Blessed Alvarez of Cordova

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Blessed Alvarez is claimed by both Spain and Portugal. He received the habit in the convent of Saint Paul in Cordova in 1368, and had been preaching there for some time in Castile and Andalusia when Saint Vincent Ferrer began preaching in Catalonia. Having gone to Italy and the Holy Land on a pilgrimage, Alvarez returned to Castile and preached the crusade against the infidels. He was spiritual advisor to the queen-mother of Spain, Catherine daughter of John of Gaunt, and tutor to her son John II. Alvarez had the work of preparing the people spiritually for the desperate effort to banish the Moors from Spain. He also opposed the Avignon pope Peter de Luna.

Blessed Alvarez is probably best remembered as a builder of churches and convents, an activity which was symbolic of the work he did in the souls of those among whom he preached. He founded, in one place, a convent to shelter a famous image of Our Lady, which had been discovered in a miraculous manner. Near Cordova he built the famous convent of Scala Coeli, a haven of regular observance. It had great influence for many years. His building enterprises were often aided by the angels, who, during the night, carried wood and stones to spots convenient for the workmen.

The austerities of Alvarez were all the more remarkable in that they were not performed by a hermit, but by a man of action. He spent the night in prayer, as Saint Dominic had done; he wore a hairshirt and a penitential chain; and he begged alms in the streets of Cordova for the building of his churches, despite the fact that he had great favor at court and could have obtained all the money he needed from the queen. He had a deep devotion to the Passion, and had scenes of the Lord’s sufferings made into small oratories in the garden of Scala Coeli.

On one occasion, when there was no food for the community but one head of lettuce left from the night before, Blessed Alvarez called the community together in the refectory, said the customary prayers, and sent the porter to the gate. There the astonished brother found a stranger, leading a mule; the mule was loaded with bread, fish, wine, and all things needed for a good meal. The porter turned to thank the benefactor and found that he had disappeared.

At another time, Blessed Alvarez was overcome with pity at a dying man who lay untended in the street. Wrapping the man in his mantle, he started home with the sufferer, and one of the brothers asked what he was carrying. “A poor sick man,” replied Alvarez. But when they opened the mantle, there was only a large crucifix in his arms. This crucifix is still preserved at Scala Coeli.

Blessed Alvarez died and was buried at Scala Coeli. An attempt was made later to remove the relics to Cordova, but it could not be done, because violent storms began each time the journey was resumed, and stopped when the body was returned to its original resting place.

Founded Escalaceli (Ladder of Heaven), a Dominican house of strict observance in the mountains around Cordova; it became a well known center of piety and learning. Alvarez spent his days there preaching, teaching, begging alms in the street, and spending his nights in prayer. In the gardens of the house he set up a series of oratories with images of the Holy Lands and Passion, similar to modern Stations of the Cross.

A bell in the chapel of Blessed Alvarez, in the convent of Cordova, rings of itself when anyone in the convent, or of special not in the order, is about to die (Benedictines, Dorcy).

There are many wonderful stories attached to Alvarez, which include:

Angels are reported to have helped built Escalaceli, moving stone and wooden building materials to the site during the night, placing them where workmen could easily get them during the day.
Once when the entire food stocks for the house consisted of a single head of lettuce, he gathered all the brothers at table, gave thanks for the meal, and sent the porter to the door; the porter found a stranger leading a mule loaded with food. After unloading the mule, the stranger and the animal disappeared.
Alvarez once found a beggar dying alone in the street. He wrapped the poor man in his own cloak, and carried him back to Escalaceli. When he arrived at the house and unwrapped the cloak, instead of man, he found a crucifix. It still hangs in Escalaceli.
A bell in the chapel with Alvarez’s relics rings by itself just before the death of anyone in the house.
Attempts were made to move Alvarez’s relics to Cordova, but each try led to violent storms that kept the travelers bottled up until they gave up their task, leave the bones where they are.

Born: Born about the middle of the 14th century in Cordova, Spain

Died: 1420

Beatified: Cultus confirmed September 22 by Benedict XIV in 1741

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