Nuno was born in 1360, and for many years pursued a military career, becoming the champion of Portuguese independence. After the death of his wife, he joined the Order as a brother in 1423 at the monastery of Lisbon, which he had founded himself, and took the name Nuno of Saint Mary. There he lived until his death in 1431. He was noted for his prayer, his practice of penance, and his filial devotion to the Mother of God.
A national hero of Portugal was canonized on April 26 in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI. The canonization comes after a woman whose eye was blinded by boiling cooking oil received her sight again in the year 2000 after praying to Blessed Nuno.
Saint Nuno Álvares Pereira was known as “O Santo Condestavel” translated: the “Holy Constable” of Portugal. Though he began his life as a soldier of Portugal he ended his life as a Carmelite Lay Brother. Even as a Carmelite he continued to wear his battle armor underneath his Carmelite habit.
Saint Nuno was born and grew up outside Ourem near Fátima and was made the 3rd Count of Ourém in 1383. From his youth Nuno had an ardent devotion to her, the Rosary and to the Brown Scapular.
In the 14th century Portugal had nearly become a province of the Kingdom of Castile as the Spanish had beaten them severely in many battles. Most of Saint Nuno’s life was spent fighting the Spanish to preserve Portuguese independence. His most important battles were Atoleiros, Aljubarrota (very near Fatima), and Valverde inside of Spain.
Later, out of gratitude for a miraculous victory he won over the Spaniards, Saint Nuno built the Gothic church of Our Lady of the Scapular of Mount Carmel on a hill outside of Lisbon. He gave the church to the Carmelite order. Nuno believed prayer, penance and commitment to the poor and needy, to be the true calling of nobility and, following the death of his wife, Nuno entered a Carmelite monastery he had established, taking the religious name Friar Nuno of Saint Mary.
He was renowned for his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and is considered the Founder of the Secular Order because the secular Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, better known as the Confraternity of the Holy Constable, which he founded in Lisbon to support his work with the poor with contributions from its noble members, eventually evolved into the present Carmelite Third Order. This original Confraternity was re-established last year on November 6 (Nuno’s Feast Day) and hopes to be an active branch of the Secular Order providing funds for work with the poor and homeless of Lisbon in remembrance of Dom Nuno.
Nuno is considered the founder of the Bragança Royal Family Dynasty of Portugal which ruled from 1640 until 1910. (Nuno’s daughter, Beatriz, married Alfonso, son of John I, whom he helped bring to power, starting the Aviz Dynasty.) The majority of Catholic royal families in Europe and Brazil claim lineage from him, including the recently beatified Charles of Austria, the last Hapsburg Emperor. Queen Isabella of Spain was one of Nuno’s granddaughters.
Nuno even had descendants in the British royal family: 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. Catherine of Aragon had many miscarriages, a still-born daughter and three short-lived sons before giving birth to Mary. King Henry VIII, desirous of a male heir, sought permission from Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) to annul his marriage to Catherine, but Clement refused, leading Henry to divorce her and break with Rome, beginning the Anglican Church.
Another descendant was Catherine of Bragança, wife of King Charles II who became a Catholic on his deathbed in 1685.
Nuno would kneel in the heat of battle to pray.When fighting the Castilians, he was renowned for his fairness to his enemies, and three times crossed the border to feed the peoples in the neighboring kingdom during famines, and to provide for the widows and orphans of the war. Once, he was so hungry that he traded his horse for six loaves of bread, then gave every loaf to a group of English knights who were looking for food.
Nuno died in poverty as a Carmelite brother on Easter Sunday April 1, 1431 just as the priest, who was reading the Passion of Christ to him pronounced Our Lord’s Words from the Cross: ”Behold thy Mother”, ”Ecce Mater Tua”…now the motto of the Blessed Nuno Society.
"On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Savior, Who sets His own free from their sins’. The helmet of salvation is hope, which looks forward to eternal salvation; and it is called the ‘helmet’ of salvation because, just as the helmet is the uppermost piece of a soldier’s armor, worn on the head, so hope is the uppermost of the virtues, always facing upwards and sighing for the joys of heaven. ‘Of salvation’ means that hope obtains what it longs for; salvation; or rather, just as the shield of faith is faith itself, the helmet of salvation is salvation–Jesus Christ Himself–for ‘salvation is from the Lord,’ and we are to hope for salvation from our only Savior. The remembrance of, or longing for, His lasting salvation is the headpiece of our minds, which makes us safe against any blows the evil one can deal us.
But it is better to be armed for attack than for mere defense. This is why the Rule adds: ‘The sword of the spirit, the Word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts; let whatever you do have the Lord’s Word for accompaniment.
The pieces of armor we have been considering, the breastplate of holiness, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, will keep you safe enough from ever giving in to the devil or any of his minions; but there is another weapon which will enable you to subdue him completely with his whole horde and his works. This is the sword of the spirit, that spiritual blade the Word of God. There are four reasons why the Word of God is called the sword of the spirit: first, it is made by the Holy Spirit, ‘for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’ Second, it slays our spiritual foes as Isaiah says: ‘With the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.’ Third, it divides spirit from flesh as we find in the Letter to the Hebrews: ‘The word of God is living and active, piercing to the division of soul and spirit.’ Fourth, it wounds and penetrates our innermost spiritual parts, which is why it is compared to sharp arrows in the Psalms: ‘A warrior’s sharp arrows.’ The temptations our enemy subjects us to may be cruel but far more cruel to him is a text from the Word of God. And if armor and weapons are not defense enough for us and we feel the need of rations, we need not think we have been left without supplies; God’s Word is our provision. ‘Though an army encamp against me’ and temptation lays siege, I will trust in the word of my God, ‘the sword of the spirit, ‘ and it will bring me easy victory. Then I can wash my hands, knowing that ‘he has prepared a table before me that I may not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,’ and ‘in the strength of that food’ I shall run with our father Elijah ‘to the mountain of God’ by way of His commandments. That is why the Rule adds: ‘The Word of God must abound in your mouths’ in preaching, ‘and in your hearts’ in meditation. Just as our Order’s patroness the Blessed Virgin Mary ‘kept all these words in her heart,’ so must they abound in your hearts by meditation , and in your mouths by instruction. It is by your Rule then brothers, and from the Order’s first institution that you are bidden to preach the Word of God like our father Elijah ‘whose word burned like a torch’ after his example ‘let the Word of God abound in your mouths and hearts, and let all you do,’ whatever it may be, ‘have the Lord’s Word for accompaniment.’"