Saint Martin de
Feastday: November 3
Martin de Porres Velázquez, O.P. (December 9,
1579 – November 3, 1639), was a lay brother of the Dominican Order who was
beatified in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI and canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.
He is the patron saint of mixed-race people, barbers, innkeepers, public health
workers, and all those seeking racial harmony.
He was noted for work on behalf of the poor, establishing an orphanage and a
children's hospital. He maintained an austere lifestyle, which included fasting
and abstaining from meat. Among the many miracles attributed to him were those
of levitation, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures, and an
ability to communicate with animals.
Juan Martin de Porres Velázquez was born in the
city of Lima, in the Viceroyalty of Peru, on December 9, 1579. He was the
illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman, Don Juan de Porres, and Ana Velázquez, a
freed slave from Panama, of African or possibly part Native American descent. He
had a sister named Juana, born two years later in 1581. After the birth of his
sister, the father abandoned the family. Ana Velázquez supported her children by
taking in laundry. He grew up in poverty and, when his mother could not support
him, Martin was confided to a primary school for two years, and then placed with
a barber/surgeon to learn the medical arts. He spent hours of the night in
prayer, a practice which increased as he grew older.
By law in Peru, descendants of Africans and Indians were barred from becoming
full members of religious orders. The only route open to Martin was to ask the
Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima to accept him as a donado, a volunteer
who performed menial tasks in the monastery in return for the privilege of
wearing the habit and living with the religious community. At the age of 15 he
asked for admission to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima and was
received first as a servant boy, and as his duties grew he was promoted to
Martin continued to practice his old trades of barbering and healing and was
said to have performed many miraculous cures. He also took on kitchen work,
laundry, and cleaning. After eight years at Holy Rosary, the prior Juan de
Lorenzana, decided to turn a blind eye to the law and permit Martin to take his
vows as a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. Holy Rosary was home to
300 men, not all of whom were as open-minded as De Lorenzana; one of the novices
called Martin a “mulatto dog,” while one of the priests mocked him for being
illegitimate and descended from slaves.
When Martin was 24, he was allowed to profess religious vows as a Dominican lay
brother in 1603. He is said to have several times refused this elevation in
status, which may have come about due to his father's intervention, and he never
became a priest. It is said that when his convent was in debt, he implored them:
"I am only a poor mulatto, sell me." Martin was deeply attached to the Blessed
Sacrament, and he was praying in front of it one night when the step of the
altar he was kneeling on caught fire. Throughout all the confusion and chaos
that followed, he remained where he was, unaware of what was happening around
When Martin was 34, after he had been given the
religious habit of a lay brother, he was assigned to the infirmary, where he was
placed in charge and would remain in service until his death at the age of 59.
He was known for his care of the sick. His superiors saw in him the virtues
necessary to exercise unfailing patience in this difficult role. It was not long
before miracles were attributed to him. Martin also cared for the sick outside
his convent, often bringing them healing with only a simple glass of water. He
ministered without distinction to Spanish nobles and to slaves recently brought
from Africa. One day an aged beggar, covered with ulcers and almost naked,
stretched out his hand, and Martin took him to his own bed. One of his brethren
reproved him. Martin replied: “Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to
When an epidemic struck Lima, there were in this single Convent of the Rosary 60
friars who were sick, many of them novices in a distant and locked section of
the convent, separated from the professed. Martin is said to have passed through
the locked doors to care for them, a phenomenon which was reported in the
residence more than once. The professed, too, saw him suddenly beside them
without the doors having been opened. Martin continued to transport the sick to
the convent until the provincial superior, alarmed by the contagion threatening
the friars, forbade him to continue to do so. His sister, who lived in the
country, offered her house to lodge those whom the residence of the religious
could not hold. One day he found on the street a poor Indian, bleeding to death
from a dagger wound, and took him to his own room until he could transport him
to his sister’s hospice. The prior, when he heard of this, reprimanded him for
disobedience. He was extremely edified, however, by his reply: "Forgive my error,
and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took
precedence over that of charity." The prior gave him liberty thereafter to
follow his inspirations in the exercise of mercy.
Martin did not eat meat. He begged for alms to procure necessities the convent
could not provide. In normal times, Martin succeeded with his alms to feed 160
poor persons every day, and distributed a remarkable sum of money every week to
the indigent. Side by side with his daily work in the kitchen, laundry and
infirmary, Martin’s life is said to have reflected extraordinary gifts:
ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed,
bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and a remarkable rapport
with animals. He founded a residence for orphans and abandoned children in the
city of Lima.
Martin was a friend of both St. Juan Macías, a fellow Dominican lay brother, and
St. Rose of Lima, a lay Dominican. By the time he died, on November 3, 1639, he
had won the affection and respect of many of his fellow Dominicans as well as a
host of people outside the priory. Word of his miracles had made him known as a
saint throughout the region. As his body was displayed to allow the people of
the city to pay their respects, each person snipped a tiny piece of his habit to
keep as a relic. It is said that three habits were taken from the body. His body
was then interred in the grounds of the monastery.
After De Porres died, the miracles and graces received when he was invoked
multiplied in such profusion that his body was exhumed after 25 years and said
to be found intact, and exhaling a fine fragrance. Letters to Rome pleaded for
his beatification; the decree affirming the heroism of his virtues was issued in
1763 by Pope Clement XIII.
Pope Gregory XVI beatified Martin de Porres on October 29, 1837, and nearly 125
years later, Pope Saint John XXIII canonized him in Rome on May 6, 1962. He is
the patron saint of people of mixed race, and of innkeepers, barbers, public
health workers and more, with a feast day on November 3.
Martin is also commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Church of England
on November 3.
He is recognised as Papa Candelo in the Afro-Caribbean-Catholic syncretist
religion of Santería, which is practised in places where African diaspora
culture thrives such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the United
States, and his native Peru.
Martin de Porres is often depicted as a young
mulatto friar wearing the old habit of the Dominican lay brother, a black
scapular and capuce, along with a broom, since he considered all work to be
sacred no matter how menial. He is sometimes shown with a dog, a cat and a mouse
eating in peace from the same dish.
Martin's sometimes defiant attachment to the
ideal of social justice achieved deep resonance in a church attempting to carry
forward that ideal in today's modern world.
Today, Martin is commemorated by, among other things, a school building that
houses the medical, nursing, and rehabilitation science schools of the Dominican
University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines. A programme of work is also named
after him at the Las Casas Institute at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.
He is also the titular saint of the parish of St. Martin de Porres in
Poughkeepsie, NY, St. Martin de Porres Marianist elementary school in Uniondale,
NY, and St. Martin de Porres Catholic elementary school in Scarborough, ON,
Canada. A number of Catholic churches are named after him.
In popular culture
In the 1980 novel A Confederacy of Dunces,
Ignatius Reilly contemplates praying to Martin for aid in bringing social
justice to the black workers at the New Orleans factory where he works. In music,
the first track of jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams's album Black Christ of the
Andes is titled "St. Martin De Porres."
There are several Spanish and Mexican works regarding his life in cinema and
television, starring Cuban actor Rene Muñoz, the most of them referring to his
mulatto origin, his miracles and his life of humility. The most known movies are
Fray Escoba (Friar Broom) (1963) and Un mulato llamado Martin (A mulatto called
In the Moone Boy episode "Godfellas", the character Martin Moon is shown to be
named by his grandfather after San Martin De Porres. Humorously, his grandfather
is unable to actually remember any of San Martin's accomplishments, and simply
refers to him as "One of the black ones" when asked about him.
Martin de Porres (sculpture) by Father Thomas McGlynn.
Litany to Saint Martin de Porres
Holy Mary, Queen of the Most
Holy Rosary, pray for us.
St Martin, ever in the presence of God, pray for us.
St Martin, faithful servant of Christ, pray for us.
St Martin, lover of the Holy Eucharist, pray for us.
St Martin, devoted to our Blessed Mother, pray for us.
St Martin, spiritual patron of Americans, pray for us.
St Martin, raised from the depths to a heavenly mansion, pray for us.
St Martin, honored son of Saint Dominic, pray for us.
St Martin, lover of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us.
St Martin, apostle of mercy, pray for us.
St Martin, winged minister of charity, pray for us.
St Martin, symbol of interracial brotherhood, pray for us.
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