Blessed Nuno of Portugal to be Canonized Sunday

It’s not often that five blesseds are canonized in the same ceremony, but such shall it be this Sunday when our Holy Father Benedict raises these five men and women of extraordinary virtue to the altar.

— Blessed Arcangelo Tadini, Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Worker Sisters of the Holy House of Nazareth.

— Blessed Bernardo Tolomei, Italian abbot and founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto.

— Blessed Nuno de Santa Maria Álvares Pereira, Portuguese religious of the Order of Friars of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

— Blessed Gertrude Caterina Comensoli, Italian founder of the Institute of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

— Blessed Caterina Volpicelli, Italian founder of the Institute of Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart.

Of the five, the only one I am familiar with is Blessed Nuno of Portugal who lived from 1360-1431.  The founder (as a father) of the royal house of Braganza, which ruled Portugal from 1640-1910, Nuno de Santa Maria Álvares Pereira distinguished himself as a soldier who had nobility as well as courage. His strategy and prowess in battle led to the victory of Portugal in 1385 at Aljubarrota over the invading forces of Castile.  At that time Castile and France were allied in support of the antipope Clement VII in Avignon, while Portugal supported the true pope, Urban VI in Rome. Nuno was known to cross over the lines after various battles with the Spaniards and tend to the wounded during a truce. He would also give food and money to the widows of those enemy soldiers who had died in battle. Upon the death of his wife, Nuno retired from the military and public life and entered a Carmelite monastery that he had founded near Lisbon. Here, he, Friar Nuno of Saint Mary, remained until his death.  For some reason, and I am hoping one of our readers might know why, the great president of Portugal, Antonio Salazar, objected when Pope Pius XII announced his intention of canonizing Nuno in 1940. Perhaps it had something to do with a fear of agitating the republican forces in Portugal who may have taken the act as a signal of papal support for the monarchists.   Another Pope Benedict, the XVth, had beatified Nuno in 1918.

Many Catholic royal families in Europe and Brazil claim lineage from Blessed Nuno, including the recently beatified Charles of Austria, the last Hapsburg Emperor. Too, Queen Isabella of Spain was one of Nuno’s granddaughters.  Isabella’s daughter (his great-granddaughter) was Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, and her daughter (his great-great-granddaughter) was Queen Mary Tudor. Another descendant was Catherine of Bragança, wife of King Charles II, who died a death-bed Catholic in 1685.

I have an interesting anecdote about Brother Francis and the heir to the throne of the House of Braganza. The facts, however, are a bit skewed in my memory, as he related them to me many years ago, but the gist of it is still fresh in my mind. About fifty years ago, while bookselling in Atlanta, Georgia, Brother went in to a hotel in the downtown area. He was introduced to the owner, a distinguished looking gentleman with a typical American name, like Smith.  Noticing a European accent during the conversation, Brother, having a heavy Lebanese accent himself, asked the man what his real name was.  Amused, Mr. “Smith” over-obliged with several of his Christian names and ended the queue with de Braganza. Historian that he is, Brother picked up on that and innocently went on raving about Blessed Nuno and the royal house, while Mr. Braganza listened politely. Then came the big question.  Brother asked: “Are you a descendant of Blessed Nuno?” “Yes, I am,” said the man, “and, yes, I am the heir to the throne.” “Will it ever be restored?” asked Brother. Guess what?  Here is where I forget the prince’s exact answer.  I think it was something to the effect of ‘not in my lifetime’ or, ‘the monarchy is a thing of the past for Portugal.’ Then, sad to say, he threw in the comment that he would rather be a “Mr. Smith” in America than a prince in Portugal.

In any event, the heir of Braganza gave Brother a donation and one of his own leather briefcases, a better one than the old peeling one Brother was using to stock his religious books in. Years later, on another bookselling trip, Brother left the book bag by the door outside some business as he went in with a handful of books to sell inside. When he came out the case was gone. And what do you think upset Brother Francis more? Losing the book bag, or the books?  You guessed it.  The books!