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Tema: Saint Ferdinand III of Castile

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    Saint Ferdinand III of Castile

    Saint Ferdinand III of Castile

    by Jeremias Wells
    Saint Ferdinand III of Castile. Painted by Spanish School.

    King Alfonso VIII of Castile, the great leader of Las Navas de Tolosa, left two daughters who became queen mothers of two young kings, both of whom developed into illustrious warriors, crusaders, and saints. Because Alfonso’s two sons died in their youth, one from illness in 1211 and the other from a tragic accident in 1217, their sister, Berenguela, rose to the throne of Castile. However, realizing that it was improper for a woman to occupy the throne in this most chivalrous state, she renounced her kingdom to her first born son, Ferdinand III, then only eighteen.
    Blanche, the second daughter, married King Louis VIII of France who, after an exhausting campaign against the remnant of the Albigensian rebellion, died in 1226. Since Louis, his oldest boy, was only twelve at the time, the Queen acted as regent while the young King slowly assumed the control of government during the next two decades. In a remarkable display of piety, both Kings saw the necessity of renouncing any earthly comfort to further the interests of Christendom and their own realms.
    Youth of Ferdinand of Castile
    Queen Berenguela, mother of Ferdinand III

    Because the future King’s parents were related within the forbidden degree of consanguinity — they were second cousins — Pope Innocent III insisted they separate and, as a result, young Ferdinand was brought up at the court of his grandfather. The serenity of the boy’s life was shattered when a terrible malady overtook him at the age of ten. Consumed by a high fever and horrible restlessness, the devout lad could not eat, sleep, or take any rest. When the poor child developed large repulsive sores which caused unrelieved pain, death seemed imminent.
    Dona Berenguela took him to a chapel of Our Lady where she prostrated herself on the cold tile floor in front of the main altar and prayed throughout the night. When her servants returned the following morning, they found the boy sleeping soundly. As a consequence of the miraculous cure, San Fernando from then on dedicated himself to the service of the Blessed Virgin.
    In 1214, Alfonso VIII died, leaving the Kingdom of Castile to Berenguela’s adolescent brother Enrique (Henry) who, in turn, was entrusted to the regent Count Alvaro Nunez de Lara, a man noted for his ambition and avarice. More misery fell upon the family when Fernando’s father, King Alfonso IX, ordered his son — now fifteen — to be sent to his corrupt court in the Kingdom of Leon.(1)
    Since the upright young man could find no alternative to his obligation of obeying his father’s command, he told his heartbroken mother, “Christ redeemed us not in the sweet arms of His mother but on the hard arms of the Cross, and His knight will not serve Him in any other way,” and went off.
    For the first time in his life, he witnessed the degrading spectacle of immorality and found the things that he saw and heard deeply repulsive. What was more painful was that his father was one of the worst sinners. He realized that he must fight like a hero or be dragged into the mud like so many others, losing in the process an unrecoverable treasure: his innocence. During this period Fernando practiced the handling of weapons for long hours and rode great distances in cold, rainy weather to accustom his body to hardship.
    Meanwhile, Count Alvaro was terrorizing Castile with cruelty and injustice. His ambitious plans were suddenly unraveled when young Enrique, while playing with some companions, was struck on the head by a roof tile and died a few days later. After cleverly escaping from his father’s clutches, the eighteen-year-old heir to the Castilian throne rode south to give support to his mother. However, she quickly yielded her rights to Fernando, who was proclaimed King of Castile.

    Once Alfonso realized he had been tricked, he, with encouragement from Alvaro, invaded Castile in order to drive his son from the throne. Fernando, now faced with a dilemma of either taking up the sword against his father, which greatly troubled his sensitive soul, or abandoning his responsibility to his subjects, brought an army into the field opposite his father’s.
    That night he sent his wise counselor Archbishop Roderigo Ximenez de la Rada along with other bishops to plead with the Leonese King to act honorably and with justice. Realizing that even his own followers sympathized with the young saint, Alfonso agreed not to attack providing Fernando pay a large sum of money. When the bishops returned to Fernando’s tent that night to report on the successful negotiations, they found the young King in his private chapel praying with his arms in the form of a cross and with the back of his white tunic stained with blood. He had applied the discipline for the sins of his father.
    Although the two were reconciled as Kings, they never entered into a father and son relationship. Alfonso finished out his days fighting against the Moors with a contingent of Castilian troops. Shortly after the conclusion of peace, Berenguela arranged a marriage for Fernando with Beatrice of Swabia, a close relative of the ruling Hohenstaufen family in Germany and Sicily.

    Fernando renews the Reconquest
    In 1224, with his internal political affairs resolved, the youthful Crusader turned his attention to the Reconquest, a military campaign that with a few short intervals occupied him for the rest of his life. Quesada, the first town to fall, was typical of the many that followed. The Castilians placed cloth-muffled ladders against the walls just before daylight. Fernando raced up a ladder, jumped on the wall first, and struck down an approaching guard with a firm gashing blow to his head. The other knights were just seconds behind. Shouting, “Santiago and Castile,” the Crusaders threw themselves into the fight to protect the life of their valiant King, who always seemed to be ahead of them. Slashing and cutting, they gained control of the wall and towers and opened the gates, allowing their army to rush in and capture the streets and squares. The first rays of the sun saw the town in Christian hands.
    Scene from the Reconquest

    On the highest tower, Fernando, covered with Moslem blood from head to toe, planted the Cross and, gazing at it lovingly, prayed:
    “Knowest that I do not seek my glory but thine; not the greatest of perishable kingdoms, but the kingship of Christ on earth.”
    Throughout the next six years, Fernando raided central Andalusia, capturing most of the small towns, ravaging the countryside, collecting much booty. Only the three large, walled cities of Cordoba, Seville, and Jaen avoided capture because of their massive fortifications and large garrisons.
    King Alfonso of Leon died in 1230. As Fernando rode north to claim his father’s kingdom, he received shocking news. Although the mercurial King had earlier chosen his son as his heir in a formal session before Parliament with the Pope’s approval, he changed his mind and left Leon to two daughters from a previous marriage which was also annulled. Alfonso had reached from beyond the grave to injure his son one more time.
    Both the mother of the princesses, Dona Teresa,(2) who had retired to a convent many years before, and Dona Berenguela traveled to Leon to prevent a bloody dynastic war since several ambitious noblemen saw an opportunity for riches and political gain. In a series of
    calm, recollected discussions, those two magnificent ladies realized that the only just and appropriate solution was for the two royal
    daughters to abdicate. Although it required a great sacrifice on their part, they followed their mother’s wise advice and were rewarded with a generous pension from Fernando. As the monarch rode back to the battlefield, he was now backed by the resources of the new,
    powerful Kingdom of Castile and Leon which, from that point on, remained unified.
    During the 1230’s, the Christian rulers of Spain maintained continual pressure against the Mohammedans by pushing south along a broad front. West of the Gaudiana, the military orders of Calatrava and Santiago helped Portugal extend their southern boundaries.
    Just to the east of the river, Fernando’s brother, Alfonso de Molina, led a marauding army past Cordoba and Seville to Jerez where he won a stunning victory over superior numbers. Santiago (Saint James) was seen, even by the Moslems, on a white horse and with
    his sword drawn, leading a legion of knights.
    On the eastern front, another successful crusading King of the first rank, Jaime (James) I of Aragon, who had previously captured the island of Majorca, forced the capitulation of Valencia, which in essence completed the Aragonese Reconquest.
    Cordoba reached the height of its material splendor under the Omayyad Caliphate of Abdu-r-Rahman III (d. 961) and the ruthless dictator Al-Mansur (d. 1002) who, after he razed the great church of Santiago de Compostela, forced Christian captives to carry the huge church bells back to his capital city. Thereafter, the opulent city suffered something of a decline in wealth and culture because of the repeated conquests of the fundamentalist Berbers from North Africa (the Almoravides and Almohades). Nevertheless, Cordoba remained a formidable target for any Christian attack.
    One night during the cold, rainy season at the end of 1235, a group of adventurous knights scaled the walls and gained possession of one of the suburbs and sent word to Fernando explaining their precarious circumstances. Knowing that his vassals had exposed themselves to great danger for their Christian faith, the warrior-King immediately gathered up a few companions and rode rapidly for the next few days through rain and floods to bring needed relief. As spring came on, Fernando, with increased forces, captured the main defending castle at the opposite end of town, ravaged the Moslem fields, and tightened the siege. Late in June, Cordoba, once the ornament of the world, capitulated. For the next few weeks, village after village came out and watched in amazement as Moslem captives carried the
    huge bells of Santiago on their shoulders back to Compostela.
    In 1246 Fernando besieged Jaen once again, having already failed three times. When it became evident that this time the fortified
    city would fall, the King of Granada, its master, knowing his own kingdom would be next, decided to cut his losses. He agreed to surrender Jaen and become Fernando’s vassal if the latter would allow him to keep the Kingdom of Granada, which included the port cities of Malaga and Almeria. Fernando approved and Granada became a vassal state of Castile, a status that it retained until 1492.
    Capture of Seville by Ferdinand III

    The crusading Castilian could now turn his attention to Seville, the greatest city in Western Europe at the time. Seville was situated on the west or left bank of the Gaudalquivir River sixty miles from the Atlantic Ocean and was connected with its suburb, Triana, on the opposite bank by a bridge of boats. The river downstream, actually an estuary, was navigable. Fernando’s first task was to break the ring of walled towns and fortresses within a twenty mile radius that guarded the approaches to the city. The residents of those towns that capitulated could remain unmolested in their homes but had to turn over the citadels and fortifications to the Castilians. The towns that resisted were captured and the inhabitants killed.
    Since the Gualalquivir was navigable up to Seville, naval vessels played an integral part in the investment of the city in order to cut off
    communications and supply routes. The Spanish Admiral Ramon Boniface assembled a fleet in the bay of Biscay, brought it around the peninsula, and after several engagements gained control of the river. His most spectacular success came in May 1248 when two large
    galleys rammed the bridge of boats with such force that the chains which held the boats in place snapped, allowing the current to carry the two halves harmlessly to shore.
    The siege reached a critical stage during the summer when famine, disease, and terrible heat brought unbearable suffering to both sides. The moral elements of fortitude and determination gained in priority, which gave the advantage to the Christians because of their battle-hardened warriors, a large number of whom were the devoted monks of the military religious orders. The Moslems capitulated in November and after lengthy negotiations agreed to evacuate the city along with its dependent villages. Hundreds of thousands of Mohammedans under Christian escort retired to Granada or were transported to North Africa.
    The privations and austerities of camp life and the rigors of his spiritual life had destroyed San Fernando’s health, and he died shortly after in 1252. The great Crusader, whose body is whole and incorrupt to this day, was revered as a saint long before his canonization in 1671.
    by Jeremias Wells, Crusade Magazine July-August 2001
    Incorrupt body of Saint Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon

    Bibliographical Note
    The intimate details and quotations come from Sister Fernandez de Castro Cabeza, The Life of Saint Ferdinand III, Mount Kisco, N.Y., 1987. That biography, which was compiled from contemporary documents, especially the chronicles of Fernando’s son King Alfonso X, is available from the Foundation for a Christian Civilization. (Call 1-888-317-5571)
    Two other works that complement that information are Joseph F. O’Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain (Ithaca, N. Y., 1975)
    and Derek Lomax, The Reconquest of Spain (London, 1978).
    1. Ferdinand’s maternal grandfather, Alfonso VIII of Castile, and his father, Alphonso IX of Leon, were actually of the same generation. They were both grandchildren of Alphonso VII.
    2. She is also canonized (feast, June 17) because of the holiness of her life after her separation from Alphonso IX.

    Última edición por Hyeronimus; 11/06/2012 a las 19:22

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    Re: Saint Ferdinand III of Castile

    Most Valiant

    May 28, 2012
    Saint Ferdinand III of Castile

    King of Leon and Castile, member of the Third Order of St. Francis, born in 1198 near Salamanca; died at Seville, 30 May, 1252. He was the son of Alfonso IX, King of Leon, and of Berengeria, the daughter of Alfonso III, King of Castile, and sister of Blanche, the mother of St. Louis IX.
    In 1217 Ferdinand became King of Castile, which crown his mother renounced in his favor, and in 1230 he succeeded to the crown of Leon, though not without civil strife, since many were opposed to the union of the two kingdoms. He took as his counselors the wisest men in the State, saw to the strict administration of justice, and took the greatest care not to overburden his subjects with taxation, fearing, as he said, the curse of one poor woman more than a whole army of Saracens. Following his mother’s advice, Ferdinand, in 1219, married Beatrice, the daughter of Philip of Swabia, King of Germany, one of the most virtuous princesses of her time. God blessed this union with seven children: six princes and one princess. The highest aims of Ferdinand’s life were the propagation of the Faith and the liberation of Spain from the Saracen yoke. Hence his continual wars against the Saracens. He took from them vast territories, Granada and Alicante alone remaining in their power at the time of his death. In the most important towns he founded bishoprics, reestablished Catholic worship everywhere, built churches, founded monasteries, and endowed hospitals. The greatest joys of his life were the conquests of Cordoba (1236) and Seville (1248). He turned the great mosques of these places into cathedrals, dedicating them to the Blessed Virgin. He watched over the conduct of his soldiers, confiding more in their virtue than in their valor, fasted strictly himself, wore a rough hairshirt, and often spent his nights in prayer, especially before battles. Amid the tumult of the camp he lived like a religious in the cloister. The glory of the Church and the happiness of his people were the two guiding motives of his life. He founded the University of Salamanca, the Athens of Spain. Ferdinand was buried in the great cathedral of Seville before the image of the Blessed Virgin, clothed, at his own request, in the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis. His body, it is said, remains incorrupt. Many miracles took place at his tomb, and Clement X canonized him in 1671. His feast is kept by the Minorites on the 30th of May.

    FERDINAND HECKMANN (Catholic Encyclopedia)

    May 30 – Most Valiant

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    Re: Saint Ferdinand III of Castile

    The death of Saint Ferdinand III, the very noble King of Castile and Leon

    May 28, 2012

    Saint Ferdinand III of Castile. Painted by Spanish School.

    The preparations for the conquest of Moslem Africa were in advanced stages. The good King Don Ferdinand, close to embarking, spoke to the two Alfonsos, his son and his brother, during one warm evening while walking through the gardens, trying to convince one of the two to remain in Spain to govern it. However neither would yield in their insistent desire to go to Africa with him….
    The month of May was ending and the weather was very hot in Seville. That morning the King had gone to see the various projects on the docks, and was returning tired, but happy, when suddenly an attack of his old sickness assaulted him. It was so terrible and accompanied by such a sharp pain that he clearly realized that this time he would not escape. He was taken to bed, and as soon as he recovered somewhat and was able to talk, he said to Alfonso and all there present:
    “Time is running out and the hour for me to die has come.”
    Saint Ferdinand of Castile, his crown and scepter resting on a draped table. Painting by Karel Skreta

    Thus, with simple naturality and with no sign of sorrow, he renounced his glorious dreams. For him the will of God was everything….
    Ferdinand, in the meantime, requested the Viaticum to be brought to him. While a procession was being organized in Santa Maria, the humble King was preparing himself to receive his Lord and his God in the palace. He asked to be dressed in the beautiful white and gold rich silk shirt he wore on feast days, and, in reverence to Christ’s royal dignity and power, he ordered every reminder of human majesty to be removed from his chamber. He no longer wanted to see his crown or his scepter, or to think about government or honors of this world. Facing the bed where he was lying his men erected a beautiful altar with purple damasks and fine linens whiter than snow. On it they placed a sacred crucifix and six great silver candlesticks with lighted candles. One after another, the sons and brothers of the King arrived. The Queen was shedding tears of great affliction, and Teresa, Aldonza and Urraca shared her grief. With them were their husbands and the other noblemen of the King’s house and wise men of his council. Don Ferdinand’s eyes were closed, and, absorbed in prayer, he was oblivious to the things of this world. The only sounds in the large room were the difficult breathing of the patient, the crackling of a sputtering candle and unrestrained sobbing.
    The last Communion of St. Ferdinand. Painting by José Gutiérrez de la Vega

    Suddenly the silvery sound of a distant bell was heard approaching. King Ferdinand opened his eyes and looked at the door. Clergymen, friars and knights entered, all bearing lighted candles whose small golden flames wavered with mysterious restlessness in the darkness of the large room. And, after them, carried in a gold ciborium wrapped in silk cloths by a devout and recollected priest of a military order, was the Most Holy Body of Christ. Seeing Him, a powerful surge of love revived Ferdinand, who lifted himself from the bed, knelt on the hard marble tiles, and placed a rope he had prepared around his neck as a sinful penitent. Thus, contrite and humiliated, King Ferdinand laid down his royalty before the divine royalty of Jesus Christ. Near the altar Don Remondo waited dressed in the pontifical vestments; before the ceremony began, the voice of the King rose: “Give me first the Holy Cross so that I may repent for my sins before It.”
    They placed It in his hands, and, fixing his eyes on It, he began to shed bitter tears while he said:’
    “Look at me here, my Lord Jesus Christ, in Thy presence as a wicked sinner, for I know well the many sins with which I have offended Thee. But great as they may be, I trust in Thy mercy that, through the merits of Thy holy Passion and Thy most precious death, Thou wilt forgive me of them. Remember, Lord, the many outrages and torments Thou suffered for my sake and by which Thou hast the name of Savior, and deliver Thy servant of his sins, which were the cause of Thy sufferings.”
    At this point the King’s voice faltered, breaking in a sob. Recovering, he continued:
    “I regret these offenses very much, Lord, and I grieve also for the death Thou suffered for me; and since Thy Holy Church forgives these sins, I want to confess them, to erase the bad example I have given to these my vassals here present, knowing that I detest these sins most heartily and would that I had never committed them…”
    And humbly, painfully, he manifested in a loud voice all the sins of his life, from his childish actions as a boy to his last faults of yesterday. The noble countenance was covered with shame, because, although his sins were the inevitable weaknesses of which only the Mother of Christ was free, they seemed to him like great sins and, as such, he felt great sorrow. But because he understood the infinite holiness of God and because of the ardent love he had for Him, he performed this work of justice to satisfy the divine majesty he had offended. In his contrition, he continued:
    “I well deserve every humiliation for my sins, yet Thou, Lord, wanted to suffer the humiliation of making them Thine and of appearing in the presence of the Father covered with them, and because of the great shame Thou didst shed blood.… And then Thou wast betrayed by one of your men, and imprisoned by the executioners and tied with rough ropes… And Thou suffered this so that I would be free! And Thou wert taken, Lord, to be judged by Annas and Caiphas and Pilate, and there Thou didst stand like a criminal… And I, who have performed so much evil, have judged Castile and León! So many outrages and so many blows Thou didst receive, and they spit on Thy Face so that I, a sinful man, would be honored by all… And Pilate’s soldiers seized Thee and scourged Thee fiercely; and while Thou were suffering it, I was in the midst of pleasures!… And they placed on Thee a crown of thorns and gave Thee a reed scepter and an infamous mantle, and while Thou wast thus mocked, I have been obeyed by all! And Thou, my Lord, wast condemned to death on the cross that I would live, and Thou carried the cross up the hill of Calvary, and on it Thou didst let Thyself be nailed and Thou didst die so that I would have Paradise with Thee!”
    Painting by Virgilio Mattoni a powerful surge of love revived Ferdinand, who lifted himself from the bed, knelt on the hard marble tiles, and placed a rope he had prepared around his neck as a sinful penitent. Thus, contrite and humiliated, King Ferdinand laid down his royalty before the Divine Royalty of Jesus Christ.

    At this point, tears choked Ferdinand’s voice again, and the lofty head, always erect in battle, fell defeated on his chest, vanquished by love and grief, the tears sliding like a string of pearls onto the silk of his shirt down to the floor. And striking his breast with great blows, he ended his confession:
    “And because by Thy death Thou earned life for me, I request, O Lord of Thy Holy Church, and you, my Father Archbishop, that you would absolve me of my sins.”
    Don Remondo absolved him, and then asked him if he believed in God One, and Triune.
    “I believe in Him Who is God, true and eternal, and Who gave to us of His glory; I believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. And I believe that the Son made Himself man in the womb of the Glorious Blessed Virgin Mary; and I believe in and consent to all the doctrines of our Holy Mother the Church.”
    Don Remondo took the Host in his hands and approached the King who lifted his head and gazed at the Host with an indescribable expression of faith and desire. He received the Body of Christ and remained absorbed in a true union with his King: it was the supreme communion between the Lord of Lords and His lieutenant in Castile.
    As if he were a third person and witnessing from a distance, Ferdinand saw the devout procession leave his room. Then he ordered to have the precious tunic he had worn to be taken off him and went back to his bed. He remained motionless for sometime, his head inclined on the pillows that kept him half-raised in calm and quiet prayer. The Queen cried at his side, and his sons surrounded his bed, awaiting the moment of the last blessing.
    Statue of Alfonso X of Castile in Spanish Plaza, Mobile, Alabama.

    Finally Don Ferdinand opened his eyes and called his eldest: “My son, Alfonso, come here!”
    The Infante knelt at his father’s side. Ferdinand lifted his right hand, and, very slowly because his strength was already seeping away, made the Sign of the Cross on him as a blessing. Then, taking his right hand between his, the King said:
    “Son, you well see how my life is ending, and I am leaving to give my soul to Him Who created it and redeemed it. Tomorrow you will be King of all these realms of Castile and León. Fear, love and obey God and join your will and deeds with Him and you will have a good end. Do not fail to do good while you can, as these good works will save your soul, and everything will pass before you like a dream. Rule the people justly and follow my instruction to continue the task of compiling the laws so we can govern all the people with the same consistent code. Take care of your brothers and strive to improve their situations and treat them in such a way that they do not regret having been born second. Consider the Queen like a mother and give her all the honor appropriate for a queen. I also recommend to you Don Alfonso my brother, and all my other brothers and sisters. Honor all the noblemen of your kingdoms and always favor the knights, and faithfully follow their laws and their exceptions and freedoms and those of all your people.”
    The King paused briefly to regain his strength because life was leaving him; he looked in Alfonso’s eyes again and added with an effort that made him tremble convulsively: “If all this that I entrust to you, plead with you, and order you to fulfill is accomplished you will have my full blessing, and if not, my curse.”
    “Amen,” answered Alfonso, his voice also somewhat choked from the emotion of that supreme moment.
    Then the other children who were in Seville began to approach: Fadrique, Henry, Felipe, Manuel, Ferdinand, Doña Eleanor and Luis; each one the king blessed, making the Sign of the Cross on them with his own hand. Manuel, in his turn, approached with his tutor Don Peter López de Avala who said to Ferdinand when the Infante knelt: “Lord, if I have served you well, I beg of you as a favor not to leave Manuel without an inheritance.”
    Don Ferdinand was nearing his end, exhausted by the effort of being on his knees for such a long time, the emotional confession and the farewell to his sons. Such was his condition that he could only speak with great effort. He lifted his hand, purple as a lily, and placing it with a gesture of a caress on the head of the distressed young man, said: “Son, you are the last son I had of Queen Doña Beatrice, who was a very good and holy woman, and I know she loved you very much. However, I cannot give you any inheritance, but I give you my sword Lobera, which has religious significance and with which God did much good for me.”
    Interior of the Royal Chapel of the Cathedral of Seville. St. Ferdinand's reliquary is behind the main altar.

    He then wished to be alone. Watching them leave, he again called Don Alfonso, his firstborn, whom he had loved and honored so much and whom he so greatly trusted.
    “Son, you will be rich in land and in many good vassals, more than any other king in Christendom. Try hard to do good and be good; I leave you lord of all the land this side of the sea that the Moors won from the Visgoth King Roderick. All of it remains under your lordship, either conquered or tributary. If you maintain the boundaries of the state as I am leaving them to you, you are as good a king as I; if you conquer more, you are better, and if the boundaries decrease, then you are not as good as I.”
    The incorrupt body of St. Ferdinand in the Royal Chapel at the Cathedral of Seville.

    The Queen was supported by her ladies. After his sons had left, Alfonso de Molina, Rodrigo Alfonso and his other brothers, the noblemen, his companions in toil and glory, all passed before him, kissing as farewell the rigid hand that had fallen on the sheet. The dying King looked at them, saying his goodbye with his eyes because the fatigue of his heart, which no longer wanted to beat, was choking him like a halter. The Mayor Chamberlain dared to ask him: “Do you want us, Lord, to make a statue of your sepulcher?”
    The King, sincere and contemptuous of all human vanities, gave him this reply: “Let my life and my works be my sepulcher and statue!”

    Don Remondo, the other priests of Santa María and the friars of the monasteries of Seville remained in the royal chamber. After having bid final farewell to all those whom he loved and associated with in this life, now these religious were the only companions that he wanted in this supreme hour. On a small table at his bedside was the Virgin of the Battles, helping him to win this last one. Suddenly Ferdinand looked fixedly on high, his face transformed by an ineffable happiness that swept away the pain of his final agony. He was like this for some time, and the churchmen surrounding him even believed he had died. Coming back from his ecstasy, he smiled joyously and said to them: “The hour has come…give me the candle!”

    Lifting his eyes, he continued speaking to God: “Lord, Thou gavest to me a kingdom I did not have and more honor and power than I deserved. Thou gavest me life as long as it was Thy pleasure. Lord, I give Thee thanks; and I surrender to Thee and deliver to Thee the kingdom Thou gavest me, with the improvements that I was able to achieve, and I offer Thee my soul.” Then he looked at those present. “If, through my fault, you have any complaint, please forgive me for it.”
    Shedding many tears they answered: “We pray to God to forgive you and know that you depart forgiven by us.”
    Then he took the candle with both hands, and somehow found strength in his moral energy to lift it on high while he said: “Lord, naked I came out of my mother’s womb which was the earth, and naked I offer myself to her; and, Lord, receive my soul in the company of Thy servants.” He lowered the candle and adored it as representative of the Holy Ghost.
    Incorrupt body of Saint Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon

    The sounds of his final agony began. Perspiration made his hair adhere to the livid forehead, and large drops fell and soaked the pillows. Their voices dulled by tears, the choir intoned the Litany of the Saints. Toward the end, Ferdinand fixed his sight on that point where heaven opened for him.
    “Sing the Te Deum!” he ordered in a rapture of joy.
    What was he seeing? Was it the angels and saints whom God was sending to receive him? Was it his Lady Holy Mary? Or the Eternal King Jesus Christ coming to receive his knight? Don Ferdinand very simply and gently lowered his eyes, wishing to lock forever in its pupils that last and sweetest vision of his life. The purple face became white, the fine whiteness of ivory; the lips remained half-open with an expression of both supreme desire and ineffable enjoyment…. The holy King Don Ferdinand was entering the last and noblest of all of his conquests, the Kingdom of Heaven. “Te Dominum confitemur,” the choir continued singing near his body.
    And there above the white roofs of Seville, in the star-filled sky of that May night, they say the angels were heard singing a song that human ears had never before heard.

    Sr. Maria del Carmen Fernández de Castro Cabeza, A.C.J., The Life of the Very Noble King of Castile and León, Saint Ferdinand III (Mount Kisco, N.Y.: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, Inc., 1987), pp. 272-278.

    Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 181

    The death of Saint Ferdinand III, the very noble King of Castile and Leon

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    Re: Saint Ferdinand III of Castile

    Libros antiguos y de colección en IberLibro
    9-year-old Crown Prince Alfonso’s first battle against the Moors

    The King [Saint Ferdinand] was still not satisfied.Since he had not been able to go in person to the battle, which he considered his God-given mission in this world, he decided to send to it his dearest possession, his firstborn and heir the Infante, Alfonso, a boy of nine…. But the little Infante was so young that he needed a protector who could effectively lead the expedition. After giving some thought to which nobleman he could entrust his beloved son, he chose Count Don Alvar Pérez de Castro.
    St. Ferdinand III

    “Don Alvar,” he said to him one day, “you see how the Moors have become quite proud and why it is necessary to lower their heads. Unfortunately, I cannot leave this kingdom of mine. I want them to receive an exemplary punishment by means of the Infante Don Alfonso, but because he is very young and not yet strong, I want you to go with him to protect him and to lead the army.”
    Faced with such honor and trust from the King, the formidable Don Alvar, terror of the Moors, felt an emotion that made his eyes shine extraordinarily.
    Alfonso X of Castile

    “You know, Lord, I have never been defeated. My back was never seen by either Moors or Christians. But I never thought I would deserve an honor as great as your faith in me for the protection of the Infante your son. I swear to you, Lord, by God Almighty and Holy Mary and Saint James, that the safety of Don Alfonso is more important to me than my own life.”
    “I realize that well, and I entrust him to you with the greatest confidence. You will travel to Toledo with him, and there you will organize the army for a campaign of skirmishes. Choose good men; while the Archbishop is occupied with Quesada, you will enter the area of Córdoba and Seville, destroying all the land, burning the crops and cutting their trees until you think it expedient to return.”
    Don Alvar was never so happy as that spring morning. He attended Holy Mass in the royal chapel and had lunch with the King. This was an unheard-of honor since etiquette required that the King eat alone. Solemnly, in the presence of the whole court, Ferdinand entrusted his son to Don Alvar. The young Prince was armored in a light coat of mail under the pretty white surcoat that his mother had embroidered for him with red lions and golden castles, but his head was not yet covered with the iron helmet.
    Saint Ferdinand III of Castile. Painted by Spanish School.

    The King placed his hand on his son’s head, looking at him with love and satisfaction.
    “Son, understand well that you are involved in the service of Jesus Christ and must act as a good knight of such a great King. And because you are very young, you must obey Don Alvar the same way you obey me. I am giving him the same authority over you that I have. Behave in such a way that all the men will esteem you and believe that when your hour comes, you will be a good and brave king.”
    These were the instructions that King Ferdinand gave to his firstborn. How handsome he looked, so blond and with a rosy complexion, as he left among those serious Castilians with faces tanned by the sun and the wind.
    When Doña Beatrice could no longer hold back her tears, she retired to her room. The King followed to console her, assuring her that since the boy was leaving in the service of Our Lord Jesus Christ, she should not worry because He would return him to her safe and sound….
    Doña Beatrice

    On the way to the rendezvous in Toledo, the young Alfonso stayed close to Alvar Pérez, asking him about everything he saw around him with that thirst for knowledge that was so typical of him. The count was delighted with the boy’s intelligence, which grasped and understood any explanation given to him. Once in Toledo, at the site designated for organizing the army, a parade of noblemen and knights placed themselves under the command of Don Alvar, and all paid homage by kissing the Infante’s hand….
    There in those days the future King, el Sabio (the Wise), met many of the heroes whose unprecedented feats he himself would immortalize in his chronicles. Among the first were two young esquires from Toledo, noble young men named Diego and Garci Pérez de Vargas. Castro, who admired their bravery and virtue, entrusted to them the protection of the Infante. The older one, Garci, almost twenty-one, was determined to perform so many acts of heroism that, upon his return, his lord Don Alvar would dub him a knight….
    Another day Don Alvar introduced to him a nobleman with dark black eyes and features that revealed his Moorish origin; it was Don Ferdinand Abdemón, the young son of the king of Baeza, given to the King of Castile by his father as hostage years before. He had converted to Christianity by the power of Don Ferdinand’s example.
    Alfonso X of Castile

    Castro selected a few of the best knights to form his army. The suffering during those raids of harassment was extensive. Throughout the campaign, the warriors wore only their weapons, never taking them off. They ate what they could steal from the enemy, sleeping in the towns they had assaulted or in the open fields. These campaigns required men with a spirit of sacrifice who would not back down in the face of any austerity. The King had selected a good school to form his son.
    The Infante, who, like all boys, based his idealism on modeling himself after his father, did not turn back because of the harshness of such a life. He would see all those young, brave men laugh merrily, and he would laugh too, happy and proud to be among the most courageous warriors of the Cross. The first time he slept in the open air, he asked his guardian, “How does my father sleep on these campaigns?”
    “Lord Infante,” answered Don Alvar, “the King, your father and my lord, has slept at my side many times under a tree and sometimes without one, and not a few time in the rain and cold weather.”
    Hearing that, Alfonso threw himself on the ground with that idealistic self-sacrifice of youth.
    The knights were delighted with the brave little Infante. The gesture of his father’s trust in giving him to them raised their spirits to a high pitch. These knights, Tello Alfonso, Rodrigo González, Pedro de Guzmán, all personal friends of the King and of his generation, were an exceptional group. Each one of them was capable of defeating up to eight Moors in one battle. That this was no false claim was proved time and time again.
    After assaulting towns and devastating fields in the valley of the Guadalquivir River, Don Alvar was informed the the king of the Gazules had traveled from Africa to find and destroy the Spanish knights in a pitched battle. It never occurred to the great leader to turn back, but rather to erase a humiliation suffered centuries before.(1) He turned his army to the south and waited for the Mohammedans among the olive trees and the grapevines, watered by the Guadalete.
    After locating the Christians, the Moslem army advanced to a position opposite them.
    They were so numerous that the mountains and fields were covered with white burnooses and turbans. Compared to them, the Castilians seemed to disappear like a small crumb that falls to the ground when the bread is broken. But nobody thinks of avoiding the clash by fleeing. Are they not soldiers of Christ? Have they not experienced he power of the God of Battles a hundred times?
    But they did think about saving their souls in case they would die in combat. For that reason, Don Alvar, deeply conscious of what the King demanded from him when he gave him authority over the boy, told the Infante why it was necessary to be on good terms with God on the eve of a battle, and that the King his father never failed to go to confession. He also confessed after the young Prince had finished. There were long lines of knights waiting for their turn around the olive trees, under whose shade the clerics who accompanied the army were hearing confessions. Because of time and other pressing responsibilities, many were forced to confess with one another. In one of those lines, Alfonso saw the two Pérez de Vargas….

    Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites

    In these preparations of souls and bodies the whole night went by. At its end, while the stars still lit the sky, Don Alvar called the esquire Garci Pérez, and there before the King’s son and all the noblemen, he said to him, “Garci Pérez de Vargas, I know well, despite your humility and silence, all you have done since we left Toledo. I do not want such a brave man to enter into battle without receiving the Order. So kneel that I may dub you a knight.” The young man obeyed with a religious fervor. Alvar took the sword from his belt and asked the questions of the ritual:

    “Garci Pérez de Vargas, do you swear to God Almighty and to Holy Mary and to Santiago to defend the holy Christian Law and the land where you were born, and to protect the needy and the helpless?”
    “I swear!” Garci Pérez answered, kissing the cross of the sword.
    Then Alvar Pérez de Castro struck his shoulder with the sword. Afterward, he fastened it to his waist again while Ferdinand Abdelmón and Tello Alfonso placed the spurs on him.
    “You are a knight,” he said to him. “Be careful to act as you have sworn.”
    Garci kissed his sponsor’s hand. All present embraced him and with this the ceremony ended.
    No time could be wasted. At the dawn’s lightly the formidable Moorish army could already be seen, divided into seven squadrons. Don Alvar, without his usual armor, taking as his only weapon a long and strong wooden staff, inspected the Christian army accompanied by the young Infante. The boy, with the optimism proper for his age, observed everything with vivid interest. Joyfully and vigorously the leader spoke to all the knights with such a festive attitude that it transmitted to their hearts the premonition of victory.
    Painting by Adolf Schreyer

    Moors and Christians were already face to face. The rays of the rising sun played with the brilliant colors of the Moorish attires and broke in sparks on the coats of mail of the Christians. Suddenly the powerful voice of Don Alvar gave the battle cry: “Santiago and Castile!” Like a torrent that has broken its dikes, the Christian cavalry charged forward, those terrible “righteous knights,” as the Chronicle says, that where they aimed their lances they undoubtedly left a dead man on the ground and a loose horse running through the fields. Surging on were the men from Toledo, their arms almost like the steel of their swords: the knights of the Orders with their capes floating in the wind like a legion of exterminating angels; the noblemen followed by their armies, desiring glory, always in competition for the achievement of honor and fame. Like the sickle plunges into the golden wheat, the Army of the Cross plunged into the crowd of Moors, opening breaches throughout the line, jumping over the dead and the wounded; and breaking after them, the second squadron, then the third, and the fourth, and, after them, the rest. There was no formation anymore, or lines, or squadrons or anything but a confused, horrible scramble wherein each Christian knight, fighting against three or four Moors, would vanquish them and sweep them away because his effort was sustained by a superhuman virtue. Three horses had been killed under the new knight Pérez de Vargas, and three times, picking himself up from the ground stunned by the terrible fall, he had found another horse with no living owner and had returned with the same strength to the fight. Don Alvar—who did not leave the Infante for a minute—saw Pérez go by covered with his blood and that of others and shouted to him, “Are you wounded, Garci Pérez?”
    But the young man, who was riding his fourth horse, answered smiling and vigorous, “Now you will see, Don Alvar my lord, how my wounds weaken me.”
    And tightening the spurs, he flew like an arrow, holding his lance securely, toward a point where he had distinguished the flag of the king of the Gazules. Unconcerned at the many blows that were falling over him like a shower, his attention concentrated so his aim would not be deviated, and overcome by an intensity that made him insensible to everything, he fell on the Moor with the strength of a hurricane, hitting him with the terrible weapon in the middle of his chest. The clash was so horrendous that the Gazul king, pierced with the formidable young man’s spear, was knocked clean from his saddle. Barci let the weapon go so it would not drag him in the fall, and, taking up his sword, he began to deliver cuts and blows with such a fury that he cause all of the infidels to flee in disorder. While fleeing they spread the news of their lord’s death, adding to the discouragement among the already demoralized Moslems.

    Then the battle went into its last phase, the Moors were being beheaded without compassion by the hundreds. Suddenly, Don Alvar heard a strong blow and, turning to look, he called the Infante’s attention to an incredible scene that caused him to laugh heartily. Diego Pérez de Vargas, Garci’s brother, whose spear, sword and club were all broken, had made another one by seizing an olive tree with a tremendous root. With it, he was distributing terrible blows under which even the hardest heads broke as if they were made of fragile glass.
    The Moors fled like a scattered herd, followed by the Castilians as far as the gates of the city of Jerez. There, trying to enter all at the same time, they squeezed one another in a panic, not even bothering to defend themselves. Out of their minds with fear, they exposed their backs to the Christians, who, not running any risks, were cutting them down.
    That night joy reigned in the Christian camp. All congratulated the Vargas brothers as the heroes of the day, and the Infante, who had grown so fond of them, embraced them as Don Alvar had told him his father used to do with soldiers who distinguished themselves for their courage. The Christian dead were very few in comparison with the Moslems. They buried them piously by torchlight in the ground blessed by the priests who accompanied them.
    (1) The defeat of the Christian Visigoths by the Berbers in 711 at the Guadalete opened up all Spain to the Mohammedan onslaught.

    C. Fernandez de Castro, A.C.J., The Life of the Very Noble King of Castile and León, Saint Ferdinand III (Mount Kisco, N.Y.: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, Inc., 1987), 125-31.
    Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 277

    Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites

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