Saints of the Day – Martin de Porres

Saint Martin de PorresArticle

Born at Lima, Peru, on November 9, 1579; died November 3, 1639; beatified in 1837; canonized on May 5, 1962, by Pope John XXIII; feast day formerly November 5.

Martin was the illegitimate child of Juan de Porres, a Spanish knight (hidalgo) from Alcantara, and Anna Velasquez, a free Panamanian mullato. Martin inherited his mother’s features and dark skin, which upset his father, but John acknowledged his paternity of Martin and his sister while neglecting them. He was left to the care of his mother, and at 12 he was apprenticed to a barber-surgeon, who taught him the healing arts. Martin’s prayer life was rich even in his youth. He had a deep devotion to the Passion of Our Lord, and continually prayed to know what he could do in gratitude for the immense blessings of redemption.

Deciding upon the religious life, at the age of 15, Martin received the habit of the Third Order of Saint Dominic and was admitted to the Dominican Rosary Convent at Lima as a servant. He gave himself the lowliest duties of the house. Finally, his superiors commanded him to accept the habit of a lay brother – something Martin felt was too great an honor for him – and he was professed. He served in several offices in the convent – barber, infirmarian, wardrobe keeper – as well as in the garden and as a counsellor. Soon Martin’s reputation as a healer spread abroad. He nursed the sick of the city, including plague victims, regardless of race, and helped to found an orphanage and foundling hospital with other charities attached to them. He distributed the convent’s alms of food (which he is said sometimes to have increased miraculously) to the poor. Martin especially ministered to the slaves that had been brought from Africa.

He cured as much through prayer as through his knowledge of the medical arts. Among the countless many whose cures were attributed to Martin were a priest dying from a badly infected leg and a young student whose fingers were so damaged in an accident that his hopes for ordination to the priesthood were nearly quenched.

Martin spent his nights in prayer and penance, and he experienced visions and ecstasies. In addition to these gifts, he was endowed with the gift of bilocation; he was seen in Mexico, Central America, and even Japan, by people who knew him well, whereas he had never physically been outside of Lima after entering the order. One time Martin was on a picnic with the novices and they lost track of time. Suddenly realizing that they would be late for their prayers, Martin had them join hands. Before they knew what happened, they found themselves standing in the monastery yard, unable to explain how they travelled several miles in a few seconds.

He passed through locked doors by some means known only to himself and God. In this way he appeared at the bedside of the sick without being asked and always soothed the sick even when he did not completely heal them.

Even sick animals came to Martin for healing. He demonstrated a great control of and care for animals – a care that apparently was inexplicable to the Spaniards – extending his love even to rats and mice, whose scavenging he excused on the grounds that they were hungry. He kept cats and dogs at his sister’s house.

Great as his healing faculty was, Martin is probably best remembered for the legend of the rats. It is said that the prior, a reasonable man, objected to the rodents. He ordered Martin to set out poison for them. Martin obeyed, but was very sorry for the rats. He went out into the garden and called softly – and out came the rats. He reprimanded them for their bad habits, telling them about the poison. He further assured them that he would feed them every day in the garden, if they would refrain from annoying the prior. This they agreed upon. He dismissed the rodents and forever after, they never troubled the monastery.

His protege, Juan Vasquez Parra, reveals him to have been a practical and capable man, attending to details ranging from raising his sister’s dowry in three days, to teaching Juan how to sow chamomile in the manured hoofprints of cattle. He was eminently practical in his charities, using carefully and methodically the money and goods he collected. He was consulted on delicate matters by persons of consequence in Lima.

Martin’s close friends included Saint Rose of Lima and Blessed John Massias, who was a lay-brother at the Dominican priory of Saint Mary Magdalene in Lima. Although he referred to himself as a “mulatto dog,” his community called him the “father of charity.” They came to respect him so much that they accepted his spiritual direction, even though he was but a lay brother.

He died of quatrain fever at Rosary Convent on November 3. The Spanish viceroy, the count of Chinchón, came to kneel at his deathbed and ask his blessing. Martin was carried to his grave by prelates and noblemen.

The startling miracles, which caused Martin to be called a saint in his own lifetime, continue today at his intercession. He lived a life of almost constant prayer, and practiced remarkable austerities. He worked at hard and menial tasks without ever losing a moment of union with God. His charity, humility, and obedience were extraordinary – even for a saint. Such was the veneration for Martin that the canonical inquiry into his cause was begun in 1660 (Attwater, Cavallini, Delaney, Dorcy, Farmer, Walsh, White).

He is the patron saint of interracial relations (because of his universal charity to all men), social justice, public education, and television in Peru, Spanish trade unionists (due to injustices workers have suffered), Peru’s public health service, people of mixed race, and Italian barbers and hairdressers (White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 August 2020. Web. 28 November 2020. <>