Saint of the Day – 12 August – St Pedro del Barco (1088-1155) – Hermit, Penitent, Canon, Apostle of the needy, he is regarded as the father of the agricultural industry in Avila – born in 1088 in Ávila, Spain and died on 1 November 1155 of natural causes.
Born in the late eleventh century into a peasant family, his existence is known through popular and local legends that acquired written support in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as the Epilogue of things worthy of memory belonging to the illustrious , very magnificent and very noble city of Ávila, by Gonzalo de Ayora, published in 1519, or Las Grandezas, antiquity and nobility of Barco de Ávila and its origin , by Luis Álvarez, which was published in Madrid in 1625.
Some traditions consider him to be born in a house in Barco de Ávila that is on the corner of the cemetery of the Church of the Ascension and which has hosted, since 1663, a Chapel built by order of the magistrate Juan Antonio Mangíbar.
It is said that when his father died, he withdrew, together with his friend, Saint Pascual de Barco de Ávila (also born in Tormellas), to a forest near Barco de Ávila to lead the life of a penitent, alternating work and prayer in uninterrupted prayer. Pity for the poverty of the local people, he dismantled a mountainous massif, in one of whose caves he lived and transformed it into a plain suitable for cultivation, creating a fertile space in which the natives of the place could grow beans and other crops for their maintenance. This enterprise, granted him the title of Father of the Land in his region.
This saint, digger of new lands won from the forests and mountains, lived chained to shackles and ate bread in a wooden bowl. Tradition says that he preached to the birds and other animals of the forest who paid homage to him, his work companions being two roe deer that helped him in his work. He took pity on a gypsy woman who had been a prostitute and, repentant, wanted to enter a convent in Ávila, for which she sold part of her land in order to be able to endow her.
The Bishop of Segovia, Pedro de Agen, appointed him Canon of the Cathedral of Segovia and commissioned him, together with Íñigo Navarrón, a teacher in Theology, to govern the house and farm of Párraces, where a Convent of Canons regular was founded, under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin and governed by the Rule of St Benedict. Saint Pedro lived there until the death of the Bishop and the appointment of Navarrón as Bishop of Coria.
He returned to Barco de Ávila in 1149 to end his days as a Hermit and Penitent. One day, as an old man, while ploughing a field, he asked a boy to bring him water from a nearby spring. The fountain, called St Pedro, is a pilgrimage site for the people of Barco de Ávila, just like his hut, which was transformed into a Hermitage in 1490.
Upon his death, which occurred on 1 November 1155, the inhabitants of the towns in which he had preached, disputed the possession of his body – Piedrahita, Horcajada, Segovia, Párraces, Barco de Ávila and Ávila.
Unable to reach an agreement, they loaded a blind mule with the body of the Saint and left it to the mule’s will to determine the place where he should be buried.
The mule headed towards Ávila and, upon reaching the Romanesque Church consecrated to Saints Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta, located outside the city walls, it entered the interior of the temple, went to the south arm of the transept and struck with its hoof on the ground to mark a stone slab with his footprint and thus transmit the divine will, designating the place where his relics should rest.
At present, Saint Pedro del Barco de Ávila has an Altar and sepulchre in the south arm of the transept of the Church of San Vicente, a place where the footprint of the mule is also preserved, protected by a wrought iron fence. The first document that confirms the ownership of the Church as dedicated to the saints Vicente, Sabina, Cristeta and Pedro del Barco de Ávila, dates from the reign of Fernando III el Santo and is dated in 1252.
He is represented dressed in a black Benedictine habit, white hair and beard, with a wrinkled face, carrying a book with the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia and farming instruments in his hands or feet. Sometimes he is accompanied by a deer or a mule.