01 April 2010

Feast of St. Nuno

Today is the feast of Saint Nuno de Santa Maria Alvares Pereira of the Order of Malta.  This is taken from an article I wrote for in the recent issue of Hospitaller, the newsletter of the American Association of the Order of Malta.

The most recent member of the Order of Malta to be canonized is ironically a member who died almost 600 years ago. Additionally he will be most remembered for his sanctity as a lay brother of the Carmelites which he joined after the death of his wife and marriage of his youngest daughter. Still the life of this former Knight and Prior of our Order provides us an excellent reflection of someone who balanced the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and who most likely and equally fulfilled the precepts TUITIO FIDEI ET OBSEQUIUM PAUPERUM.

St. Nuno de Santa Maria Àlvares Pereira was a Knight of Rhodes by the age of 23, the 3rd Count of Ourem and the Prior of Crato, the headquarters of the Knights in Portugal. At this time he was appointed Constable, the commander of the military, by the new King whom he helped bring to power. Later through the marriage of his daughter Beatrice he became founder of the Bragança royal family dynasty. A majority of the Catholic royal families in Europe claim lineage from him, including Blessed Charles of Austria, another of the blesseds of our Order. Other descendants include Queen Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Aragorn and her daughter Mary Tudor.

As a Knight, St. Nuno never shared in the spoils of his victories and always treated his enemies justly. During the long war with the Kingdom of Castile, he would cross the border to bring food to the people suffering from famine and to provide for the widows and orphans of the war. Once he was so hungry he traded his horse for six loaves of bread only to encounter six English knights equally famished. In a noble gesture he gave away each of the loaves. At the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 his forces, greatly outnumbered, stopped an invasion by Castilian troops who supported the Avignon anti-pope. He attributed this victory to Our Lady whose name was inscribed on his sword.

Despite many achievements he hated war and his military capabilities were tempered by a deep spirituality, a profound love of the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, the foundations of his interior life. Totally dedicated to Marian prayer, he fasted in Mary’s honor on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and on the vigil of her feasts. His personal standard bore the image of the cross, of Mary and of the saintly knights James and George. He also spread devotion to the Rosary and brown scapular throughout Portugal.

St. Nuno believed prayer, penance and commitment to the poor and needy, to be the true calling of nobility. So following his daughter’s marriage he exchanged his worldly titles to become Brother Nuno of St. Mary and gave most of his remaining wealth to the poor and orphans. He also built several Churches including the Carmelite Monastery in Lisbon which he later entered. The Confraternity of the Holy Constable which he founded evolved into the modern Carmelite Third Order.

Saint Nuno died on Easter Sunday while the Passion was being read to him, at the words, “Behold thy Mother.” He was canonized by Pope Benedict on April 26, 2009.

More information can be found at http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/2009/ns_lit_doc_20090426_nuno_en.html


Collect from the Missal of the Order

O God, who called blessed Nonius to lay down the weapons of this world and follow Christ under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, grant through the intercession of this former member of our Order that we too may deny ourselves and cling to you with all our hearts. Through the same Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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