Holy Mary, Ransom of Captives

In 1960, the feast of Our Lady of Ransom was officially added to the liturgical calendar, celebrating the foundation of the Order of the Mercedarians (or the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy) in Barcelona, Spain. Founded on a dream (quite literally) by St. Peter Nolasco, a war veteran and tutor to fellow founder King James I of Aragon, and canon law pioneer St. Raymond of Peñafort, Our Lady urged the order’s creation to relieve one particular ailment of Christians: being taken hostage.

A continuous string of conflict between Christian and Muslim states along the coast of southern Europe and North Africa spanned the eighth century to the fifteenth. The year the founders received their Mercedarian dream, 1218, was squarely in the middle of these ongoing skirmishes. Regardless of one’s participation in the skirmishes, being stolen away by forces – or even by pirates – was a growing cause of disappearance. Christians who were kidnapped were often tortured into denying their faith or simply never resurfaced, presumed martyred. Slaves became commonplace in costal markets, and most didn’t have the means to track down missing relatives or friends; once someone vanished, they were presumed to stay that way.

The Mercedarians were founded with initially militaristic origins, and they quickly became known for sparing no expense to rescue their enslaved brothers and sisters in Christ. They even took a fourth vow: to take the place of, or even be martyred for, a captive in danger of losing their faith. They truly took to heart Jesus’ words when He said, “no greater love has a man than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

But these were warriors of prayer before all else, and their founders kept that at the forefront of their work. Just as by Our Lady’s help had the order been created, only with a Mother’s guiding hand could they successfully complete their task. Devotion to Our Lady of Ransom became a part of their three-fold mission: passionate prayer, ransom collection, and hostage exchange. The funds that were raised were split into thirds: one to free captives, one to aid the poor, and one to keep maintain the order. It was a constant flow of giving and receiving, all through the hands and heart of Our Lady.

Recorded history recalls tens of thousands of captives ransomed, hostages released, and prisoners paid for over the centuries. St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond of Peñafort were canonized less than 200 years later, in 1608 and 1601, and the order still thrives today with a deep devotion to Our Lady and a redemptive mission.

We can take this example of trust in Our Lady, even in the most dramatic and dire of circumstances, to our own lives. Whatever we find ourselves being held captive by, be it a situation, a habit, or anything in between, let us take it to Our Lady of Ransom today and rest assured she will be able to help.

Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us!

Our Lady is celebrated under many names, from popular apparitions to small-town titles. Each reveal something different about the Blessed Mother to us – and affirms what we already know of her love and intercessory power! Deepen your devotion to Our Lady with Miracles, Mysteries, & Mary, a monthly collection of stories, Church teaching, reflections, and so much more – guaranteed to expand your knowledge of Our Blessed Mother. Sign up today to receive this Marian content, right to your inbox, and check out our archive page to catch up on our year of Our Lady!