In early August of 1218, St. Peter Nolasco, St. Raymund of Penafort, and James, King of Aragon, each had a vision of the Virgin Mary asking them to found a religious order devoted to freeing Christian captives from the Muslims, who still held much of Spain. The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy grew quickly, collecting alms for ransom and sometimes offering themselves in exchange for prisoners. The statue of the Mother of God of Mercy in Barcelona (right) dates from the 1300s. She became the city’s patron saint after saving it from a plague of locusts in 1687. Before the counter-reformation, the Mercedarian Order celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Ransom on August 1, the date when she showed St. Peter Nolasco their white habit. The Vatican changed the date to September 24 when it extended the feast to the entire Church in 1696. Since Vatican II, Catholic observance of Our Lady of Mercy’s day is limited to places and organizations that claim her as patron. Meanwhile, the Mercedarians have changed their mission to teaching and chaplaincy, and the Barcelona soccer team visits the Basilica of La Mercè after victories in thanks for her help. Her fiesta in Barcelona is a spectacular sequence of processions, dances, music, games, and fireworks.
(Information from “Festa de la Mare de Déu de la Mercè,” Arquebisbat de Barcelona, www.arqbcn.org/merce/index.htm. Image from www.tiempodepoesia.org.)