Constable Saint Nuno of Santa Maria: the Battle of Valverde

November 6th is the feast day of a great Portuguese hero, the Constable Saint Nuno of Santa Maria, or simply Saint Nuno Alvares Pereira. We relate below one of his greatest victories, in the Battle of Valverde, won thanks to an Angel who guided him.

Newsroom (06/11/2021 7:00 AM, Gaudium Press) While Don Joao I went north, Saint Nuno went in the opposite direction, the border, where it was necessary to keep the Castilians away from their invasion purposes.

By going there, Saint Nuno would be able to maintain the geographical and ethnic limits of his country. His warlike impetus was now not content to remain on the defensive; therefore, he set out to invade enemy territory, in order to demonstrate to the Castilians that Portugal had an army and an invincible Constable at its command.

Unshakeable Faith

He moved inland, and before he knew it, he had already advanced more than twenty leagues into enemy territory, in the heart of Extremadura.

Saint Nuno had no fear, no doubt that he would defeat all the Castilians together who came to give him battle. His faith, before Aljubarrota, was made of hope.  Now it was a well-settled, firm, irreducible certainty that God would give him victory. This certainty was based on an authentic and unshakable Faith.

After accepting the challenges that the enemy had thrown at him through a herald, Saint Nuno did not stand still, he went even further. His camp was already finished when he saw the presence of the enemy forces.

The situation now was reversed from the battle of Aljubarrota. It was Saint Nuno who had to force his way through the Castilians, having to overcome a well-entrenched position of an army superior in number and power.

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But the Portuguese host, commanded by the Constable, was composed of brave men, submissive to their captain as if he were the father of all, a man predestined by God and assisted by a powerful Angel.

Castile’s army was brilliant, with shiny new weapons, commanded by well-trained and experienced men, but they lacked unity, consistency, discipline, and love for their commanders on the part of the soldiers.

The commander vanishes

To better defend themselves they needed to pass the river at that point, where it was shallow. But when they set out to do so, they suddenly found themselves surrounded on all sides by the enemy. The attacks came from three directions, from the front and from the flanks, pushing them back against the river.

But as they passed, they had thick enemy troops waiting for them on the other bank. One would say they were lost, completely surrounded by the enemy who held superior forces.

The Constable was a man that nothing could shake him, he stood firm, unshakable, intrepid and strong-willed, naturally commanded by the expansion of his communicative sympathy.  He was like a rock around which that thousand men clung to defend their lives.

The man of war was also a mystic, for he prayed constantly when in combat. Suddenly, the Constable disappeared from the sight of his men. The Portuguese host could no longer advance, they remained there static, because they lacked someone to command them.

Their commander was simply gone; he was nowhere to be found. They called for Nuno Alvares to one side and to the other, but he was not heard from, he did not appear in the fighting. Where had he gone? Had he died or run away?

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In Contemplation

Suddenly, Rui Gonçalves comes upon the Constable. On his knees, between two rocks, he was in ecstasy, with his hands folded and his eyes turned to the sky. At his side, his mount and the page holding his lord’s lance and staff.

In his anguish, he went to pray to God when an Angel appeared to him and knocked him out of his mind in contemplation of the divine wonders.

Rui Gonçalves later declared that he saw him with his soul transported to heaven talking to God. He stood there contemplating him, fearing to take him out of that ecstasy.

That scene, where the squire and his friend Rui stood stunned in silence contemplating him, contrasted completely with the roar of the terrible battle that was taking place nearby.

After the first amazement, Rui Gonçalves decides to act and shouts, “We are lost!”

Saint Nun’Alvares, half out of his ecstasy, turns around and says “Rui Gonçalves, dear friend, it is not yet time. Wait a little while and I will finish praying.” 

In the meantime, other companions had also found him and began to criticize the Constable. One of them was emphatic: “No more prayers, this way we’ll all die!”

The victory

When his men begin to arrive in anguish, St. Nuno comes out of his ecstasy. He rises, stands on his feet, sharpens his ears and his eyes. He puts his hand on the shoulder of his ensign, Diogo Gil, points to the side and says:

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“Do you see the flags that are on the top of that hill? The highest one must be that of the Master of Santiago.”

“I see, my lord!” Diogo Gil replied.

“Well, let’s go there with our swords up to it! Friends, forward! May each one of us be for four of them!” Commanded St. Nuno

Those flags meant that the main commanders of the Castilian troops were there. They were meeting in council about the fate of the battle. In a flash, the Portuguese set out, guided by Saint Nuno and his sacred sword, and in an instant subdued them all. Once the chiefs were defeated, the rest was easily handed over to Portuguese hands.

In one fell swoop, the entire enemy command had fallen into the hands of the Constable. When they heard what had happened, the Castilians began to flee, for all the troops were now without command.

The miracle happened: the Portuguese, outnumbered inside enemy territory, defeated the powerful Castilian army. All thanks to the determination, the courage, the idealism of a Christian Knight, who dedicated his whole life to the Catholic faith, and for this he was warned by an Angel, in his ecstasy, that he should follow the path that would lead exactly inside the enemy command.

(Story based on the book “A Vida de Nun’Álvares”, by Oliveira Martins, Lello & Irmão – Editores, Porto, 1983).

Compiled by Camille Mittermeier

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