Friday, January 10, 2020

Peter Claver


Peter Claver is not a familiar name. It has the ring of the English language about it.
But Peter Claver was born in Catalonia on 26 June 1580; he died on the 8th September 1654 aged 74 in Cartagena now Colombia, but back then it was part of the Spanish Empire.

He became a priest.


 And a saint for slaves, Colombia, race relations, African-Americans and seafarers, and I think that tells his story in a few words.

Peter was a Spanish Jesuit priest who spent 40 years of his ministry in the ‘New Kingdom of Granada’ where he personally baptized over a quarter of a million people and  heard confessions of thousands of slaves every year.  He really demonstrated true Christian love for his fellow man, and fittingly The Republic of Colombia declared September 9 as the National Day of Human Rights in his honour.

When Claver was born, King Ferdinand of Spain had already started Spain’s role in international slave trading by purchasing 250 African slaves for the Spanish territory.


Claver arrived in Cartagena in 1610 where he lived with the Jesuits at Tunja and Bogota and in these early years he became very disturbed by the terrible treatment dealt out to the slaves from Africa.

Because the locals were considered unsuitable for work in the mines, the importation of slaves to South America had been going on for about a century, mostly from Angola and the Congo. It’s estimated that over 10000 slaves, male and female arrived in Cartagena every year. It’s estimated that one third died in the sea voyage across the Atlantic due to the conditions on board the boat, and although Pope Paul III had issued a decree prohibiting slavery and calling it an act of 'supreme villainy', it remained a very popular way of making money.
                                          The statue to Peter Claver- The Priest and The Slave

Claver boarded the slave ships as soon as they docked. He gave treatment to the sick, tried to comfort the terrified prisoners in the cramped, foul conditions.  The priest found it difficult to move around once down in the hold as the human cargo had been packed in so tightly.  There’s a legend, grown from the fact that he would offer his cloak to any slave in need, that Claver's cloak gave health to anybody who wore it. Once the slaves were on dry land and held secure in their pens, Claver would walk amongst them with food and medicine. He carried pictures with him sometimes accompanied by a translator and communicated with the slaves, encouraging them, he always saw them as fellow Christians.


During the season when no boats were expected in the port, Claver could be found travelling the country, visiting plantations and offering some spiritual assistance to the slave workers. Where possible, he rejected accommodation with the plantation owners preferring to sleep in the slaves’ quarters.


He looked after sailors and seafarers with similar compassion as well as the posh folk of Cartagena, traders and visitors including British Protestants and Muslims from the east. He also prepared condemned criminals for death.


Over time, he became a moral force; the Apostle of Cartagena. 


Latterly, Claver was housebound in his single room for four years. He was abused and ill-treated by an ex-slave, and he died on 8th September 1654 having never uttered a word of complaint.
As is usual, it was only when he died that the authorities took action. A public funeral was ordered, and he was buried with much pomp and ceremony which I doubt he would have desired.

Caro Ramsay 


  1. I have always wondered how, in the midst of such terrible treatment at the hands of so many Christians, slaves could still be converted. I think that would be the last religion I would consider.

  2. Why is it we rarely hear of the good done in the midst of so much evil until the doer has passed on? In this case 365 years. Hopefully not because there's so little being done. :(