Saint Martin de Porres

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Saint Martin de Porres

Saint Martin de Porres is the patron saint of African-Americans, barbers, hairdressers, race relations, social justice, those with mixed race heritage, poor people, the nation of Peru, and the city of Biloxi, Mississippi. Saint Martin is widely beleived to have been the first black man to officially take on the habit of a monastic order. He took vows in 1603 as a Dominican brother and worked as a barber, pharmacist, and doctor. He is also said to have established the first veterinary clinic in Lima. Many miraculous cures were attributed to his skill, and he was also believed to possess supernatural abilities such as levitation and communication with animals. His feast day is November 3.

Martin de Porres was born the son of a wealthy Spanish nobleman and a black former slave in Lima, Peru in 1579. He grew up poor and was quickly placed with a barber to learn a trade. As was often the case at that time, the barber doubled as a doctor and surgeon, so along with hair styling, Martin learned the art of healing. His devotion to the Catholic Church and prayer gained him admittance into the Dominican brotherhood, first as a servant and later as a monk. Martin distinguished himself among his other Dominican brothers by going the extra mile for those who were sick and in need, often giving over his own bed to beggars who had no place else to rest. He believed that all forms of work, even the most menial, could be devotional and holy. Because he was the first mixed-race man to take holy orders, Martin became a symbol of racial harmony and tolerance. He raised large sums of alms that he distributed to beggars, poor people, and children in need and later assisted in funding a large orphanage in the city of Lima.

Saint Martin de Porres is often depicted with a broom, a crucifix, and a rosary, standing beside a dog, a cat, bird, and a mouse all eating from the same dish. The broom symbolizes the menial chores he took on, while the peace and harmony between animals that would usually fight with each other symbolizes harmonious race relationships achieved through mercy and loving kindness. He is also shown as a prescribing pharmacist or doctor, with herbal medicines before him.

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