Saint of the Day – 6 January – St Peter Thomas OCD (c 1305-1366) Carmelite Priest and Friar, Archbishop of Crete, Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, noted Preacher, Papal legate, the Carmelite Order’s Procurator-General to the Papal Court, Teacher, Marian devotee, miracle-worker – born as Pierre Tomas in c 1305 in southern Perigord, France and died 1366 at Famagorta, Cyprus from wounds received in a military action in Alexandria, Egypt in 1365. He preached the Crusade against the Turks throughout Serbia, Hungary and Constantinople and travelled with the armies. He enjoyed a reputation among both Catholic and Orthodox spheres as an apostle of Church unity. Before the Turkish uprising (when his remains were lost), during the Canonisation process, when his tomb was opened, his body was found to be “perfect and whole and the members as flexible as before” (Carmesson, pp. 100-1)
Peter Thomas was born around the year 1305 to a very poor family in Périgord. His father was a serf. When still a teenager, he left his parents and his younger sister to ease the burdens on his family. He went to the nearby small town of Monpazier, where he attended school for about three years, living on alms and teaching younger pupils. He led the same type of life at Agen until the age of twenty, when he returned to Monpazier.
The Prior of the Carmelite convent of Lectoure employed Thomas as a teacher for a year in their school. He entered the Carmelite Order at the age of twenty-one and made his profession of religious vows at Bergerac where he taught for two years. He studied philosophy at Agen, where he was ordained a Priest three years later. For the next few years, he continued his studies, while also teaching in Bordeaux, Albi and again in Agen. This was followed by three years of study in Paris. He was preaching in Cahors, during a procession of prayer held in supplication for the end to a serious drought, when rain began to fall. This was viewed by many as miraculous.
He was the Order’s Procurator General and an official Preacher at the Papal Court of Pope Clement VI at Avignon. At the death of Pope Clement VI, he accompanied the bosy to the Chaise-Dieu, preaching at all the twelve stops along the way (April, 1353).
From that time on the whole life of Peter Thomas was dedicated to the fulfilment of delicate missions entrusted to him by the Holy See, for peace among Christian princes, for the defence of the rights of the Church before the most powerful monarchs of the age, for the union of the Orthodox Byzantine–Slavs with the Roman Church, for the anti-Muslim crusade and the liberation of the Holy Land.
In 1354 he was made Bishop of Patti and Lipari. In 1363 he was appointed Archbishop of Crete and in 1364 he became the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople.
Peter caught a cold during the Christmas feasts of 1365. His condition worsened on 28 December and on 6 January, being “reduced to skin and bones” (Phil Of M., p. 151, 15), he piously ended his earthly life “at about the second hour of the night” (ib. 154, 8), after having distributed all his belongings to the poor. He died in the Carmelite convent of Famagusta.
His remains seemed surrounded by light to those who watched them during the wake. The funeral was a veritable triumph – even the dissident Greeks and others, who would willingly have “drunk his blood” (ib. p. 156, 3-4) while he was aliv, participated devoutly. The funeral eulogy was delivered by John Carmesson, who several times felt himself mysteriously urged to call the deceased a saint (lb., 157, 8). The body remained exposed for six days and was visited by a great number of people – cures and other miracles were verified before and after the burial (Smet, pp. 163-84).
Two qualified admirers of Peter Thomas wrote his Vita almost on the morrow of his death – Philip of Mézières (died 1405), Chancellor of King Peter of Cyprus and spiritual son of the Saint, (The Life of St. Peter Thomas by Philippe de Mézières) and the Franciscan, John Carmesson, Minister of the Province of the Holy Land, who had delivered the funeral eulogy.
The fours volumes of sermons and the tract De Immaculata Conception Blessed Maria Virgini which he wrote have been lost. But the famous processional Cross presented to him in 1360 by the Christian refugees from Syria and used by him, as the standard in the Alexandrian crusade and as a source of strength in his own last agony. is now preserved in the Venetian church of St John. He had willed the Cross to his friend, Philip of Mézières, who on 23 December 1370, gave it to the Grand School of St John in Venice. This processional Cross became the object of intense devotion and was depicted on the city’s standard.
He was Beatified in 1609 by Pope Paul V and Canonised in 1628 by Pope Urban VIII.