Ferdinand III (Spanish: Fernando III), 1199/1201 – 30 May 1252 was born at the Monastery of Valparaíso (Peleas de Arriba, in what is now the Province of Zamora), son of Alfonso IX of León and his second wife Berengaria of Castile.
In 1217 Ferdinand became King of Castile, which crown his mother renounced in his favour, and in 1230 he succeeded to the crown of Leon, though not without civil strife, since many were opposed to the union of the two kingdoms. He took as his counsellors the wisest men in the State, saw to the strict administration of justice, and took the greatest care not to overburden his subjects with taxation, fearing, as he said, the curse of one poor woman more than a whole army of Saracens.
His devotion to the Virgin Mother of God was most tender, and he used to call Her, “My Lady”: in return, Mary Most Holy procured for him victory in all his battles, and kept away all pestilence and famine from the country during his entire reign, which, as his contemporary chroniclers observed, was an evident miracle, considering the circumstances of that period. A large picture of Our Lady was carried before him into battle, while a small picture of Our Lady was attached to his saddle.
The highest aims of Ferdinand’s life were the propagation of the Faith and the liberation of Spain from the Saracen yoke. Hence his continual wars against the Saracens. He took from them vast territories, Granada and Alicante alone remaining in their power at the time of his death. In the most important towns he founded bishoprics, reestablished Catholic worship everywhere, built churches, founded monasteries, and endowed hospitals. The greatest joys of his life were the conquests of Cordova (1236) and Seville (1248). He turned the great mosques of these places into cathedrals, dedicating them to the Blessed Virgin. He watched over the conduct of his soldiers, confiding more in their virtue than in their valour, fasted strictly himself, wore a rough hairshirt, and often spent his nights in prayer, especially before battles.
Amid the tumult of the camp he lived like a religious in the cloister. The glory of the Church and the happiness of his people were the two guiding motives of his life. He founded the University of Salamanca, the Athens of Spain.
He always looked upon himself as the humble instrument of God’s designs, and zealously laboured to accomplish them. Though most austere towards himself, he was a father in his compassion for his people. He richly endowed the Churches that he built.
St. Ferdinand on realising that his death was approaching, prepared himself by a devout confession, and after receiving the Last Sacraments he died on May 30th, at the age of 53. Prior to his death when the time approached for his receiving Holy Viaticum, as soon as the priest entered the room with the Blessed Sacrament, the holy king got out of bed, prostrated himself in adoration, and, humbly putting a cord around his neck, received the Sacred Host. This done, and feeling that he was on the verge of eternity, he ordered his attendants to remove from him every sign of royalty, and called his sons round his bed. Addressing himself to the eldest, who was Alphonsus the Good, he entrusted him with the care of his brothers, and reminded him of the duties he owed to his subjects and soldiers; he then added these words: “My son, thou seest what armies, and possessions, and subjects thou hast, more than any other Christian king; make a proper use of these advantages; and as thou has the power, be good and do good. Thou art now master of the country which the Moors took, in times past, from King Rodriguez. If thou keep the Kingdom in the state wherein I now leave it to thee, thou wilt be, as I have been, a good king, which thou wilt not be, if thou allowest any portion of it to be lost.”
As his end drew nigh, the dying Saint/King was favoured with an apparition from Heaven. He thanked God for granting him that consolation, and then asked for the blessed candle; but before taking it in his hand, he raised up his eyes to Heaven and said: “Thou, O Lord, hast given me the kingdom, which I should not otherwise have had; Thou hast given me more honour and power than I deserved; receive my thanks! I give Thee back this kingdom, which I have increased as far as I was able; I also commend my soul into Thy hands!” He then asked pardon of the bystanders, begging them to overlook any offence that he might have given them. The whole court was present, and, with tears, asked the Saint/King to forgive them.
The holy Saint/King then took the blessed candle into his hands, and raising it up towards Heaven, said: “Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer! Receive my soul, and through the merits of Thy Most Holy Passion, deign to admit it among those of Thy servants!” Having said this, he gave back the candle, and asked the Bishops and priests who were present to recite the Litanies; which being ended he bade them sing the Te Deum. When the hymn was finished, he bowed down his head, closed his eyes, and calmly expired.
St. Ferdinand was buried in the great Cathedral of Seville before the image of the Blessed Virgin, clothed, at his own request, in the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis, having been a member of that Order for a number of years. His body, it is said, remains incorrupt. Many miracles took place at his tomb where his body venerated to this day.
St Ferdinand was canonised in the year 1671 by Pope Clement X. St. Ferdinand’s feast day is the 30 May and he is the Patron Saint of Engineers. The symbol of his power as a king was his sword Lobera.