Saint Nuno of Saint Mary Alvares Pereira, O.Carm. (1360-1431) By Ann Harry, T.O.CARM. Saint Nuno Alvares Pereira, the last medieval knight and Carmelite was canonized on April 26, 2009, by Pope Benedict XVI. Coincidentally, he was beatified by another Pope Benedict XV a century ago. In wonderment, I mused on how a knight became a Carmelite Saint. As little children, it is easy to romanticize stories of the knights. We saw them as gallant men who fought bravely for their country and their ideals. They were men of honor and valor, men of their word who took a vow of loyalty to the king, defeating the enemies and securing the king’s land. Hollywood did a pretty good job, all of the above was indeed fact; not only did the knights have military training as combatants but the men also took vows to live as monks. Their training called for a high code of ethics that entailed good manners, honesty and compassion toward their enemies, the result was a code of ethics for war that is still in effect to this day. Blessed Nuno was born illegitimately to Álvaro Gonçalves Pereira and Iria Gonçalves do Carvalhal in Portugal March 24, 1360. A year after his birth, he was legitimatized by royal decree and was able to receive a knightly education. At age 17, he married a young widow, Donna Lenore de Alvim, and had three children. Their daughter, Beatrice, survived and married Alfonso, first Duke of Braganca, the son of King John I of Portugal. This union would lead to the Braganca Royal Family Dynasty ruling Portugal from 1640 to 1910. Nuno was instrumental in gaining Portugal’s independence. Castile threatened annexation of Portugal when King Fernando died without an heir. Nuno known to be an excellent strategist and leader in Portugal fought in the battle of Atoleiros and won. It was through his prayers to Our Blessed Mother that the crisis of 1383-1385 ended victoriously. Nuno was titled and became supreme commander of Portugal’s armies and 3rd Count de Ourem where Fatima is located. Nuno was considered a hero and was fondly called “The Holy Constable” by the Portuguese. Nuno’s love of prayer, penance, and love for the poor would lead him to higher vocation. Following his wife’s death and his daughter’s marriage, Nuno became a Carmelite. He took the name Friar Nuno of Saint Mary. The kindness and compassion that he administered to the captured enemies and the displaced families of war were a mere hint of his holiness. He was dedicated to the Rosary and helped propagate the Scapular devotion. Nuno suffered and died from debilitating arthritis. Many miracles were attributed to Nuno . His grave was relocated several times due to an earthquake and vandalism and finally found his resting place in a chapel near the destroyed monastery in Lisbon. Pope Benedict XV beatified him and presented him as a role model for those fighting World War I. His cause for canonization resurfaced when a young woman lost vision in her eye in an accident with hot oil. After all other medical procedures were exhausted By Father Enrique Varela, O.Carm. Perhaps the most exciting aspect about attending Nuno Alvares’ canonization celebrations was a sense of being part of the Carmelite history. Besides being grateful for being in a Eucharistic celebration presided by the Pope and experiencing a canonization Mass with all its rituals, I witnessed the canonization of a Carmelite brother, the first in more than 300 years. Every time I go to Rome, I look for the places and sites that were important to the development of our Church and our Order. For example, the first time I went to Italy, I visited all the Carmelite churches or sites that had to do with one of the Carmelite reforms. I wanted to be as close as possible to where Carmelite history took place. This time it was even more special because I witnessed our own history as it developed in front of my eyes. Even though the historical aspect of this canonization was the high point of my interest, the excitement of the Carmelite Family and the Portuguese devotees who were in Rome for the occasion permeated all the celebrations. The celebrations began the evening of Saturday, April 25th with a vigil in the church of Santa Maria in Transpontina, the Carmelite church a few steps away from Saint Peter’s Square. The vigil was presided by Most Reverend Fernando Millán, the Prior General, along with the General Council, who carried the images of Our Lady and Nuno Alvares to the altar. During the vigil the life of the new saint was highlighted through songs, scripture and many symbols. Firstly, Saint Nuno was portrayed as a combatant hero who obtained independence to Portugal from Castille (the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385), so a friar brought the Portuguese flag to the altar. Next, a couple brought to the altar a copy of Nuno’s wedding rings to symbolize that he was a husband and a parent. A cross to signify Nuno’s hardships when he lost his wife and his children was then brought to the altar. she prayed a novena to Blessed Nuno and her sight returned.
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