Peter Gonzalez was beatified in 1254 by Pope Innocent
IV, and his cultus was confirmed in 1741 by Pope Benedict XIV,
but the canonization process was never completed. So technically he
is not a saint, although he is often referred to that way. He is also
often referred to as Saint Elmo, but that name belongs properly to
Saint Erasmus (a martyr and bishop who died around 303).
Nevertheless, Peter Gonzalez is widely venerated, especially by
Spanish and Portuguese sailors.
He was born in 1190 at Astorga, Spain. His wealthy parents
expected him to become a priest, and they sent him to be educated by
his uncle, the bishop of Astorga. The family's wealth helped obtain a
papal dispensation for Peter to become Canon of Palencia when he
was still officially too young for such a position.
On the Christmas Day after his installation as Canon, he rode into
Astorga on horseback dressed in his finest clothes. The streets were
crowded, and thus a great many people witnessed (and enjoyed) his
humiliation when his horse reared up and threw him into a heap of
dung. Suddenly, he was hit with the realization that his
parishioners knew his appointment as their Canon was more political
and economic than spiritual.
Ashamed, he withdrew to clean up both physically and spiritually.
After a period of prayer and meditation, he entered the
Dominican monastery at Palencia and commenced a life of penance to
make up for his misspent youth. Family and friends tried to dissuade
him from this course of action, but he would not be swayed. "If
you love me," he said to them, "follow me. If you cannot
follow me, forget me."
After completing his studies at the monastery, Peter was sent to be a
military chaplain with the royal army. He also began to preach to
whomever would listen, and his sermons drew large crowds. His zeal
came to the attention of King Ferdinand III of Castile, who sent
for him and made him his court chaplain and personal confessor.
Peter set about reforming the court, which was quite corrupt.
Peter accompanied Ferdinand on his crusade against the Moors,
working for humane treatment of the Moorish prisoners and converting
mosques into churches. Eventually, though, he began to fear that
life in the king's court would corrupt him. When they returned from
the Crusades, Peter left the King to live among peasants, shepherds,
and sailors. Most of the stories about his life come from this
period. He apparently converted quite a few people, and he is said to
have used the power of his prayers to turn aside storms, to end
droughts, to call fish out of rivers to feed his companions.
Finally, exhausted, he retired to Tuy. During Lent of 1246, he
preached every day in the cathedral there. On Palm Sunday he,
predicted his death. And on the Sunday after Easter, he died at
Santiago de Compostella. He is buried in the cathedral at Tuy.