Our Lady of Ransom
The origins of the Feast can be found in the little known Mercedarian Order. This was founded in the early thirteenth century by St Peter Nolasco and St Raymond of Penafort (who can both be seen at Our Lady's feet in the picture above) to ransom Christian slaves taken by the Muslims during their frequent raids on Europe. The Order's original name was the 'Order of the Virgin Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives of St Eulalia' (an early martyr venerated in Barcelona).
According to the Constitutions, Mercedarians were 'to visit and to free Christians who are in captivity and in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law… By this work of mercy… all the brothers of this Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up His for us' (this is known as the Fourth Vow of the Order, in addition to poverty, chastity and obedience).
Incidentally, my favourite Mercedarian saint must be St Mary of Cervellon (1230-90), who supported the work of ransoming Christian slaves by her prayers and penances. She is venerated in Spain as a patron of sailors and is often shown holding a ship (as in the picture below).On several occasions she even appeared in the sky helping the ships that were sent to redeem captives. Little wonder she is called Maria de Socos ('Mary of Help').
Christian captives in Muslim lands were a huge problem up until the seventeenth century. Barbary pirates even troubled English waters - 466 English ships were taken between 1609 and 1616 and a thousand people were taken captive after a raid on the West Country in 1625.
We ask Our Lady of Ransom to intercede for Christians who experience hardships in Muslim countries today.