How the Virgin Mary inspired a group of religious to exchange their lives for prisoners’ freedom


A religious order was established that had its primary aim at freeing those unjustly imprisoned.

In 12th-century Spain, Christians were frequently captured by the Moors, and it became such a problem that various kings and religious were trying to discern the best course of action.

After fervently praying, St. Peter Nolasco had the idea of establishing a religious order who would take quite literally the corporal work of mercy to “ransom the captive,” freeing Christians from the hands of the Moors.

St. Peter talked with the king of Aragon, James I, and the two prayed for a confirmation of this idea.

Then on the feast of St. Peter the Apostle in Chains, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Peter Nolasco, his confessor, St. Raymund of Penafort and to King James. She asked that there would be a new religious order dedicated to ransoming the captives and that it be named after the name of her mercy.

It would later be called the Mercedariansin honor of Our Lady of Mercy. The order still exists today and is active in 17 countries around the world.

What was unique about the order was that they set out to free these Christian captives and would offer themselves, if necessary, as ransom. They were willing to undergo harsh treatment and imprisonment if it meant that someone else would be freed from captivity. It was a surprisingly popular religious order that spread throughout Europe.

One could say that the religious order was similar in spirit to what happened with St. Maximillian Kolbe in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, when he offered his life in place of a fellow prisoner.

Eventually a feast in honor of Our Lady of Mercy (also called Our Lady of Ransom) was established on September 24 in connection to this apparition and religious order. Eventually there was no longer a need to ransom captives, and Our Lady of Mercy was celebrated instead as someone who can free us from the slavery of sin. Yet, the Mercedarians today still profess a special fourth vow to give up their own selves for others whose faith is in danger.

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