saint peter nolasco

4th of July, the day when…

The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives (in Latin: Ordo Beatae Mariae de Mercede Redemptionis Captivorum, abbreviated O. de M.), which is a Catholic mendicant order founded by the Catalan saint Peter Nolasc, venerates Natàlia de Tolosa, a beatified nun from the 12th century.


Main cloister of the convent of Our Lady of Mercy, Cusco (Diego Martínez de Oviedo, c. 1660 - 1670)

“Hispanic colonial architecture knows nothing more beautiful than the cloister of the Merced. Magnificent handling of open space, lightness and grace combined with sturdy virility of mass, the deep beauty of the color, extraordinary richness and originality in treatment of textures, unerring taste in scale and proportions, all this and more make the Mercedarian cloister unique” 

Harold Wethey, 1944

One of the great masterpieces of Peruvian Baroque, the main cloister of the mercedarian convent in Cusco is the result of the extensive rebuilding produced after the destruction of the former building in the great earthquake of 1650. Its design is attributed to architect and ensamblador Diego Martínez de Oviedo, who worked in the rebuilding of the convent after the death of his father, architect Sebastián Martínez.

The cloister is square in plan, with two stories of six arches on each of its four sides. The main feature of the cloister is the presence of richly carved stone columns of Corinthian order placed over heavily rusticated arches and supporting the corresponding entablatures. These columns share the characteristics of those used in contemporary retablos, with the lower third separated from the rest of the fluted shaft by a ring of acanthus leaves, and adorned with tongue-shaped motives. On top of that, in the upper story two smaller columns support the arches on each side. 

The surrounding corridors are covered with richly carved wooden ceilings, except the one next to the church, adorned with domical vaults. A large array of paintings depicting the life of Saint Peter Nolasco is placed against the walls of the entire lower story.

All photos by the author, 2016.

Francisco de Zurbarán

The Surrender of Seville, 1634

Westminster Collection

“The Mercedarians, as a military order, participated throughout the Reconquest not only under James I of Aragon but also under King Saint Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon (canonized in 1671), who little by little regained the south of Spain. After taking Cordoba in 1236, Ferdinand seized Jaen and the Kingdom of Murcia. He marched on Seville, which he took  from the Moors after a siege of sixteen months, where he was joined by James I of Aragon, accompanied by Saint Peter Nolasco and many friars and knights of the Mercedarian Order. On December 22, 1248, the Christians entered the city. Zurbarán here portrays the moment when Axataf, the Moorish governor of Seville, kneeling, presented the keys of the city to Ferdinand III, in armor and with his right hand resting on the staff of command. To the King’s right stand the knights of the order, also in armor but bearing the Mercedarian escutcheon.”