St Martin de Porres

St Martin de Porres

Victoria and Albert Museum: The world’s greatest museum of art and design
London, United Kingdom

William Newton, Assistant Curator

Today on Sanctus Ignotum we have a case study in race relations, and our first South American saint. Born in Lima, Peru in 1579, the illegitimate son of a Spanish knight and a liberated black slave, Martin was initially apprenticed to a barber-surgeon. He initially joined the Dominican Order as a lay-helper, though his dedication to the poor and hallowed nature meant that he was soon invited to join the order as a full-time lay-brother.

He frequently experienced bouts of religious ecstasy, having spent nights in prayer. He kept himself very busy as monastic gardener and barber (two related skills), and as a counselor (some barbers may also believe this is a native skill), as well as attending to the sick and the poor. It was said that most of his cures came from a simple glass of water (presumably not part his barber’s training). Being of mixed race parentage himself, he was not as discerning as some of his colleagues in offering spiritual and physical comfort. The other Brothers did, however, dub him the ‘Father of Charity’ although he, being humble and saintly, preferred to call himself ‘Mulatto Dog’. Martin’s commitment to everyone’s wellbeing, no matter their colour or creed, does not appear to have been complemented by a reforming attitude to social conditions. Once, when his monastery encountered financial difficulties, he suggested that they sell him into slavery in order to make ends meet. Happily, they declined to do so…

Read the entire article here.

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