St. Peter of Alcantra, Spanish Mystic
Today is the feast of St. Peter of Alcantra, one of the famous sixteenth century Spanish mystics. He was a Franciscan Friar who initiated one of the strictest reforms of his Order.
He was born in 1499 at Alcantara, Estremadura, Spain, the son of Peter Garavita, governor of the palace. His mother was a member of the noble family of Sanabia. Peter studied grammar and philosophy at Alcantara, and both civil and canon law at Salamanca University.
At 16, he entered the Observant Franciscans at Manxarretes (Manjaretes). At 22, he was sent to Badajoz to found a friary. He was ordained a priest at the age of 25 (1524), and preached missions in Spain and Portugal. He was a noted preacher, who preferred to preach to the poor; and his sermons, taken largely from the Prophets and Sapiential Books, reflected much empathy and tenderness. He was made superior of the province of Saint Gabriel in 1538. As the superior, he drew up new constitutions for the order of Stricter Observance, however these were met with resistance. Eventually he resigned from this post.
He worked in Lisbon, Portugal in 1541 to help reform the Order. For two years (1542-44) he lived as a hermit with Friar Martin of Saint Mary on Arabida Mountain near Lisbon and was named superior of Palhaes community for novices when numerous friars were attracted to their way of life. During that period he had become convinced of the need for a vigorous Catholic reform, a Counter-Reformation with which to oppose the Protestant Reformation.
Finally, with the approval of Pope Julius III, around 1556, he founded the Reformed Friars Minor of Spain, usually called the Alcatarine Franciscans, which established not only monasteries but also Houses of Retreat where anyone could go and try to live according to the Rule of Saint Francis. The friars lived in small groups, in great poverty and austerity, going barefoot, abstaining from meat and wine, spending much time in solitude and contemplation. Three years later, in 1559, the new Order was enlarged with the addition of a new province, that of Saint Joseph.
St. Teresa of Avila followed his example in reforming the Carmelite Order. Teresa and Peter were intimate friends for the last four years of her life. After they met in 1560, he became her confessor, advisor, and admirer.
Peter was known for frequently experiencing ecstasy, a state where he was entirely consumed with the warmth and light of the Holy Spirit. These euphoric moments were common during his prayer and meditation. Some claim to have witness him levitate.
When he was close to death, Peter took to his knees and prayed. When he was offered water he refused it saying, “Even my Lord Jesus Christ thirsted on the Cross.” Peter died in prayer on October 18, 1562.
Following his death, Peter was beatified by Pope Gregory XV on April 18, 1622. He was subsequently canonized by Pope Clement IX on April 28, 1669.
Saint Peter was one of the great Spanish mystics and his Treatise on Prayer and Meditation (1926 English translation) was said by Pope Gregory XV to be “a shining light to lead souls to heaven and a doctrine prompted by the Holy Spirit.” This treatise was used later by Saint Francis de Sales.
St. Peter of Alcantara is the patron saint of nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
He does much in the sight of God who does his best, be it ever so little.
No tongue can express the greatness of the love which Jesus Christ bears to our souls. He did not wish that between Him and His servants there should be any other pledge than himself, to keep alive the remembrance of Him.
– Saint Peter of Alcantara