The devotion dates back to the 12th century, when thousands of Christians were rescued by her graces.
Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.
These words from Matthew’s Gospel give us Jesus’ teachings on what is commonly known as the corporal works of mercy. Some 1,200 years after Christ said them, these simple directives led to the founding of two religious orders, the Trinitarians and the Mercedarians. They’ve also led to a special devotion to the Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Good Remedy.
The Christian societies of southern Europe and those of the Muslims of North Africa waged war intermittently from the 8th through the 15th centuries. Muslim raids of Sicily, southern France and parts of Spain resulted in the kidnapping of Christians, who were taken into slavery or held for ransom. In this context, John of Matha appeared on the scene, determined to rescue the kidnapped and imprisoned, who numbered in the thousands.
John was born in southern France in 1169, to noble parents of high standing. He had the best education available at the time but never became self-indulged. On the contrary, John always had an affinity for the downtrodden and saw fit to give most of the monies his parents sent him to the sick and the poor. In fact, it is known that the young man visited the hospital every Friday to assist in taking care of the sick.
Finding that he was being called to the priesthood, John of Matha enrolled at the University of Paris, learned theology and was ordained a priest in 1193. As he celebrated his first Mass he saw a vision of Christ holding two chained captives by their hands. One was a Muslim and the other a Christian. The Christian held a staff emblazoned with a red and blue cross. John decided his mission in life was to rescue Christians from the Moors.
Realizing he needed time to plan, reflect and pray about his new calling, John sought out a hermit known as Felix of Valois for his guidance and mentoring. Felix, already 70 years old, joined forces with John. Together they headed to Rome to ask Pope Innocent III for permission to start a new order dedicated in honor of the Blessed Trinity. On December 17, 1198, this permission was granted and so was born the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, also known as the Trinitarians.
When Father John began his ministry of rescuing and ransoming, he had no idea that those captured and imprisoned numbered in the thousands. John needed money — lots of money — to begin “buying” enslaved Christians back from the Moors. He knew in his heart there would be only one way he might have success. He turned his need over to the Blessed Virgin.
The Virgin heard John’s call for help and answered without hesitation. In fact, over the following centuries, thousands upon thousands of Christians were saved and returned home as funding kept coming in to the Trinitarians. John of Matha, in thanksgiving and in appreciation of Our Lady’s intercession, bestowed on her the title of “Our Lady of Good Remedy.“
Devotion to Mary under this title is popular throughout Europe and Latin America. The feast is celebrated October 8. Our Lady of Good Remedy is often depicted handing a bag of money to John of Matha.
John of Matha was canonized a saint by Pope Alexander VII in 1666. His feast day is December 17. His partner, Felix of Valois, was canonized a saint by Pope Urban IV in 1262. His feast day is November 4.
We ask both St. John of Matha and St. Felix of Valois to pray for us all.
And we ask Our Lady of Good Remedy to pray for us, too.
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