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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Ferdinand III, King Of Castile

June 6, 2019 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

The list of Third Order Franciscans contains some surprising persons. It includes Popes Leo XIII, Pius X, John XXIII, among others. It also includes St. Thomas More, St. Francis de Sales, and a number of royalty such as St. Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, and St. Louis IX, King of France. In addition, during the fifteenth century, Ferdinand and Isabella and Columbus were among their number.
The composer Franz Liszt and the artists Michelangelo and Raphael were also Third Order Franciscans as was Ferdinand III, King of Castile, who accomplished so much in freeing Spain of Moorish control.
King Ferdinand III, King of Castile, also known as “The Terror of the Saracens,” was born on August 5, 1199 at the monastery of Valparaiso. This monastery was near Salamanca, Spain, by the northeastern Portuguese border. (Recent research indicates he may have been born as late as 1201.) He lived 100 years after a popular Spanish folk hero, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, who defeated Muslim rulers.
King Alfonso IX of Leon was his father and his mother, Berengaria of Castile, was also of royal lineage. Pope Innocent III annulled their marriage in 1204 because of consanguinity — they were too closely related.
After their separation, Berengaria took their children, including Ferdinand, to her father’s court. He was King Alfonso VIII of Castile. When Berengaria’s younger brother, Henry II, died, Ferdinand became the heir to the throne since his mother resigned her rights in his favor. However, she maintained oversight by acting as regent during his youth.
At age 18 Ferdinand was crowned King of Palencia, Valladolid, and Burgos. Despite his youth, Ferdinand easily handled all opposition with prudence and clemency.
In 1225, King Ferdinand, seeking only to defeat the enemies of Christendom, made an alliance with Abdallah al Bayyasi. Together they drove out some of the Moors from Spain and al Bayyasi gave Ferdinand the territories of Banos de la Encina, Salvatierra, and Capilla.
Soon al Bayyasi was killed in an uprising, and Ferdinand obtained possession of Andujar, Baeza, and Martos.
In 1228 the Almohad Caliphate continued to lose influence in southern Spain, when the leaders decided to abandon the country. Ferdinand III of Castile united with his father, Alfonso IX of Leon, James I of Aragon, and Sancho II of Portugal to take back the Spanish lands, meeting with great success.
In 1230 King Alfonso IX of Leon died, and although he left his kingdom to his two daughters by his first wife, Teresa of Portugal, Ferdinand claimed the inheritance for himself. After lengthy negotiations between Teresa and Berengaria, an agreement was reached. Ferdinand would receive the rights to the throne in exchange for some lands and a substantial payment securing the future of his half-sisters. Thus, Ferdinand became king of both Castile and Leon in December 1230.
The Reconquista made great gains from 1228 to 1248 with Ferdinand taking the lion’s share: He took Seville and 15 other territories. Only a portion of Granada remained — a city which agreed to pay a tributary to King Ferdinand.
His success could have caused animosity with other Christian rulers, but Ferdinand negotiated prudently with them to keep their support.
As a person of faith, Ferdinand practiced strict justice and mercy. He refused to place heavy taxes on his subjects because he reportedly feared the curse of one poor old woman more than the whole army of Moors. His soldiers, knowing Ferdinand was a man of deep faith, knew that he prized virtue more than courage. Ferdinand set an example by fasting and praying through the night before a battle.
He carried a banner of our Lady into battle and carried a small picture of her on his saddle. When he achieved victory, he gave all the glory to God. He also attributed his country’s freedom from famine and disease to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
From the conquered people, he kept nothing for himself and insisted the people be treated with respect and kindness by his soldiers. He quickly suppressed rebellions and then granted amnesty.
In 1236 Ferdinand’s first wife, Princess Beatrice of Germany, whom he had married in 1219, died. Their happy marriage brought them seven sons and three daughters. In 1937, he married Joan, countess of Ponthieu, who gave birth to four sons and a daughter. Two of these sons died at a young age.
He not only accomplished much on the battlefield, but he also did much for the lives of his people. His greatest desire was for the propagation of Christianity and freeing Spain from Moorish control. He also wrote a code of law and developed a better court system. Though strict in public administration and justice, he forgave personal injuries without hesitation.
He also did much to improve the education at the University of Salamanca, built the Cathedral of Burgos, and founded houses for the Dominicans, Franciscans, Trinitarians, and Mercedarians. Ferdinand even became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis.
As befitted his love of God, Ferdinand died a holy death surrounded by his family and court. He made a fervent Confession and when the priest entered with Viaticum, he crawled out of bed to prostrate himself on the floor to adore our Lord, put a cord around his neck, and received Holy Communion.
He then ordered his servants to remove every sign of his royalty, asking to be laid to rest in the habit of a Third Order Franciscan. He entrusted his kingdom to his son, Alfonso, telling him that, “as thou has the power, be good and do good.”
Just before Ferdinand died, he was blessed with an apparition from Heaven, and thanked God for such an undeserved consolation. He then prayed, “Thou hast given me more honor and power than I deserved; receive my thanks! I give Thee back this kingdom….I commend my soul into Thy hands!”
The king then begged forgiveness from all present for any offenses he may have given them, bringing tears to their eyes. Ferdinand raised the candle he was holding and prayed, “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!”
He asked the bishops and priests to recite the litanies and when they were completed, he requested they sing the Te Deum, after which the king died.
His feast is celebrated on May 30, the day he died in 1252. He lies in the Cathedral of Seville before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Clement X canonized him in 1671.
Dear St. Ferdinand, you prudently approached the Moors who were willing to work with you and thus reclaimed so much territory previously under their control. During these difficult times, may Christians be guided by a similar wisdom and prudence in all their dealings. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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