NUNO ÁLVARES PEREIRA was born in Portugal on 24th June 1360, most probably at Cernache do Bomjardin, illegitimate son of Brother Álvaro Gonçalves Pereira, Hospitalier Knight of St. John of Jerusalem and prior of Crato and Donna Iria Gonçalves do Carvalhal. About a year after his birth, the child was legitimized by royal decree and so was able to receive a knightly education typical of the offspring of the noble families of the time. At thirteen years of age he became page to Queen Leonor, was received at court and was created a knight. At sixteen years of age, at the wish of his father, he married a rich young widow Donna Leonor de Alvim. Three children were born to the union, two boys who died early in life, and a girl, Beatrice, who would eventually marry Afonso, first Duke of Bragança, son of King João I.a
When King Fernando died, without an heir on 22nd October 1383, his brother João, became involved in the struggle to win the Lusitanian crown, which was being contested by the King of Castile, who had married the daughter of the dead king. Nuno took João’s side. He wanted him as his constable, that is commander-in-chief of the army. Nuno led the Portuguese army to victory on various occasions up until the battle of Aljubarrota (14th August 1385), which brought the conflict to an end.
The military capabilities of Nuno were, nevertheless, tempered by a deep spirituality, a profound love of the Eucharist and of the Blessed Virgin, the main foundations of his interior life. Totally dedicated to Marian prayer, he fasted in Mary’s honour on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and on the vigil of her feasts. The banner he chose as his personal standard bore the image of the cross, of Mary and of the saintly knights James and George. At his own expense he built numerous churches and monasteries, among which was the Carmelite church in Lisbon and the church of Our Lady of Victories at Batalha.
Following the death of his wife in 1387, Nuno did not wish to marry again and became a model of celibate life. When peace finally came, he gave the bulk of his wealth to the veterans, the rest he would dispose of in 1423 when he decided to enter the convent of the Carmelites which he himself had founded, taking the name of Brother Nuno of Saint Mary. Animated by love he abandoned power to serve the poor: it was a radical choice for a life, bringing as it did to a high point, the authentic path of faith which he had always followed. With this choice, he left behind the weapons of war and power in order to be vested in spiritual armor as the Rule of Carmel recommends. He would have wanted to withdraw to a community far away from Portugal, but the son of the king, Don Duarte, prevented it. No power could stop him from dedicating himself to the convent and above all to the poor, whom he continued to help and serve in every possible way. For them he organized a daily distribution of food and never hesitated in responding to their needs. The Commander of the King of Portugal, chief officer of the army and victorious leader, founder and benefactor of the Carmelite community, when entering the convent did not want any privileges but chose the humblest rank of a lay brother, putting himself at the service of the Lord, of Mary his ever venerated Patron, and of the poor in whom he recognized the face of Jesus himself.
Of significance too was the day of the death of Brother Nuno of Saint Mary: it was Easter Sunday, the 1st April 1431, and what following it was that he was immediately acclaimed a saint by the people who called him “O Santo Condestavel”.
While the fame of Nuno’s holiness remained constant and grew over time, more complex was the interim period of time leading to the process of canonization. This process was begun by the Portuguese sovereigns, and then by the Carmelite Order. But many other obstacles were to get in the way. Only in 1894 did Fr. Anastasio Ronci, then Postulator General of the Carmelites, succeed in introducing the process of recognition of the cult ab immemorabili of Blessed Nuno, which despite the difficulties came to a happy conclusion on 23rd December 1918 with the Decree Clementissimus Deus of Pope Benedict XV.
Even the relics were moved many times for the original tomb in the Carmelite church, until finally in 1961 on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the birth of Blessed Nuno, a pilgrimage was organized with the precious silver reliquary in which they were kept. Shortly afterwards this too was robbed and the reliquary never found. In their place some bones, relics from other places, were gathered together and preserved. The discovery of the site of the original tomb in 1996, together with some authenticated bone fragments, awakened the desire to hasten the proclamation of Blessed Nuno as a saint in the church.
The Postulator General of the Carmelites, Fr. Felipe M. Amenós y Bonet, took up the cause again and this was collaborated by an approved miracle in the year 2000. The required inquiries having been undertaken, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI made the proclamation of the decree of the miracle on 3rd July 2008. During the Consistory of 21st February 2009 he indicated that Blessed Nuno would be enrolled in the list of saints on 26th April 2009.