Martin de Porres

Patron saint of Race Relations
Died 3rd November 1639

An illegitimate mulatto barber who advised the nobility, cared for the poor, healed the sick – and loved rats.

Martin de Porres, born in 1579, was the son of a white Spanish nobleman and a black Panamanian freewoman. At the age of fifteen, while apprenticed as a barber-surgeon, he joined the Third Order of the Dominicans and rapidly earned a reputation caring for the poor and needy. Mainly because of this reputation he was accepted as a full Lay Brother of the Dominican community in Lima and spent the rest of his life there at different times as gardener, barber, infirmarian, and almoner with responsibility for alms distribution.

Martin cared for all, regardless of class or colour. His work with the sick and beggars included particular concern for the many African slaves, who were dreadfully treated by Christian Conquistadors. His open-hearted generosity and noted abilities as a healer made him much loved and revered by ordinary people. His holiness, tact and good sense drew many of the nobility to come to him for delicate personal advice and spiritual counsel – something very unusual for a Lay Brother at that time. His brothers in the community even chose him as their spiritual leader.

Martin also loved animals – including vermin. He apparently let mice and rats run about finding things to eat – because he thought they were underfed! In an age when animals were not well treated he opened something like an animal refuge in his sister’s house - though history does not record what his sister thought!

He died of a violent fever in 1639 leaving a reputation of undiscriminating love for all God’s creatures and, perhaps inevitably, stories of miraculous healing powers. He was eventually canonised and has since been adopted as patron saint of work for inter-racial justice and harmony.

Jim McLean
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 1st November 1998