John de Matha was born on June 24, 1154 (or 1160) in a small village in the French Alps called Faucon de Barcelonnette. Coming from a vassal family of the Counts of Barcelona, he received a classical education at the college of Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and finally Paris, the intellectual center of all Christendom. There he earned the degree of Doctor of Theology and taught at the Cathedral School, hence the title “Master Theologian.” Deeply religious and pious, he wanted to devote himself entirely to God and His service, asking Him for a sign to show him the way forward. Ordained a priest by Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris and builder of Notre Dame, he celebrated his first mass on January 28, 1193.
At the time of the consecration, John received the long-awaited answer. An anonymous writer of the 13th century recounts the event as follows, “Having arrived on the day of his first mass, he begged the Bishop of Paris, the abbot of St. Victor and his master Prevostine that he would attend the celebration. Also present at the ceremony were all the great people of Paris. During the celebration of the Eucharist, at the time of the consecration, he again pleaded with the Lord to graciously show him which religious order he should enter for his salvation. As he raised his eyes to heaven he saw the glory of God and the Lord holding in his hands two men with chains on their feet; of the two, one was black and deformed, the other white and spindly.”
This text well describes the inspiration that would drive him to leave the university to found a new order. John de Matha will have this vision depicted on a mosaic that still exists in the portal of the Roman hospital of St. Thomas in Formis. Many contemporaries corroborate the common belief of divine action in the creation of the Order, and Pope Innocent III himself confirmed it. Thus Trinitarians will always be aware that their Order was founded by a direct and personal intervention of God.
John joined a group of hermits in the Cerfroid forest, 70 kilometers northeast of Paris. Far from the noise of the capital, sharing their lives and enthusiastic about the founding project, these anchorites offered their person and possessions to form the first nucleus of the future community. John de Matha’s religious and apostolic ideal also attracted benefactors sensitive to the suffering of captive Christians. Countess Marguerite de Blois, offered him a first domus in the land of Cerfroid, Robert de Planels entrusted him with a Church, and Maria Panateria gave him a residence.
Eager to obtain ecclesial confirmation of his project, John de Matha went to Rome. Innocent III, deeply concerned about the fate of the captive Christians, sent him back to Paris to obtain further information, offering his protection (May 16, 1198). In Paris, John refined the rule of life written with his first companions. This text was to express the spiritual and apostolic experience of the Order, its mission, vocation, physiognomy, spirit and evangelical style. With the necessary corrections made, the document was addressed to the Vicar of Christ. John then went a second time to Rome, where Innocent III acknowledged that John’s proposal is grounded in Christ and that he and his brothers seek only “the interest of Christ.” The pontiff approved the rule and the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives, which could then associate the laity with the mission of the Order. On March 8, 1199, Innocent III sent a letter of recommendation to Miramolino, king of Morocco, in which he praised the Trinitarians and their works.
Thus, soon after its recognition, the Order organized a redemption expedition. It is most likely that the founder himself went to the land of Islam to make this first journey of redemption of Christian captives. Passing through Marseille, John founded a house there. The city will serve as a port of embarkation for the redeemed and a port of disembarkation for many redeemed Christians, thus symbolizing freedom and a newfound homeland for thousands of men torn from prison. Then, John went to Arles, Aragon, where a certain Pedro de Belvis offered him a tower and land. He obtained letters from local lords such as Count Guillaume, Prince of Orange, Hugues and Raymond de Baux, who guaranteed seigniorial immunity and protection of property and religious. Far from being content with this, in 1203 John again asked the pope to extend his protection to the new foundations. During disputes, John always showed himself as a person seeking conciliation even at the cost of giving up his legitimate rights. He continued his work of founding houses throughout Spain (Toledo, Segovia, Burgos…).
Back in Rome, John asked the pope one last time to protect all of the Order’s property. The latter offered him perpetual possession of the hospital of St. Thomas in Formis in Rome with the attached properties. John established his residence there, thus carrying the official title of “minister of St. Thomas in Formis.” One tradition reports that the Poverello of Assisi would have been received in this hospital and met John de Matha. The latter lived his last years in Rome and died on December 17, 1213. His body rested in St. Thomas in Formis; on the night of March 19-20, 1655, it was stolen and taken to Madrid. His immemorial cult was recognized and confirmed by Alexander VII. His relics are currently in the newly built church that bears his name in Salamanca, Spain.
Written by Fr. Thierry Knecht
John de Matha had to gather a number of collaborators for the founding of his Order. Documents of the time name some of them as Felice, Minister of Marseilles, Boniface, Osbert, Matthias, Vitale… A centuries-old tradition assigned an essential role to the Cerfroid hermits and especially to their leader, a certain Felix de Valois ,who would earn the title of co-founder.
Born in Amiens on April 9, 1127, he received the name Hugh. Son of Raoul I of Vermandois and Eleanor de Champagne, he belonged to the Valois line. Educated by Bernard of Clairvaux, he took part in the Second Crusade. Upon his return he renounced his titles and all privileges and retreated to the Cerfroid Desert. To express this change of life, he took the name Félix. He met John de Matha and enthusiastically offered his person and possessions to the Trinitarian project. During a conversation with John de Matha near a spring, they encountered a deer, which bore between its antlers the red and blue cross, identical to the one John saw during his first Mass. He accompanied John to Rome to obtain the Order’s approval. Returning from the first redemption expedition completed in the spring of 1199, John made himself responsible for the expansion of the Order in Europe and Felix for the internal administration and especially the spiritual formation of the candidates. From 1200 to 1208 he was minister of Marseilles and feeling the end approaching, he decided to return to Cerfroid. It was on the night of September 7-8, 1212, the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, that he was blessed by an apparition of the Virgin and the heavenly choir singing the office. He died on November 4 and was probably buried at Cerfroid.
Some authors try to deny its existence, others on the contrary exaggerate the legendary story. We cannot present even in a few lines all the arguments of the different sides, but to be silent about the figure of Felix of Valois in the history and especially in the spirituality of our religious family would not be worthy of a critical and historical spirit. Entire generations of Trinitarians, and at the forefront, our reformer, John Baptist of the Conception, recognized in this religious the contemplative dimension of the Order.
We must humbly acknowledge that the documentation proving its existence and worship at the origin of the Order is rather weak. But the silence of the documents, or lack thereof, can under no circumstances serve as evidence for his detractors. Tradition carried out its work aided by popular hagiography especially from the 15th century onward. He has bequeathed to us a figure that can be embellished, but which wonderfully expresses the apostle’s need for God for his mission, the redeemer for the redemption of the brethren. To destroy the legendary stories built around Felix of Valois, like so many other saints, is certainly easy and even childish, but neither his influence on the spirituality of entire generations of religious and lay people nor his existence can be denied in a scientific way .
His immemorial cult was recognized by Alexander VII, and is celebrated today, November 4.
Written by Fr. Thierry Knecht
St. John Baptist of the Conception has gone down in history as the reformer of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives. For his writings he is among the great mystics of Spain’s Golden Age. He was born into a family of eight children in Almodóvar del Campo (Ciudad Real) on July 10, 1561. His father, Marcos García Xijón, is related to St. John of Avila. His mother’s name was Isabel López Rico. In his teenage years he attended Almodóvar’s Barefoot Carmelites, whose habit he longed to wear. But his wishes were not granted, even with the approval of his family and the acceptance of the Carmelites.
In June 1576 he met St. Teresa of Jesus in his village, visiting the Carmelites, who were staying at his family home. He later read with interest the saint’s books, to which he will refer with filial devotion. He studied philosophy for two years at the universities of Baeza and Toledo. At the age of 19, he donned the Trinitarian habit in Toledo, at which time he began calling himself Juan Bautista Rico. By making his religious profession (June 29, 1581), he embraced the life program of the Trinitarians of the ancient observance. He did four years of theology at the famous University of Alcalá de Henares, at the end of which he was ordained a priest (1585). Thereafter he spent 16 years, with no intention to reform, carrying out the preaching ministry with great fruit for his listeners as the official preacher of several convents (La Guardia, Membrilla, Seville). During his years in Seville (1594-1596) he enjoyed high esteem in the convent and outside it. He had excellent philosophical-theological training and admirable moral and human qualities that earned him recognition as “the theologian” and as one of the best preachers of the Trinitarian Order. His conscience and the voice of his superiors and brothers assured him that this is the apostolate God was asking of him.
The Trinitarians, while welcoming the reform directives of the Council of Trent, were reluctant to establish radical reform in the Order, as St. Teresa did with the Carmelites. Only belatedly (1594) did the Spanish provinces decree, under pressure from King Philip II, the establishment of some recollection houses with more austere lifestyles. The first recollection house was founded in Valdepeñas. John Baptist of the Conception, although happy with this reform measure, refused to embrace it because of his poor health and his distrust of the inoperative attitude of his superiors. In Seville, where he stood out as the convent’s official preacher, he tested his strength and excluded the rigors of the Reformation for himself. In January 1596, on the feast of St. Agnes, patroness of the Order, the first desire to be recollected was born in his heart and mind, “but,” he admits, “I clearly resisted it.
God had to intervene with extraordinary grace to get him to change his life and push him to enter the Recollect House in Valdepeñas (February 1596). One day when the young preacher left Seville for very human reasons, God’s irrevocable will was manifested to him under the sign of a raging storm. And that is when, thus cornered, he had to decide once and for all. And he surrendered to God’s will: “Lord, -he said-, I will reform in Valdepeñas.” And he did it with full knowledge and with his whole self: “The storm has passed and I have stayed behind with a vow and with an obligation and with desire and will.” This is an unconditional and irrevocable fiat. He arrived in Valdepeñas (Feb. 26, 1596) “to be truly barefoot” and to embrace the Primitive Rule in all its radicality. As house minister (May 1596-Summer 1597), he directed his efforts to provide the community with a solid spiritual foundation. He insisted on a life of poverty, humility, penance, and fraternity.
When he found himself abandoned by his superiors, who were enemies of the reform, he began his journey to Rome in October 1597 with a fundamental purpose: to seek confirmation of the Primitive Rule, that is, approval of a model of life in conformity with the Rule of St. John of Matha. During his stay in Rome (1598-1599) he completed the refinement of his spirit according to God’s designs. There, while awaiting the papal verdict and having come to the point of abandoning the reform project and even the Trinitarian habit due to painful setbacks, persecution, hostility, discouragement, attacks of the evil one and spiritual conflicts, at that very anguished moment God asked him for his personal option between the collected life of a Carmelite convent and the continuation of his work for the reform. Finally, on August 20, 1599, Clement VIII promulgated the brief Ad militantis Ecclesiae regimen, by which he erected the “Congregation of the Reformed and Discalced Brothers of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity,” committed to faithfully observing the Primitive Rule. In the scripture narrating the itinerary of the reform process, it is insisted that the Trinitarian reformation is the exclusive work of God.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1599, John Baptist, already in Valdepeñas, rendered obedience to the papal delegate, Carmelite Elías de San Martín, the superior authority of the Discalced Trinitarians until they came to have eight houses, and assumed his new religious name: “of the Conception.” Beginning with his reformed profession on December 18, 1600 in the house of Valdepeñas, he devoted himself to founding new convents, obtaining the eighth in Valladolid, with which an independent province could already be established. Thus, the chapter held in Valladolid (8-11-1605) elected him provincial minister. Around the same dates he had his first contacts with the Duke of Lerma, who would be his secular protective arm from then on, also gaining the support of Felipe III. During his three-year term as provincial minister (1605-1608), while defending the Reformation from numerous attacks, he continued his founding activities. The Greek cross, rectangular in shape, that he imposed on his barefoot garment brought him a trial in the nunciature, which ended with a ruling in his favor, for the complaint of the footwear.
He personally promoted the foundation of 16 convents, out of a total of 18 (including one in Rome). The year 1612 supported the creation of the first community of Discalced Trinitarian nuns in Madrid. In the Trinitarian convent of Córdoba, which he founded, he died on February 14, 1613. His sacred remains are venerated in this convent. He was beatified by Pius VII on September 26, 1819 and canonized by Paul VI on May 25, 1975.
He left us a rich literary output, largely reflecting his elevated spiritual experience, along the lines of St. Teresa of Jesus and other great mystics of his time. He is ascetic and mystic, popular preacher and theologian, reformer and teacher of the spirit. Therefore, his books reflect that variety of vital facets in an original literary body. To learn about his experience at the forefront of the Trinitarian Reformation, it is essential to read his first writing, A Memoir of the Origins of Trinitarian Climbing.
Written by Fr. Juan Pujana
The ecclesial and social significance of the Trinitarian Saint Simon de Rojas in his time and for the history of the Church is exceptional. He was an undisputed protagonist in the religious, cultural and even political landscape between the 16th and 17th centuries. A friend and adviser to Kings Philip III and Philip IV of Spain, as well as Queen Margarita of Austria, confessor to Queen Isabella of Bourbon and Princess Anne of Austria-later Queen of France and mother of the Sun King-, teacher to Princes Don Carlos and Don Fernando, Father Rojas was esteemed by the greats of the Madrid court and occupied a prominent position of which, however, he refused to take any worldly profit. Father Simon was always the poorest friar in the convent of the Holy Trinity in Madrid, he refused the use of the royal chariot to which he was entitled, he walked on foot, always surrounded by the poor children of the street who loved him so much, among other things because he spent so much of the offerings the great lords handed him on bread and gluttony for them.
St. Simon’s spirituality and apostolate are marked by two characteristics: worship of Mary and service to the poor. His exuberant Marian devotion, especially to the Name of Mary, was to meet with great success when he requested and obtained from Pope Gregory XV the liturgical feast of the Name of Mary for the Trinitarians and the primatial diocese of Toledo in 1622. In honor of Mary and for the asistence of the poor, St. Simon founded, in 1611, the Congregation of the Slaves of the Holy Name of Mary, which still exists today as the oldest charity institution of any in Spain’s capital city. The liturgical feast of the Holy Name of Mary, still celebrated by Trinitarians on September 12 each year is a memorial of the Marian devotion of the man who has been called “the Spanish Saint Bernard.”
St. Simon labored to lift the physical and spitual miseries of all kinds of poor people–prostitutes, abandoned infants, the sick, beggars, Christian slaves in Algeria, maimed soldiers, elderly priests living miserably… Every Tuesday he visited prisoners in the jail near Madrid’s Main Square, while on Mondays and Fridays he went to hospitals to visit the most abandoned sick, bringing them some help. His favorites were the poor. When King Philip IV made it clear to him that it was not convenient for the queen’s confessor to go on the streets in the company of the poor, the saint quietly replied, “If Your Majesty wants to seek another confessor for the queen, go ahead and quietly. Because if it is true that kings and the poor cost Christ the same blood, if I have to choose, I prefer to be with the poor. On that occasion Philip IV said these words to Isabella of Bourbon, which have remained famous in history: “If there were a holier man in my kingdoms than Father Rojas I would appoint him as your confessor, but I cannot find him.” When the Queen forced her Confessor to accompany her to the Palace of Aranjuez for the summer period, Saint Simon would pass by with a sack in his hand during the royal meals, picking up various dishes from the tables where the great ones of the Court were seated; he would load everything onto some donkeys and go to the nearby town of Ocaña, distributing all that goodness among the inmates of the prison there.
He fought against trafficking in people. Taking advantage of his being the Queen’s confessor, he established a safety net for girls who wanted to leave prostitution. First, he would gather them in a church for a sermon, where he urged them to change their lives, offering assurances for their safety against the gangsters who enriched themselves through prostitution. The girls who gave a step forward were distributed to the homes of people trusted by St. Simon; a worthy accommodation, a job-spending domestic service-and even a groom were found for many of them. The saint also cared for many infants abandoned by poor parents, seeking out people and institutions to take them in, and offering sums of money to help them with their needs.
St. Simon died on September 29, 1624 in his convent of the Holy Trinity “of the socked” in Madrid. It was painted, dead, by Velazquez, and by other painters among the best of the day. He enjoyed an extraordinary reputation for holiness when he was alive, and this reputation grew after his death because of the many graces and miracles with which God confirmed his holiness of life.
When Father Rojas was canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II, the then Minister General of the Order, Fr. Jose Gamarra, described St. Simon as “the complete Trinitarian.” His life represents the embodiment of the Trinitarian charism in the concreteness of daily life and the extraordinary circumstances in which his life was spent.
His liturgical feast falls on September 28. His body was in the Ave Maria Chapel in Madrid until 1936, when it was lost following the desecration of this chapel during the persecution suffered by the Spanish Church at that time. Part of his body remains in Valladolid Cathedral, erected on the site of the house where Saint Simon de Rojas was born.
Written by Fr. Pedro Aliaga Asensio
“Everything Christ touches becomes young, becomes new, is full of life” (Pope Francis, Christus vivit, 1) is what we can confirm in the life of the Patron of Trinitarian Youth, St. Michael of the Saints (1591-1625 ). At the time of the Baptism of St. Michael of the Saints, his father Enrique Argimir noted in the family notebook, “On September 29, the Feast of the Glorious Archangel St. Michael, of the year 1591, Monserrat Mitjana, my wife, gave birth to a son. In the baptismal font he received the names Miguel, José, Jerónimo. May God make him a good Christian, to his honor and glory.”
He had lost his mother at age 4 and his father at age 11. His father, a notary public and mayor of Vich. Seeing Michael’s qualities, he wanted him to apply himself to his studies from a very young age. His Latin teacher remembers him as jovial and having a strong influence among his peers, and says Michael helped him teach Latin to those who needed it most. “When he was eight years old,” says a friend of his, “we were excited about his idea of going to Montseny to live as a hermit.
Michael dreamed of being a religious and, facing persistent rejection from his guardians and older brothers, matured a plan to escape from Vich to Barcelona. In August 1603 he realized his plan and presented himself to the Trinitarian Church. In 1607, during his novitiate in Zaragoza, barefoot Trinitarian Fr. Manuel de la Cruz came to stay at the convent for his priestly ordination. From then on he began to beg for permission to switch to the Reformation.
We know that our saint manifested throughout his life a deep sense of gratitude to those who had welcomed him and initiated him into religious life. His companion Don Diego de la Madre de Dios writes of his life in the Chronicles of the Discalced: “During the six years he studied at the Universities of Baeza and Salamanca, he was a prodigy of holiness, skillfully combining active and contemplative life.” When asked why he spent so much time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, San Miguel de los Santos repeated, “It’s because he chained me.” From a very young age mystical phenomena manifested in him, one of the most notable refers to the exchange of hearts with the Heart of Jesus; our saint was very devoted to St. Catherine of Siena.
In Baeza, a philosophy student at that university, he underwent a special trial when a false accusation was brought against him-we do not know what it consisted of-which led to a temporary sentence to convent jail. Matías, who visited him daily, did not notice any kind of discouragement. On the contrary, she always found him in good spirits. “Here,” he said, “I can devote all my time to prayer. To those charged with investigating what he was accused of, he replied, “If God abandons me, I am capable of worse things.” Eventually, his complete innocence was discovered. And the slanderers, moved by the charity of Fr. Michael of the Saints, who responded to evil with good, changed their lives.
He was not only pious and intelligent, he was also ingenious in inventing new ways of apostolate that touched the heart. Being a student at the University of Salamanca, during prayer, he came up with the idea of doing penance in the public square during carnival.
He convinced several religious to participate in this initiative, including Fr. Marcos, a fervent preacher. Preceded by a large Crucifix, the retinue was formed, consisting of six religious in penitent dress, scourging themselves while wearing a crown of thorns on their heads. Arriving at Plaza de San Juan, Fr. Marcos stood up on a stool and began preaching to the celebrating crowd dressed in the strangest clothes. In this St. Michael of the Saints lets out a formidable cry and goes toward the Crucifix, remaining suspended in ecstasy. Shock ran through the crowd of young students. The carnival orgy turned into a penitential procession to the church of the Trinitarian Barefoot Convent. From then on they gave him the nickname “Brother Michael, the soul hunter.”
He was very affable and, above all, he did not like to see anyone sad. He said, “We must serve God with joy. Sadness causes much damage to the body and soul. One witness says, “The continuous joy and peace in his face was an expression of what was happening in his heart, of his burning thirst for God.” Witnesses to the Cause of Canonization recount how he was able to discover poor and lonely people whom he discreetly helped by bringing them food under his cloak.
He died peacefully at the age of Christ, more than from illness, he died consumed by the love that burned in his heart. Valladolid, April 10, 1625. In his Treatise on the Stillness of the Soul, he left us outlined the way to be saints; it is the same way he walked in his life. His mystical writings that give us bright signs of the journey of identification with Christ are considered by experts to be of great value, in the style comparable to the wonderful writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus.
The miracle for his canonization was received by a young Trinitarian conventual confrere of Santa Maria alle Fornaci, Father Anthony of the Mother of God. This young Trinitarian devoted himself body and soul to the canonization of St. Michael of the Saints. The long-awaited day of canonization arrived. Pope Pius IX also canonized the Japanese Martyrs, it was June 8, 1862. The ceremony was attended by 286, including cardinals and bishops, something never seen before in similar rites. The Vatican chronicles of that day give news of a hundred Trinitarian robes in St. Peter’s Square.
Written by Fr. Isidore Murciego Murciego
Fri. (*) Thomas of the Virgin (1587-1647),
Fri. Francis of Assisi Méndez Casariego (1850-1924), Founder of the Trinitarian Sisters of Madrid,
Fri. Felice della Vergine, venerable (1902-1951), model of religious life and humility, formator of religious, popular preacher.
Thomas della Vergine, venerable (1587-1647), adviser to popes, bishops and rulers, model of hope in the mystery of his pain, made his long illness a place of annunciation of Christ crucified.
Francisco Méndez Casariego, venerable (1850-1924), founder of the Trinitarian Sisters congregation in Madrid, a life dedicated to the liberation of needy youth.
Venerable Monsignor Joseph di Donna (1901-1952), Missionary and Bishop. Missionary to Madagascar. In 1938 Pius XII, appointed him bishop of Andria. On July 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI ordered the publication of the Decree declaring the heroic virtues of Trinitarian Bishop Monsignor Joseph di Donna, from this day we consider him “Venerable.”
Venerable Mariana Allsopp y Manrique (1854-1933), servant of God, co-founder of the Trinitarian Sisters of Madrid, a mother’s life dedicated to abandoned and homeless girls.
P. Bernardo Monroy (1559-1622),
P. John de Palacios (1560-1616),
P. John de Águila (1563-1613).
Fr. Cornelius O’Connor (+ 1664),
P. Eugene Daly (+ 1664).
(Villanueva del Arzobispo, Andújar (La Cabeza) and Martos)
P. Marian of St. Joseph (1857-1936),
P. Joseph of Jesus and Mary (1880-1936),
P. Prudentius of the Cross (1883-1936),
P. Second of St. Teresa (1891-1936),
P. John of Jesus and Mary (1895-1936),
Sister Frances of the Incarnation Martos (1872-1936).
P. Louis of St. Michael’s (1891-1936),
P. Melchior of the Holy Spirit (1898-1936),
P. James of Jesus (1903-1936),
Br. John of the Virgin de Castellar (1898-1936).
P. Ermenegildo of the Assumption (1879-1936),
P. Bonaventure of St. Catherine (1887-1936),
P. Francis of St. Lawrence (1889-1936),
P. Placid of Jesus (1890-1936),
P. Anthony of Jesus and Mary (1902-1936),
Br. Stephen of St. Joseph (1880-1936).
SdD. (**) P. John of St. Joseph (1586-1616),
SdD. Angela Maria Autsch (1900-1944) + Auschwitz, Trinitarian from Valencia, servant of God, witness of heroic charity in Ravensbruck and Auschwiz concentration camps, where she died.
SdD. Maria Teresa Cucchiari (1734-1801), Foundress of the Trinitarian Sisters of Rome, (1734-1801), Trinitarian tertiary, a life dedicated to the education of poor girls.
SdD. Marcela de San Félix (1605-1687), daughter of Lope de Vega, cloistered Trinitarian in Madrid, a saintly life, one of the most important lyric writers of 17th-century Spain.
SdD. Angela M. de la Conception, servant of God (1649-1690), cloistered Trinitarian reformer, foundress of the Trinitarian monastery in El Toboso, mystical writer.
SdD. Isabel of the Most Holy Trinity (1693-1774), foundress of the Beaterio of the Most Holy Trinity in Seville for the care of the ofrances.
* Fri. = Venerable
** SdD. = Servant of God