Peter Armengol was born in Guárdia dels Prats, a small village in the archdiocese of Tarragon, Spain in 1238. He belonged to the house of the barons of Rocafort, descendants of the counts of Urgel, whose ancestors were directly linked to the counts of Barcelona and the monarchs of Aragon and Castile.
From Brigand to Convert
Despite the great care taken by his parents regarding his education, young Peter gave himself over to a life of total dissipation in the company of other dissolute youths who led him on the wide road of vice and caprice. “Abyssus abyssum invocat” – deep calleth on deep – say the Scriptures. Thus Peter joined a gang of criminals who, pursued by justice, led the life of bandits in the mountains. Soon the young Armengol became the leader of that gang.
On account of this bad behavior of his son, Arnold Armengol de Moncada moved to the kingdom of Valencia, recently conquered from the Moors by King Jaime.
This monarch had to embark upon a trip to Montpellier in order to deal with the King of France on grave matters of interest to both crowns. To travel safely, he commissioned Arnold to go before him on the road in order to rout any of the assailants who often robbed and even killed travelers in the region of the Pyrenees.
At the most dangerous part of the journey, the retinue of the noble Spaniard saw itself surrounded by brigands. Arnold rushed at them with his troops, wounding some and apprehending others.
Warned that at a certain point the evildoers would defend themselves with particular energy, he spurred his horse forward with sword in hand and urged his men to attack with greater ardor in order to defeat the leader of the bandits. Indeed, Arnold himself was the first to encounter the leader, engaging him in hand-to-hand combat. Grief came upon both noble and brigand, however, when each realized whom he had wounded. Bathed in tears, Peter prostrated himself at the feet of his father, surrendering to him his sword, with it, his heart.
Penance for His Misdeeds
Filled with confusion and shame, the repentant youth retired to a Mercedarian monastery in Barcelona. With an ardent desire to repair the injuries done to God, he resolved the resolution to become a monk in that religious order founded by Saint Peter Nolasco to ransom Catholics captured by the Mohammedans. He requested the habit with such insistence and gave such conclusive proofs of his vocation that he was received there by the Venerable William de Bas, the French-born successor of the holy founder in the government of the Order.
The passions that had previously revolted with violence were now repressed with violence by Peter Armengol in religious life. He understood how to subdue them with such promptitude, through rigorous penances, mortification of the senses and continual prayer, that even before the end of his novitiate he had managed to subject them to the dominion of his will and reason.
During the eight years of his profession, he was entrusted with the important task of dealing directly with the ransom of captives. He carried out this function in the kingdoms of Granada and Murcia, provinces of Spain that were still in the power of the Saracens. Nonetheless, his greatest desire was to go to Africa and become a captive for the ransom of Christians.
On an expedition to that continent, he arrived in Bugia in the company of Friar William Florentino.
There they ransomed 119 captives without any incident that would impede their return to their country. However, before departing, Friar Armengol learned of a prison with 18 children who, impelled by the threats of punishments of the barbarous Mohammedans, remained exposed to the danger of denying the Faith. The religious happily offered himself for the ransom of the innocent captives.
His release was promised in exchange for a stipulated sum, but if the payment did not arrive within the set time he would suffer harsh punishments. Divine Providence had disposed that this man of God would thus give proof of his special confidence in the omnipotent mediation of the Blessed Virgin, to whom he was deeply devoted.
Flaming Torch of Confidence
In captivity, Friar Armengol worked prodigies of charity among the infidels, converting many by the efficacy of his preaching, which was confirmed by many miracles.
The time prescribed for the delivery of the money came and passed without payment being made, so the infidels threw him into prison. There they denied him even the food necessary for his sustenance, but Our Lord, by means of His angels, miraculously provided for His most faithful servant.
Eventually tired of tormenting him, the Moors then conspired to take his life. They accused him of blaspheming and cursing Mohammed and of being a spy sent by the Christian kings, thus raising the ire of the Saracen judge who oversaw his case. The judge condemned Friar Peter to death by hanging.
Friar Armengol prayed to Our Lady and confided in her. In the hands of the infidels he could not defend himself, for he was nothing; he was mere dust. But, in truth, he was a flaming torch of confidence in Our Lady!
The unjust sentence was executed. Due to a prohibition imposed by the Moors, who wanted Peter’s body to serve as food for birds of prey, no one dared to take it down, so the body of the holy man remained suspended on the gallows. Six days went by; then Friar William arrived with the ransom money. Learning what had happened, he went with great sorrow and emotion, in the company of some captives, to see the lamentable sight. Upon approaching the site of the punishment he noted that the body, after so long a time, did not emit a bad odor but rather exhaled a heavenly fragrance. To the shock of all, Friar Armengol then spoke to him, telling him that the Blessed Mother had conserved his life in these circumstances so that this might be a perpetual reminder of her marvels. Astounded by the stupendous miracle, some pagans converted to the Catholic religion.
Conversations with the Queen of Angels
Barcelona, learning of the portentous miracle, impatiently awaited the return of the unconquerable martyr of Jesus Christ. In the city, they received him with indescribable joy, accompanying him from the port to his monastery, giving thanks to Our Lord for His marvels. The religious wanted to hear from Friar Peter’s mouth what had happened, but despite their earnest pleas, he would not speak.
Finally, the superior ordered him to tell all that had occurred. Not resisting the voice of obedience, the man of God spoke these words: “The Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our own mother, asked her most holy Son to conserve my life. Having obtained this favor, this same sovereign Queen sustained me with her most holy hands, so that the weight of my body would not hang upon the rope by which I was suspended.” Upon saying these words he felt such a sweetness in his heart that he became enraptured in an admirable ecstasy.
Friar Peter Armengol thereafter always had a twisted neck and a pale color, most authentic signs of what had taken place. He retired to the monastery of Our Lady de los Prados, where his life was a continuous series of heroic virtues and familiar conversations with the Queen of Angels, whom he loved so dearly that it would be impossible to imagine a more reverent devotion or a more filial tenderness.
Always remembering those days of his hanging, he told the religious of the monastery on the various occasions when he spoke to them of this marvel: “Believe me, my dear brothers, that I do not believe myself to have lived, except for those few but most happy days when, hanging from the gallows, I was held to be dead.”
Later assailed by a serious illness, he was given prophetic knowledge of the time of his death. He delivered his spirit into the hands of his Creator on April 27, 1304. Our Lord deigned to give proofs of the glorification of His servant with seven miracles, the cures of three men and four women, even before his venerable body could be buried. On March 28, 1686, Pope Innocent XI approved the public cult to the saint, and, in the eighteenth century, Pope Benedict XIV inscribed the name of Saint Peter Armengol in the Roman Martyrology.
The Tomb of the Saint
Today the remains of Saint Peter Armengol can be found in Guárdia dels Prats. The small village still preserves much of its ancient medieval character: tortuous, narrow streets; stone pavements; buildings that recall ancient palaces or noble residences; and a charming Romanesque-style church whose principal nave dates from the time of the Mercedarian saint.
The body of Saint Peter Armengol, as well as that of an illustrious contemporary, Blessed Oliva, were incorrupt until 1936. During the Spanish Civil War, communist militia invaded and sacked the church, carrying off the two venerable bodies to the public square where, burning them, they reduced them to ashes.
Some children gathered up what they could of these ashes and took the precious remains to their homes, where their mothers kept them with great care. Later, after the communists were vanquished, the precious relics were returned to the church. These remains are today conserved together in a reliquary over the main altar of the church. Forgotten by the progressivism that has infiltrated and intoxicated so many Catholic circles, these ashes await better days, in silent testimony of the sanctity of the Catholic Church and Christian civilization.