Cloister, Museum and Church
to a quiet and reflective place. A part of all of our history. A holy
place, where you will at once feel at home, regardless of your religious
beliefs, or the shade of your skin. Here, there are many places where
you can rest comfortably, and think - while you are surrounded by the
nearness of your distant past.
Pause and reflect, in the Cloister court yard under huge trees, shading the well where Saint Peter Claver baptized tens of thousands of black slaves.
For many who know the history of Saint Peter Claver, their repeated visits are to an historic and sacred place of national and international pilgrimage.
And, for those who may not be familiar with the work and life of the priest known as the: "slave to the slaves", it is a chance to learn human rights history, and to appreciate the reality that this has been a fight involving the dedication of many, over a period of millenniums. Judge solely by deeds, for there is no other way.
For almost forty years, this Jesuit Priest worked in Cartgena de Indias, defending, protecting and nursing newly arrived African slaves. In the Americas they would cultivate the open country, work in the mines, and serve as personal attendants.
The Cloister where Pedro Claver lived and died has become a special place of silence, and reflection-a shrine to the life's work of this extraordinary man. Here, visitors will find examples of Pre Colombian ceramics, and an extensive museum rich with objects of religious art. Many of the period paintings and sculptures were done by Spanish and American artists of the 17th. Century. Adjoining the Monastery is the beautiful baroque church, designed by German and Dutch architects. Here, at the high alter, within a glass encasement, are the remains of Saint Pedro Claver-slave to the slaves.
You may tour the sanctuary, museum and church on your own. If you require more information relating to the colonial era of America, or information about the total dedication reflected in the daily life of Saint San Pedro Claver, there are professional Guides who can be of further help.
There are many drawings and paintings of Peter Claver. However, the word passed down through the centuries, by those who saw both the images of the man, and the man himself, are that this painting is the most accurate presentation of his true likeness.
Important Dates of Peter Claver
in Verdú, Spain on June 26, 1580
The Slave Market
Between the 16th and 19th centuries more than 14,000,000 black people were forcefully brought to the Americas. Hunted down like animals, they were chained together and loaded aboard the dark, damp, stinking holds of ships bound for the New World.
Shipboard conditions were sickening, and beyond human description. One third of the "cargo" was "spared", for they died en route. Most thought they would be killed when they reached land, and their blood used to paint ship bottoms. In port cities in both North and South America they would be sold in the "ebony market". A market of human flesh.
In many of these "markets" were people who would try to lighten the burden of the slaves, offering some spark of hope that someday they would gain a small portion of human dignity. Peter Claver was one of these people-"a slave to the slaves".
Leo XIII wrote, "No life, except the life of Christ,
The Slave Trade
Travel back in time during the 1,600´s, to new world seaport cities such as: Havana, New Orleans, Savanna, Martinique, Veracruz or Cartagena. New "merchandise" has just arrived from Africa. They are chained through the holes in the stone columns of the Slaves Plaza at the public market. In chains rattle as they shake in terror. Their sad tearful eyes wet the dusty dirty sand below.
An advertisement appears in Havana: "Exchanging mulatto boy, 30 years old, good cook, healthy, some bad habits except thief, for Negro, a mule, horses or a wheel." In a Martinique newspaper: "Good occasion-mulatto girl, 18 years old, newly arrived from the farm; no bad habits, obedient-she is sold for 500 pesos." Another: "26 year old mulatto woman with 5 month old baby".
The auctioneer yells: "come in señores, 200 piastras, for the pretty negress, nice figure, good laundress, 200 piastras señores…look at her. She is young…..who said 150?..she is yours."….as the new master pushed the girl into following him.
Her head lowered, buried in her hands, an 18 year girl awaits being sold. Buyers ask her: " Negro, are you good?" She whispers. "Open your mouth, idiot. I want to hear what you say". She obeys. When sold the auctioneer tells the girl: "This is your master".
The time of his life (1580 - 1654) was during a brilliant period of discovery. Columbus, Cortés, Pizarro, and Quesada cast an adventuresome spell over the people. It was an exciting time of heroic acts by bold and daring men conquering the new world.
Claver´s birthplace was Verdú, Spain, a old town with 2,000 people, a medieval castle, located in the flat lands with vines and olives. In 1,149, James the Conqueror had honored the town with many favors. Columbus was said to have been born there, and many with the same name remain. Claver´s godfather was a Columbus.
His Baptism Certificate reads: On the 26th of June of such year, 1580, in the said church of Verdú, was baptized Juan Pedro, son of Peter Claver of main street and Ana his wife. Acting as godparents were Juan Borrel and Magdalena Flavian Colon´s wife, stocking shop's owner, all of them from Verdú. May God make of him a good Christian".
There are few details about Claver´s childhood, however two sad events influenced his future orientation: On January 17, 1593, at the age of 13, he lost his mother. Shortly after, in February, his brother, James, died at the age of 20 years and 7 months.
For a man who lived such a long life, there are few examples of his writings. This letter to his parents, written while on the Island of Mallorca, in the Catalan language, shows his humanism: After recommending his parents to give charity and to have confidence in God, he adds: "If you want to give me good news, please write to me how you are, such news will make me happy. To my sister-in-law to whom I kiss her hand as thanks and whom I love very much please give my regards. To my sister and to my uncle Corberó, to Magin, Sebastián, Catalina and the rest of my friends, my regards. Jesus our Lord, keep you free from sin and give you the grace for accomplishing what. I have told you".
At age 26, he entered the Society of Jesus' in Tarragona, on August 8, 1604. At that time he vowed in his diary: "Until death I consecrate myself to God's service, doing it, as if I were a slave". This shows his complete dedication and formed the foundation for his life to follow. In his first vows: slave of God. In his last vows: slave of slaves for God's love.
The New World
On April 15, 1610 Claver boarded the "Galeón San Pedro". Arriving in Cartagena, he kissed the earth, and set out for Santa Fe via the Magdalena River where he studied briefly. Then he went to Tunja. A year later, he left the interior and returned to Cartagena, where on March 19, 1616 he was ordained priest at Cartagena´s Cathedral, and said his first mass. He was 35, and he had become a priest forever. That day he began his career as an apostle to Father Sandoval.
Slave of Slaves
Father Sandoval was a notable man of the New World, both as an apostle and as a writer. Sandoval's book "On Salvation and Catechizing of Negroes" is a remarkable work. It became the mission handbook of Peter Claver. Sandoval took Peter Claver to two places where thousands of slaves were piled up, waiting to be sold. With saddened eyes, and from the depth of his heart, Claver made a resolution: He would also be a slave-spiritually.
On April 3, 1622, on an ordinary piece of paper, Claver wrote these words: "Love to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Ignacio, Alonso, Tomé, Bartolomé, my saints, my teachers, my patrons and lawyers as well as of my dear Negroes, please, listen to me. He followed this with a commitment to his God forever, and signed with the immortal sentence: "Petrus Claver, aethiopum semer servus". Pedro Claver esclavo de los esclavos negros para siempre". For the forty years of his remaining life, he would never live for himself. He was now a slave of slaves. Nobody loved this enslaved race more.
The first apostle for the Negro race was Father Sandoval who worked in Cartagena de Indias and was the "teacher" of Peter Claver. Following, are his words: "The ship has gone through the Fort of Pastelillo and port movement can be heard. Inside the galleon there is a murmur. Screams of fright, anxious looks. The slaves traders show their softest faces. Only one third of the merchandise has arrived: there is an interest of giving a good impression….smile slaves…smile… When these Negroes are enslaved, they are put in dirty prisons from where they only come out at the port of Cartagena. Sometimes in one year, 12 to 14 ships come to Cartagena with the repulsive shipment of sad and melancholic Negroes. They have the idea that once in Cartagena they will be killed. One third of the shipment usually dies during the long journey. The slave traders bring these slaves in bunches of six, necks and feet chained. They make the trip in the bottom of the ship where they never can see the sun light, the place is so dirty that anyone could get sick with only getting in. They are fed every 24 hours, half plate of corn meal or raw "mijo" and small cup water. They received bad words and chastisements. Because of this treatment, the slaves are like skeletons when they arrive. Then they are brought to, and kept in a corral, or large patio, where many people go to see them, some only by curiosity, others guided by their covetousness, and still there are some who come out for compassion: in this last group are the missionaries, they usually go running when the shipment arrives, but very often they find many dead".
Sometimes when a ship came, Claver didn't wait, but took a canoe to reach the place where the slaves were off loaded. The spectacle was always sad. A nauseating smell, a kind of fish and garbage mixture filled in the atmosphere as the group of naked human beings came out of the ship. Their gaze revealed increasing terror, as they thought they would be killed once on land. When will the killing take place, they asked over and over?"
The interpreters tried to calm them down, saying: "This is father Claver. He loves you". Without knowing the language, Claver would use the language of compassion, and embrace them. First, he approached the dying children… "I baptize you"…. Then he came to the sick.
Claver was a simple man with a supreme love…"Lord I love you very much, very much". He had a strong will. When his body rebelled against the sight of an open wound or a leper, his pale olive face, like his town's olives, kindled and…. taking an iron whip, which he carried beneath his cloak, he would punish himself saying: "this way, this way , I will teach you". Then, his face became serene, and bending over the sick, he would kiss their sores with his own lips.
Brother Nicolas, the long time companion of Caver recalls: "I went with him and the sick woman was in a dark room, where the heat was terrible and the smell worse. I got sick and fell down. Father Caver said to me: "Go away Brother" and… his lips kissed the sore of the poor Negro woman. In some occasions, a woman couldn't stand this humility and screamed: "No, no Father don't do it".
A ship with slaves, arrives on an ordinary day, between 1622 and 1650. The scene was very familiar at San Ignacio's College, located very close to the walls, and only a few steps from the slave dock. A messenger would come to Claver´s room in a hurry. Claver had promised special prayers for those who would bring him the news first. His room was very poor: A rickety chair, a bed with a mat and funnily in a corner. There was a food storage with lemons, oranges, tobacco, "aguardiente". At the first announcement of the ship arrival, agitation started in Claver´s room. The Negro interpreters were "his other hand". One of them named Calepino, spoke 12 African languages. The others were: Andres Sacabunche, and Ignacio Aluanil from Angola. Solfo and Yolofo from Guinea; Biafara, Manual, Juan Manolio and finally Nicolás Gonzálex. Each one had his own assignment.
Claver´s appearance was singular: a leather bag hanging from his left arm, carrying an ecclesiastical handbook, holy oil, a cross, tobacco, clothes, etc. etc.
For forty years Claver was more than a slave to the slaves…He taught catechism 5 to 8 hours a day. Baptized hundreds of thousands of slaves. Visited the hospitals regularly, and the huts of the dying poor throughout the city and countryside. The ladies of Cartagena: Doña Isabel de Urbina or Doña Mariana Delgado, had to wait long hours among the Negro slaves when they wanted to go for confession with the Father. He had a great compassion for the Negroes who didn't have anybody. The other ladies could find many other confessors..
Medical Doctor Adan Lobo tells the following: It was 1645, I was visiting don Francisco Manuel´s house in Getsemani. Suddenly, I heard s woman screaming within a closed room: "No, no Father, let me alone, don't do that…". A bad thought, crossed my mind. The man inside the room was Claver". As Dr. Lobo kept thinking, he started to tremble, but he was curious. He went inside the room, and something like thunder shook his soul as he saw Peter Claver, cleaning with his tongue, the filthy sores of a Negro woman. She couldn't endure such humility, so…she had screamed! Doctor Lobo added that he never saw anybody so determined to dominate his own nature as Claver. The doctor had such admiration and respect for Claver that he never gave up on a sick patient, until he first looked for Peter Claver´s aid and advice. He knew that if Claver suggested to continue, his patient wouldn't die.
There are numerous documented accounts, offered by many direct witnesses, taking place over a long period of time, attesting to the work and saintly dedication of Peter Claver. More can be found in the fine booklet: Peter Claver-Human Rights Pioneer. By: Angel Valtierra S.J. It is from this source, that most of these pages were compiled. The 27 pg. booklet, in English, is available at the entrance counter to the Museum for about $1.00. u.s.
Toward the End
One day after mission work he returned to the Monastery very weak, and with a pale face. He was failing. For 4 more years he remained alive in the same small room. His dynamic personality lay motionless. The city's idol had been abandoned. All had left, except for Manuel, a new slave, who was mean to Claver. Sometimes he left Claver without food for the entire day. When helping dress the old man, he would often push him. Once, he noticed Claver, with his paralyzed arm, try to make the sign of the cross-a sign of pardon for Manuel.
On September 6, 1654, a strong murmur could be heard throughout Cartagena de Indias. Claver was dying, while the hearts and minds of his brothers were remembering. The next day he lost his speech, and the following morning, between one and two a.m. , without making any movement, peaceful, and serene, he died.
Brother Nicolas, later wrote: "His face was the same as when he was alive. I knew that he had died because suddenly, his pale face became enlightened, and got an extraordinary beauty. Then I knew that his soul was enjoying his God. I knelt down and kissed his white feet". As did the other priests and Spaniards who were present.
Three centuries have passed, and with each new day, there are more and more who learn of his work and his mission as the slave to the slaves. Today, he is alive in all his virtues and his love. His relic's were taken throughout the country.
His shrine at Cartagena is a holy place where you will at once feel at home, regardless of your religious beliefs, or the shade of your skin. Saint Peter Claver, helped make it so!
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