St. Peter of Alcantara

PETER of ALCANTARA (1499/1562), Spanish Discalced Franciscan. Born Juan de Sanabria at Alcántara, in Extremadura, he studied at Salamanca from 1511 to 1515. He then immediately joined the Franciscans of the custodia (or sub-province) of Santo Evangelio, then attached to the Conventuals of the province of Santiago but transferred by Leo X to the Observantines in 1517. In 1519 it became the province of St Gabriel, regarded as the mother province of the Spanish Discalced Franciscans. Peter, who was ordained priest in 1524, was to remain in this province until 1557, serving as provincial from 1538 to 1541, though with numerous visits to Portugal, where he was guardian and novice master at Palhães from 1542 to 1544. In 1557 he became Commissary General of the reformed Conventuals and founded the celebrated convent of El Pedroso del Acim. In 1560 St Teresa met him at Ávila, receiving much valued spiritual guidance from him together with encouragement and help in her reform of the Carmelite Order. Her Life records her admiration for his extreme asceticism. Thereafter, he devised Constitutions for the province of St Joseph, established through his efforts in 1561 and, though dependent on the Conventuals, strongly tending towards the Observance. These Constitutions are focused on the life of prayer and penitence.

   A small Tratado de la oración y meditación bearing Peter’s name (earliest surviving edition, Lisbon c.1556) was much printed and translated. The question of the relation and indebtedness of this work to Luis of Granada and his Libra de la oración y meditación (1554) has provoked long debate. According to Fr. Acerbal Luján’s recent statement of the position, the Tratado is basically Peter’s work: while it often summarizes and borrows substantially from the Libro, it contains much of Peter’s own; it is more concentrated, more contemplative, more insistent on poverty, penitence, and prayer. Its treatment of the latter gives the treatise its particular value. Peter of Alcántara was canonized in 1669. Feast day, 19 Oct.

Eng. trs. of the Tratado by G. Willoughby (Brussels, 1632; 2nd edn., Liverpool, 1843), G. F. Bullock (ed. G. S. Hollings) (London, 1905), and D. Devas (ibid., 1926). Lives by F. Marchese (Rome, 1667), Juan de San Bernardo (Naples, 1710) and A. Barrado Manzano, OFM (Madrid, 1965). Cf. also AASS, Oct. 8 (1866), pp. 623–809. Estudios sobre San Pedro de Alcántara en el IV centenario de su muerte (1562–1962) (Archivo IberoAmericano, 22; 1962), with full bibl. A. Huerga, OP, ‘Génesis y autenticidad del “Libra de Oración y Meditación” ’, Rivista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos, 59 (1953), pp. 135–83; M. Ledrus, SJ, ‘Grenade et Alcántara. Deux manuels d’oraison mentale’, Revue d Ascétique et de Mystique, 38 (1962), pp. 447–60; 39 (1963), pp. 32–44. E. A. Peers, Studies in the Spanish Mystics, 2 (1930), pp. 97–120, with bibl. pp. 411–16. M. Acerbal Luján, OFM, in Dict. Sp. 12 (pt. a; 1986), cols. 1489–95, s.v. ‘Pierre d’Alcántara’, with bibl.


Adapted from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. E. Livingstone, (Oxford, 1977), p. 255



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