Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy

Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives
Ordo Beatae Mariae de Mercede redemptionis captivorum
Coat of Arms of the Mercedarians.svg
AbbreviationO.de M.
Formation1218
TypeCatholic religious order
HeadquartersRome, Italy
Master General
Fr. Juan Carlos Saavedra Lucho (2016 - )[1]
Key people
Saint 2
Our Lady of Mercy - From the Generalate of the Mercedarian Order

The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives (Latin: Ordo Beatae Mariae de Mercede Redemptionis Captivorum, abbreviated O. de M.), also known as the Mercedarians, is a Catholic mendicant order established in 1218 by St. Peter Nolasco in the city of Barcelona, at that time in the Principality of Catalonia (Crown of Aragon), for the redemption of Christian captives.[2][3] Its members are most commonly known as Mercedarian friars or nuns. One of the distinguishing marks of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is that, since its foundation, its members are required to take a fourth vow: to die, if necessary, for another who is in danger of losing their faith. The Order exists today in 17 countries.

General Background

Between the eighth and the fifteenth centuries, medieval Europe was in a state of intermittent warfare between the Christian kingdoms of southern Europe and the Muslim polities of North Africa, Southern France, Sicily and Moorish portions of Spain. According to James W. Brodman, the threat of capture, whether by pirates or coastal raiders, or during one of the region's intermittent wars, was a continuous threat to residents of Catalonia, Languedoc and the other coastal provinces of medieval Christian Europe.[4] Raids by militias, bands and armies from both sides were an almost annual occurrence.[5]

For over 600 years, these constant armed confrontations produced numerous war prisoners on both sides. Islam’s captives were reduced to the state of slaves since they were considered war booty. In the lands of Visigothic Spain, both Christian and Muslim societies had become accustomed to the buying and selling of captives. So much so that tenth-century Andalusian merchants formed caravans to purchase slaves in Eastern Europe. In the thirteenth century, in addition to spices, slaves constituted one of the goods of the flourishing trade between Christian and Muslim ports.[6]

Starting before the First Crusade, many hospices and hospitals were organized by the chapters of cathedrals or by the monastic orders. Within the communal organizations of towns, local charitable institutions such as almshouses were established by confraternities or guilds, or by successful individual laymen concerned with the welfare of their souls.

Broader-based and aristocratically-funded charitable institutions were more prominent, and the episodes of aristocratic and even royal ransom and its conditions, were the subject of chronicle and romance. The knights of the original Order of St John—the Knights Hospitaller—and the Templars in their origins are well known, and the impact of their organized charity upon the religious values of the High Middle Ages.

Peter Nolasco (1189-1256)