PETER OF MADRID
Some think that the real name of the subject of this sketch was Peter Medina. However, from the fact that he established the Friars Preacher and labored in the capital city of Spain, he became known as Peter of Madrid, and is generally called by that name. At times we find him designated "Peter, the Spaniard," from the country of his birth. A few think that he made his earthly debut in Madrid. Of his parentage, youth, and education nothing seems to be known. Indeed, he is already in the company of Saint Dominic before we come across any trace of him. If he belonged to the family of the Medina, which has given the world several distinguished men, we may rest assured that his early training was of the best.(1)
The earliest historians of the Order did not take the pains and time to learn and transmit to us when or how Father Peter came in touch with Saint Dominic, or enlisted under his banner. Possibly Medina was in the retinue of Bishop de Azebes, or went into southern France with the crusaders against the Albigenses. In view of the fact, as Father Touron tells us, that Dominic had tried out the most of his first disciples on the missions before commencing his Order, one is disposed to believe that Peter had labored with him in this work.(2) There can be little or no doubt but that the future founder of the Friars Preacher in the Spanish capital was among the saint's first "sixteen" disciples, and that he had a hand in all the early colloquies of the little band of spiritual harvesters, the assembly at Prouille (August 15, 1217) included. He is quite generally given this credit.(3)
In the dispersion of the brethren from that Dominican sanctuary Spain was allotted to Peter of Madrid, Sueiro Gomes, Michael de Uzero, and Dominic of Segovia as their field of apostolic labor. Evidently, as was but natural, Dominic wished to see his Order gain a foothold in his native land from the start. Besides, for Spain was thoroughly Catholic, he might expect a large enrollment there, and even candidates for foreign missions. The future proved that his anticipations were not groundless. Blessed Jordan merely assures us that Medina, like Gomes, preached the word of God with great fruit and efficiency in the Iberian Peninsula.(4) De Frachet, too intent on his pious anecdotes, says nothing of either. De Salagnac is not less reticent. This is all the more regretable, for these three writers lived at a time when they could have gathered first-hand information on all of the handful with whom Dominic commenced the Order at Prouille and Toulouse. The early fathers in Spain failed to fill up the historical gap in regard to Peter of Madrid.
Because of these oversights, later authors were left little foundation for their work. However, as Mamachi says in his Annals, the very fact that Saint Dominic admitted a man to profession in the Order and entrusted him with important duties is proof of his excellent character and ability.(5) Certainly the commission to preach broadcast and establish the new religious institute in Spain was one that involved great responsibility, as well as demanded much zeal and capacity. Such a task confronted Peter of Madrid after he left Prouille. Statements or sidelights in the life of the Order's founder, apart from the assertion of Blessed Jordan, show that he acquitted himself of this duty to the perfect satisfaction of Dominic.
During his journey to Spain, and after the establishment of Holy Cross Convent at Segovia, the saint went to Madrid. There he discovered that Father Medina had gathered a number of zealous subjects around him, and had a house and everything in readiness for the foundation of a convent. His zeal, eloquence, and model life had won the hearts alike of the clergy and laity of the Spanish capital.(6) Doubtless his esteem for Dominic, whom he expected in the city, caused him to ,await the arrival of the holy man in order to give him the happiness of formally instituting the priory. Most likely it was this love for the patriarch that deprived Madrid of the honor of having the first convent of Friars Preacher in Spain. Anyway, it had the country's first community of the Order.
Moreover, Peter had collected several pious ladies, whom he had under instructions on the religious life, and with whom he intended to form a body of sisters like that at Prouille. Indeed, he had them so well prepared that Saint Dominic seems to have received their vows then and there, although he permitted them to remain in their own homes until a suitable house could be made ready for them. This was quite early in 1219. (7) Thus the community of Dominican Sisters started by Father Medina at Madrid was the first in Spain. Unless Father Echard, who thinks its formal establishment was delayed, is correct in his opinion, it was probably the second of the Order, and antedated that of San Sisto, at Rome.(8)
In the light of these facts, one can scarcely deny Father Peter of Madrid the honor of being the first to establish the Dominicans in Spain -- whether fathers or sisters. It belongs to Saint Dominic, as the inspiring guide, it is true; but it is Peter's, as the immediate cause. An essential of wise, successful leadership is to make one's self loved and to attain good ends through the work of others. Dominic used this art with skill, for he realized that the limitations of human nature render it impossible for any man to do everything. To give the saint all the credit for the two houses in Madrid is just to neither him nor Medina.
We read in different places that the missionaries whom Dominic gathered around him at Prouille and Toulouse were preachers in name and in fact. Blessed Jordan has told us that Peter Medina proclaimed the word of God with great effect and fruit in Spain. Here and there we learn that he was a deeply religious man and much given to mortification, and that he possessed not a little learning. The Spanish writers Castillo and Malvenda are authority for the statement that he and his companions had won the heartiest good-will of the citizens of Madrid, and begun a convent there, before the arrival of Saint Dominic. The same authors assure us that these early Friars Preacher were very zealous and holy men. No doubt Father Medina, through his virtue, was largely instrumental in so winning the friendship of James Mames and his wife Mary that they generously assisted the fathers in the erection of a more commodious convent in Madrid, as well as provided means for their subsistence. Possibly it was in part because of him that the Order, first in Madrid, and then throughout Spain, received the title of "Fathers of the Holy Preaching."
The Spanish and Italian writers say nothing of the place or date of Father Medina's death. But the Année Dominicaine, which says that he was the first prior of both the fathers and the sisters in Madrid, thinks "he died, full of merit and virtue, in the exercise of that office." If this be correct (as it probably is), since Blessed Mannes was placed in charge of the sisters, at the latest, in May or early June, 1221, Father Peter must have died before that date.(9) For the same reason, his death must have taken place in the capital; and he was of course buried where he bad established the first community of Friars Preacher in Spain. Possibly to the holy man's early demise is due the fact that so little has been written about him or his work. The two houses which he founded became noted in the history of the Order.
Further light is thrown on Peter of Madrid by a letter of Honorius III. On March 31, 1221, that Pontiff wrote to the hierarchy of Spain, urging them to foster and aid his commendable zeal. At that time, he wished to establish a convent of his Order in Leon. No doubt this document is due to the influence of Saint Dominic. But Father Medina had probably gone to his eternal reward before Honorius' letter reached the Spanish capital.(10)
1. ALBERTI, fol. 180; BALME-LELAIDIER, II, 133-134, 230 ff, 320 ff ; Année Dominicaine, IV (April), 499; CASTILLO, pp. 51, 82 ff ; JORDAN of Saxony, Opera (Berthier ed.), 16, 19; MALVENDA, pp. 171,174, 238 ff, 253 ff; MAMACHI, pp. 372, 411, 492 ff; MORTIER, I, 30, 90, 103; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 15,19. The sketch is taken principally from Castillo and Malvenda.
2. Vie de Saint Dominique, p. 189.
3. Practically all the writers place Peter of Madrid in the Prouille-Toulouse company. The reader will remember that the Spain of that era was not one kingdom, like it is today. In calling Madrid the capital, we speak of the present state of the country.
4. Opera (Berthier ed.), p. 16.
5. Page 369.
6. CASTILLO, pp. 82-83; MALVENDA, pp. 253-254.
8. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 19. The San Sisto community was probably started in 1220, although some date it as early as 1218.
9. Vol. IV (April), 499. See also note 7 in sketch of Blessed Mannes.
10. BALME-LELAIDIER, III, 245 ff.