commander in the Battle of Atoleiros that he would be named Portugal’s “Constable” or Commander-in-Chief. During the battle, his horse was struck and fell on top of his leg, pinning him down. To the amazement of his soldiers, despite not being able to move his leg, he repeatedly fought off Castilians intent on taking his life. His heroism inspired the much smaller Portuguese forces to imitate his courage.
Two years later, as he and King John I of Portugal were preparing for the decisive Battle of Aljubarrota, he stopped his troops on the plains of Fatima. It was August 13, 1385. There the king and his constable each vowed to the Blessed Virgin Mary that should they win the following day, they would build a monastery to her honor.
It is interesting to note that during their prayer, Blessed Nuño’s horse miraculously knelt down in reverence. This induced the holy constable to predict publicly that one day a miracle would take place there. 532 years later, for six months on the 13th of each month, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the three shepherd children of Fatima in those very same plains.
Under a standard emblazoned with the image of Our Lady, Blessed Nuño led his troops into battle the following day shouting out, “In the name of God and of Our Lady.” Their celestial intercession is perhaps the only explanation for how his 6,000 Portuguese troops were able to crush the 30,000 Castilians.
In fulfillment of their vows, King John built the famous Batalha Monastery and Blessed Nuño, in 1389, built the monastery to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Lisbon. In 1404, after having built six other churches to honor the Mother of God, Nuño donated his remaining wealth to the Carmel. In 1423, his wife having died, he gave our Lady and the monastery the rest and best he had – the remaining years of his life – entering the Carmelite Monastery in Lisbon he had founded, as a simple lay brother and took the name of Friar Nuno of St. Mary. There he begged for alms door-to-door, served as a porter, gave alms to the poor, kissed the hands of priests who had formerly been his awestruck soldiers, prayed and mortified himself in a tiny hermitage built by the convent. He also used his considerable talents and reputation to spread devotion to our Lady through the Rosary and the Scapular.
In 1431, as he lay dying, he asked his Carmelite brothers to read him St. John’s account of the Passion. At the words “Ecce Mater tua,” “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27), he passed into her loving arms for all eternity. It was fittingly Easter Sunday.
On the battlefield, Blessed Nuño fought with the whole energy of his personality, communicating his courage to all the others fighting with him. In the monastery, he lived with heroic virtue and inspired his brothers and many others to the same commitment.
Nuno Álvares Pereira’s tomb was lost in the famous 1755 Lisbon earthquake and rediscovered in 1996. (a year which marked the 350th anniversary of the coronation of Blessed Nuno’s image of Our Lady of Conception as Queen of Portugal, the 50th anniversary of the Coronation of Our Lady of Fatima as Queen of the world by legate of Pius XII, and the 80th anniversary of the apparitions of the angel of Portugal and angel of Peace).
Fernando Ferreira, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb, related: “The tomb was of a style commonly used for the burying of important medieval Crusader-Knights and which had stopped being used about 100 years before Nuno’s death. The body born on a wooden litter decorated with metal crosses (of which a few were also discovered), was laid on stone slabs placed underneath the ground with a special locus or compartment for the head so that it would not be in contact with the earth and quick lime (also discovered) which covered it. The reason for this type of uncommon burial is quite simple, Nuno, was the last great medieval knight in Christendom likened to the Knights of King Arthur’s round table!”
Nuno was beatified on January 23, 1918 by Pope Benedict XV. On July 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI signed decrees in Rome promulgating the heroic virtues of Bl. Nuno Alvares Pereira and recognizing the authenticity of a miracle (the cure of a blind woman in Portugal). By these acts, the Holy Father formally canonized our holy patron. The date set for the formal canonization ceremony is April 26th, 2009.
St. Nuno’s feast day has been officially fixed on the Roman calendar as November 6th (moved from April 1st upon canonization).