Ten years ago this month, (I can’t believe it was that long ago!) I read the article below about Saint Raymond of Peñafort in my Magnificat. Since that time, I’ve had a great devotion to this obscure (for our time) twelfth-thirteenth century saint whose work on Canon Law still affects the church today. He’s my go-to guy, and I call him “My Man Ray” (with all due respect).
Although I have many thoughts I’d like to share, I have little time, so I share with you the wonderful article which had such a great impact on me. It’s an outrageous story, indeed, but with childlike faith, I embrace it.
The painting above is not the one by Carracci referenced in the article. I wasn’t able to locate it, but the one above helps illustrate the point. I pray he blesses you as he has me.
St. Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us! Anne
Saint Raymond of Peñafort
written by Michael Morris, OP
published in Magnificat, January 2004/Vol. 5, No. 12
Although he was constantly doing penance for the sins of his youth, Raymond of Peñafort’s life span of nearly a century certainly compensated in good works and devotion any vices that may have been entertained in his salad days when he was green in judgment. In fact, judgment became his specialty, for as a canon lawyer he sought a sense of Christian order both in the internal forum where private thoughts are subject to confessional guidance, and in the externals forum where social engagement and the government of men seek peace and concord.
Born near Barcelona in 1175 at his family’s castle in Peñafort, the royal blood of Aragon coursed through Raymond’s veins. He was dedicated by his parents to the service of God as a youth, and educated at the cathedral school in Barcelona. He mastered many disciplines at school but had a particular preference for law. When he left Spain for further studies at the University of Bologna, he and another cleric happened upon a most unusual scene at a Marian chapel located in a little village along the way. There they found a man who had been attacked by his enemies. His hands had been cut off and his eyes had been gouged out. The victim had an intense devotion to Mary, and his mutilation only increased his confidence that he Madonna would come to his aid. This she did, and Raymond was witness to a miracle as the sufferer prayed before an altar dedicated to the Mother of God. His bloody sockets filled with new eyes, and hands that were not completely formed began to grow out of both limbs.
Certainly this amazing sight had a lasting effect upon the viewers and must have increased the fire within Raymond’s own soul. He finished his degree at Bologna and, in turn, taught there for many years. So renowned was his teaching that the bishop of Barcelona called him back to the diocese along with a contingent of Dominican friars who must have impressed Raymond, for he joined their ranks three years later, at the age of forty-seven. The life of a Dominican was challenging enough to a youthful candidate, but for a middle-aged man in the thirteenth century, it must have seemed particularly rigorous; a vegetarian diet, rising from sleep for the midnight office, a disciplined schedule of study, work, and prayer. But Raymond loved it and he fast became a shining star within the Dominican priory in Barcelona.
As an aid to those who hear confessions Raymond composed a “Summary of Cases” (thus making him the patron saint of confessors and canonists). His skills at analyzing virtue and vice brought him to the attention of the great and powerful.
Raymond served as confessor to both Pope Gregory IX and King James I of Aragon. He became a consultant for the validity of royal marriages, was elected Master of the Dominican Order (but resigned after two years, pleading ill-health), formalized the Dominican constitutions, preached a crusade against the threatening Turks, and procured the establishment of the Inquisition in Aragon to stem the tide of Albigensian heretics flooding into Spain from southern France. He also helped Saint Peter Nolasco found the Mercedarians, an order devoted to ransoming Christians who had been captured and turned into slaves by the Moors.
In this latter venture, Raymond claimed that he had received a vision of the Virgin Mary, asking him to help form a new religious order that would redeem Christian captives. For a man rooted in law and so immersed in logical thinking, the miraculous and the inexplicable did not elude him, nor did it seem foreign to the fire of mysticism growing within him. The Bull of his canonization records that many people were healed by his touch and that while he celebrated Mass remarkable visions occurred. A pillar of flame was seen hovering over him once, and another time a troubled sinner beheld in Raymond’s hand a radiant host in which a beautiful child imparted calming graces. But no miracle associated with the saint is as remarkable as the one recorder here by the great Italian painter Ludovico Carracci.
King James I of Aragon was a loyal son of the church but he allowed his lustful desires to shackle him. While on the island of Majorca to initiate a campaign to help convert the Moors living there, the king brought with him members of his court, his confessor, and his mistress. As his confessor, Raymond reproved the king and asked him repeatedly to dismiss his concubine. This the king refused to do. Finally, the saint told the king that he could remain with him no longer and made plans to leave for Barcelona. But the king forbade him to leave the island without his permission. Saint Raymond then said to his Dominican companion, “Soon you will see how the King of heave will confound the wicked deeds of this early king and provide me with a ship!” They then went down to the seashore where Raymond took off his cappa (the long black cloak the Dominicans wear over the white tunic and scapular), and spread one end of it on the water while rigging the other end to his walking staff. Having thus formed a miniature mast, Raymond bid the other Dominican to hop on, but his companion, lacking the saint’s faith, refused to do so. Then Raymond bid him farewell, and with the sign of the cross he pushed away from the shore and miraculously sailed away on his cloak. Skirting around the very boats that had forbidden him passage, the saint was seen by scores of sailors who shouted in astonishment and urged him on. When the king was notified of this, he hurried to the shore and sat the saint fade away safely over the horizon.
Here in Carracci’s painting the Dominican companion kneels on the rocky shoreline with arms upraised in amazement. Ships sail in the distance around the fortifications of Majorca while Saint Raymond looks upward with eyes fixed firmly on the Madonna and child guiding him in the clouds above.
The saint made good time. He traveled one hundred and eighty miles in just six hours. As he neared the shores of Barcelona, a huge crowd gathered to greet him. When he landed, he put the cloak back on. It was completely dry. Amazed by this miracle, the king amended his sinful ways, and a tower and chapel were built on the spot where the saint alighted (an appropriate pilgrimage point for wind surfers!).
Raymond died on the feast of the Epiphany in 1275 at the age of 99. He had dedicated half of his life to the Dominican ideal, manifesting itself in his devotion to Mary, a love of learning, the desire for holiness and the salvation of souls.