During the season consecrated to the mystery of our Emmanuel's Birth, we saw standing near His crib the blessed Emperor St. Karl the Great. Crowned with the imperial diadem, and with a sword in his fearless hand, he seemed to be watching over the Babe, Whose first worshippers were shepherds. And now, near the glorious Sepulcher, which was first visited by St. Mary Magdalene and her companions, we perceive a king – Ferdinand the Victorious – wearing a crown, and keeping guard with his valiant sword Lobera – the terror of the Saracen.
Catholic Spain is personified in her Ferdinand. His mother Berengaria was sister to Blanche, the mother of St. Louis, King of France. In order to form "the Catholic kingdom," there was needed one of Our Lord's Apostles, St. James the Greater; there was needed a formidable trial, the Saracen invasion, which deluged the Peninsula; there was needed a chivalrous resistance, which lasted 800 years, and by which Spain regained her glory and her freedom. St. Ferdinand is the worthy representative of the brave heroes who drove the Moors from their fatherland and made her what she is: but he had all the virtues of a saint, as well as the courage of a soldier.
His life was one of exploits, and each was a victory. Córdoba, the city of the Caliphs, was conquered by this warrior Saint. At once its Alhambra ceased to be a palace of Mohammedan effeminacy and crime. Its Mosque was purified and then consecrated for Catholic worship, and afterwards became the Cathedral of the city. The followers of Mohammed had robbed the Church of St. James of Compostella of its bells, and had them brought in triumph to Córdoba; St. Ferdinand ordered them to be carried thither again, on the backs of the Moors.
After a siege of 16 months, Seville also fell into Ferdinand's hands. Its fortifications consisted of a double wall, with 166 towers. The Christian army was weak in numbers; the Saracens fought with incredible ferocity, and had the advantages of position and tactics on their part: but the Crescent was to be conquered by the Cross. St. Ferdinand gave the Saracens a month to evacuate the city and territory. 300,000 withdrew to Xeres, and 100,000 passed over into Africa. The renowned Moorish general, when taking his last look at the city, wept and said to his officers, "None but a Saint could, with such a small force, have made himself master of so strong and well-manned a place."
We cannot now enumerate all of the other victories gained by our Saint. The Moors foresaw that the result would be their total expulsion from the Peninsula. But this was not all that St. Ferdinand proposed: he even intended to invade Africa, and thus crush the Muslim power forever. The noble project was prevented by his death, which took place in the 54th year of his age.
He always looked upon himself as the humble instrument of God's designs, and zealously labored to accomplish them. Though most austere towards himself, he was a father in his compassion for his people, and was one day heard to say: "I am more afraid of the curse of one poor woman, than of all the Saracen armies together." He richly endowed the churches which he built in Spain. His devotion to the Virgin Mother of God was most tender, and he used to call Her, "my Lady": in return, Mary Most Holy procured for him victory in all his battles, and kept away all pestilence and famine from the country during his entire reign, which, as his contemporary chroniclers observed, was an evident miracle, considering the circumstances of that period. The life of our Saint was one of happiness and success, whereas the life of that other admirable king, St. Louis of France, was one of almost uninterrupted misfortune; as though God would give to the world, in these two Saints, a model of courage in adversity, and an example of humility in prosperity. They form together a complete picture of what human life is, regenerated as it has now been by Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom we adore both the humiliations of the Cross and the glories of the Resurrection. What happy times were those, when God chose kings whereby to teach mankind such sublime lessons!
One feels curious to know how such a man, such a king, as St. Ferdinand, would take death when it came upon him. The time approached for his receiving the Holy Viaticum. As soon as the priest entered the room with the Blessed Sacrament, the holy king got out of bed, prostrated himself in adoration, and, humbly putting a cord around his neck, received the Sacred Host. This done, and feeling that he was on the verge of eternity, he ordered his attendants to remove from him every sign of royalty, and called his sons round his bed. Addressing himself to the eldest, who was Alphonsus the Good, he entrusted him with the care of his brothers, and reminded him of the duties he owed to his subjects and soldiers; he then added these words: "My son, thou seest what armies, and possessions, and subjects thou hast, more than any other Christian king; make a proper use of these advantages; and as thou has the power, be good and do good. Thou art now master of the country which the Moors took, in times past, from King Rodriguez. If thou keep the Kingdom in the state wherein I now leave it to thee, thou wilt be, as I have been, a good king, which thou wilt not be, if thou allowest any portion of it to be lost."
As his end drew nigh, the dying King was favored with an apparition from Heaven. He thanked God for granting him that consolation, and then asked for the blessed candle; but before taking it in his hand, he raised up his eyes to Heaven and said: "Thou, O Lord, hast given me the kingdom, which I should not otherwise have had; Thou hast given me more honor and power than I deserved; receive my thanks! I give Thee back this kingdom, which I have increased as far as I was able; I also commend my soul into Thy hands!" He then asked pardon of the bystanders, begging them to overlook any offence that he might have given them. The whole court was present, and, with tears, asked the Saint to forgive them.
The holy King then took the blessed candle into his hands, and raising it up towards Heaven, said: "Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer! Receive my soul, and through the merits of Thy Most Holy Passion, deign to admit it among those of Thy servants!" Having said this, he gave back the candle, and asked the Bishops and priests who were present to recite the Litanies; which being ended he bade them sing the Te Deum. When the hymn was finished, he bowed down his head, closed his eyes, and calmly expired.
Thus died those men, whose glorious works were the result of their Faith, and who looked on themselves as only sent into this world that they might serve Christ and labor to propagate His Kingdom. It was to them that Europe owed its highest glory; they made the Gospel its first law, and based its constitution on the Canons of the Church. It is now governed by a very different standard; it is paying dearly for the betrayal.
The following are the Lessons used in the Office of St. Ferdinand:
Ferdinand III, King of Castile and Leon, to whom, for many centuries, the title of Saint has been given both by clergy and laity, exhibited so much prudence in his youthful years, that his mother Berengaria, Queen of Castile, who had educated him in a very holy manner, resigned her Kingdom in his favor. Scarcely had Ferdinand assumed the government, than he displayed conspicuously all the virtues becoming a King: magnanimity, clemency, justice, and above all, zeal for the Catholic Faith and worship, which he ardently defended and propagated. He mainly showed this zeal by forbidding heretics to settle in his states. He also gave proofs of it by building, endowing, and dedicating to Christian worship, churches in Córdoba, Jaen, Seville, and other cities rescued from the Moorish yoke. He restored, with holy and royal munificence, the Cathedrals of Toledo, Burgos, and other cities.
At the same time, he levied powerful armies in the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, which he inherited from his father Alphonsus; and each year gave battle to the Saracens, the enemies of the Christian religion. The great means whereby this most holy King secured victory in every engagement, were the prayers he offered up to God: he used also to chastise his body with disciplines and a rough hair-shirt, with the intention of rendering God propitious. By so doing, he gained extraordinary victories over the mighty armies of the Moors, and after taking possession of Jaen, Córdoba, and Murcia, and making a tributary of the Kingdom of Granada, he restored many cities to the Christian religion and to Spain. He led his victorious standard before Seville, the capital of Baeza, being, as it is related, urged thereto by St. Isidore, who had formerly been Bishop of that city, and who appeared to him in a vision. Historians also relate that he was miraculously aided during that siege in the following manner: The Mohammedans had stretched an iron chain across the Guadalquivir River, in order to block up the passage. Suddenly there arose a violent wind, and one of the royal ships was, by the King's order, sent against the chain, which was thus broken, and with so much violence that it was carried far on, and bore down, to the river's bottom, a bridge of boats. The Moors lost all their hope, and surrendered the city.
Ferdinand attributed all these victories to the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose image he always had in his camp, and honored it with much devotion. Having taken Seville, his first thoughts were directed to religion. He immediately caused the Mosque of the Saracens to be purified and dedicated as a Christian church, having with a princely and pious munificence, provided it with an Archiepiscopal See, richly endowed with a well-appointed college of Canons and dignitaries. He moreover built several other churches and monasteries in the same city. Whilst engaged in these holy works, he was making preparations to pass over to Africa, there to crush the Mohammedan empire; but he was called to the Kingdom of Heaven. When his last hour came, he fastened a cord around his neck, prostrated on the ground, and shedding abundant tears, adored the Blessed Sacrament, which was brought to him as Viaticum. Having received It in admirable dispositions of reverence, humility and faith, he slept in the Lord. His body, which remained incorrupt for six centuries, is buried in a tomb of extraordinary richness, in the Cathedral Church of Seville.
By delivering thy people from the yoke of the infidel, thou, O St. Ferdinand, didst imitate our Risen Jesus, Who rescued us from death and restored us to the life we had lost. Thy conquests were not like those of this world's conquerors, who have no other aim than to satisfy their own and their people's pride. Thy ambition was to deliver thy people from an oppression which had weighed heavily on them for long ages. Thy object was to save them from the danger of apostasy, which they incurred by being under the Moorish yoke. O Champion of Christ, it was for His dear sake that thou didst lay siege to the Saracen cities! His banner was thine; and thy first anxiety was to spread His Kingdom. He, in return, blessed thee in all thy battles, and made thee ever victorious.
Pray for thy country, O saintly King! False doctrines and treacherous influences are now rife in her, and nearly all of her children have been led astray. Thou art still her beloved protector; hasten, then, to her aid!
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