The greatest Spanish Monarch and King of Castile and Leon. Born in 1199 exactly 100 years after the death of his illustrious ancestor - El Cid.
30th May was traditionally for Catholics in Spain a holy day of obligation in honor of the great saintly King Fernando III. Saint Fernando died on 30th May 1252 in Seville and was buried adorned in a simple habit of a Franciscan tertiary instead of the regal garments and mail armor plate which he wore during much of his life. (He was not just a king he was a knight warrior.) His funeral was celebrated on a Saturday consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary because of his devotion, during his entire life, to Christ through the intercession of His Holy Mother. In fulfillment of St. Fernando's request, his body was buried beneath the statue of Our Lady the Virgin of Kings. Upon his death a great sorrow was cast over all of Christendom. Even the emir of Granada, of that time, Alhamar the Red, once Fernando's adversary but became his faithful vassal, venerated the memory of his friend by dispatching a 100 of his Moorish cavalrymen to the tomb of King Fernando, each one carrying pure white candles, 150 miles on foot to Seville. This was done annually for 240 years, even after the death of Alhamar which his successors were obliged through an edict he issued. At the time of history, Spain was very much dominated by the Muslim Moors, he fought hard and sacrificed much to expel them out of southern Spain. His achievements had inflicted greatly the defeat of medieval Islam and even out shone those of the crusades under the many kings like Sancho II, Jaime I, St. Louis, Frederick II and Edward I.
Fernando was a man of very deep faith living a life knowing that everything depends on God and that He will give the grace of victory to those who do everything within their power to succeed for His glory. The first sign of Fernando's saintliness was when St. John of Matha remarked that God through Fernando will bring great favors to Spain. This was some months after his miraculous recovery from a disease at the age of 10 which almost took his life, if not for his mother's prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mother of God at the shrine of Santa Maria de Ona.
Fernando had an exemplary example of manhood in his grandfather King Alfonso VIII. For during his lifetime the king, was just, pious, living the will of God and making many sacrifices for the people of his kingdom. One day after Holy Communion he told his mother that God is his King and he is His knight and that he will suffer great labors for God unto blood in the wars against the Moors; and the Blessed Virgin is his Lady. He was often seen deep in prayer before a statue of the Blessed Virgin often on his knees. In battles he would have a statue of the Blessed Virgin mounted on his saddle. This statue exists even today in Seville. Dona Berenguera, Fernando's mother, raised him up to be a saint just as she was raised by her father King Alfonso VIII. She was an exceptionally talented , virtuous, modest and understanding lady both prudent and wise. King Alfonso favored her and counseled her in politics and the affairs of the state. Fernando loved her very much and always listened to her counsel but made the final decisions himself. Fernando's generosity to the poor and his humility was well known among his people.
To his people, his piety was signified by his recollection and devotion during Mass and the Holy Office. Before every battle he would lead his men to make confession and to assist at Holy Mass. He knew what it was to lead men into battle and that he was personally responsible for their lives. From a very young age he was trained in the use of arms like a knight and by seventeen he was already an expert with arms particularly the sword (like his great ancestor El Cid). Few could rival him in swordsmanship, even experienced knights. He never stopped training as a man-at-arms and over the years he became a master swordsman. He too was a tough and hardy soldier, having trained himself to suffer hardships by taking long rides on his horse in inclement weather. He realized that he would have to command men who knew how to suffer and would not have appreciated a commander who could not suffer with them.
Chronology of some significant events: 1217 : Fernando became King of Castile (at age 18), after his mother bequeath her throne which she inherited, after the accidental death of her young brother King Enrique. During that time, Castile had two enemies in King Alfonso IX (king of Leon, Fernando's father) and Count Alvaro, and King Fernando won his first battle against them when both attempted to overtake Castile. When he became King, he rebuilt churches and cathedrals like the Cathedral of Toledo and had new cathedrals build for each Episcopal see. Much was depended on King Fernando and if he had died, the kingdom would have collapsed therefore he accepted his mother's proposal to be married so that Castile will have an heir. Dona Berenguera arranged for Princess Beatrice of Swabia (daughter of King Philip of Germany) a noble girl of great beauty, piety and purity. But before his marriage, Fernando was to become a knight as all this time he was just a prince and soldier. Fernando became a knight according to traditional practices of that time, on the vigil of his dubbing, after having gone to confession, he spent a night in prayer. The next morning he attended Mass and received Holy Communion. His sword was blessed by a Bishop and he was then dubbed a knight. Three days later on 30th Nov.1219 he wedded Princess Beatrice in the grandest of weddings ever known at that time in Spain. Fernando and Beatrice loved each other with a love that is possible only to saints. This love was their strength that supported them through the many trials. In Nov. 23rd 1221 a son was born to them who was named Alfonso who would later be known as "the Wise". In Sept. 29th 1224, the feast of St. Michael, thousands of warriors and knights answered to the call of King Fernando to begin the re-conquest of Spain from the Moors. His first conquest from the Moors was the fortified city of Quesada and the nearby cities.
At Valencia, due to the strength of his armies, King Zeyr of Valencia sort for truce and submitted to Fernando as his vassal. At that time a holy priest, Fr. Chirinos, was preaching to the Moors and was captured, but fascinated by the zeal of this priest, King Zeyr ordered him to celebrate Mass in his presence. As he was beginning Mass he stopped suddenly as he realized that there was no crucifix for the altar and at that very moment King Zeyr and the priest saw a crucifix being set on the altar by heavenly angels. At Communion, King Zeyr was privileged by God to see the Infant Jesus gazing upon him affectionately. Through Fernando's example of humility and charity eventually the hearts of King Zeyr and his family were won over and they were converted into the Catholic faith. The conversion was widely known even until today as the event of the Eucharistic Miracle of Caravaca.
In 1230 nearly the end of October he was crowned King of Leon after the death of his father King Alfonso IX. By this he reunited Leona and Castile. On 22nd Dec. 1248 he captured Seville. This was the last stronghold of the Moors which resulted in them fleeing all the way to the coast of Africa. Thereby re-conquering all Andalusia except Granada, whose king nevertheless did homage to Fernando. In 1250 Fernando once again set out on campaigns and even ventured across to North Africa. During his final preparations to conquer Morocco, in 1252 Fernando was struck with an illness which eventually brought about his holy death. He died with the clergy reciting the litanies and singing the "Te Deum" (A thanksgiving Hymn to God.) In 1671 Fernando was finally canonized a saint after much investigation over his incorrupt body and accounts of miracles obtained through the intercession of King Fernando III. It was known that King Fernando in all his battles, by the grace of God, was never injured, not one scar on his body.
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