Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Blesseds Denis of the Nativity, O.C.D. and Redemptus of the Cross, O.C.D., martyrs




Today is the feast of the blesseds Denis (or Dionysius) of the Nativity and Redemptus of the Cross in the Carmelite calendars. They were both Discalced Carmelites, martyred in Sumatra when they refused to abjure Christianity and become Mohammedans. The following vita is taken from Journey to Carith: The Story of the Carmelite Order of Fr Peter-Thomas Rohrbach, O.C.D. (Doubleday & Co., NY, 1966). It follows rather closely the story given in the old second nocturn of the Breviarium Carmelitarum with a bit of added detail.


Pierre Berthelot was born in the French seaport town of Honfleur in 1600. He developed an early fascination for the sea, and became a professional navigator and cartographer. At the age of nineteen he sailed for the Indies as navigator for a French expedition, but his ship was attacked by the Dutch and he was taken prisoner and brought to Java. After his release, he settled in Malacca, where he signed with the Portuguese and was so successful that the king of Portugal named him "Master Navigator and Cosmographer of the Orient." His marine cartography became well known, and his map of the archipelago of Sumatra is still preserved in the British Museum. His contemporaries described him as a handsome, stocky man, blond and fair-skinned, an adventuresome and high-spirited person, with an inquisitive and active mind. His expeditions frequently brought him to Goa, where he became acquainted with the Discalced monastery and its prior, Philip of the Trinity. In 1634, at the age of thirty-four, he abandoned his career and entered the Order, adopting the name Denis of the Nativity. Four years later the Portuguese viceroy of the Indies asked the Carmelites to allow Denis to serve as navigator on an expedition which was carrying a new Portuguese envoy to Sumatra, a trip which appeared to be quite hazardous because of Dutch pirates and hostile natives. Denis' studies were accelerated, and he was quickly ordained to the priesthood so that he could also serve as chaplain on the expedition. A lay brother, Redemptus f the Cross, was assigned as his companion.

Thomas Rodriguez de Cunha was born at Paredes in Portugal in 1598. He became a soldier and traveled to the East Indies as a young man, becoming a member of the governor's guard at Meliapor where he rose to the rank of captain and commander of the guard. He entered the Carmelite monastery at Goa, taking the name Redemptus of the Cross. He was stationed at the Carmelite missions at Tattah and Diu in the kingdom of the Grand Mogul, and then again at Goa where he served as porter and sacristan. Redemptus was an extremely likable person, friendly and jovial, and where he was assigned to the Sumatra expedition he joked with his confreres about having his portrait painted in case he became a martyr.

The expedition arrived safely at Sumatra, where the party disembarked at the port of Achim, but the two friars were unexpectedly seized by the natives and imprisoned. Asked to renounce their faith, they refused and were sentenced to death. They were led to a desolate spot on the seashore where Redemptus' throat was slit open, while Denis, a crucifix in his hands, was forced to watch. The natives cleaved open Denis' head. Pope Leo XIII beatified Denis and Redemptus in 1900.


Both the Ancient Observance and the Discalced Carmelites keep this day in honour of Blessed Denis and Blessed Redemptus. The collect is the same in both rites:

Deus, qui mirabilis dispositione beatos Dionysium et Redemptum per maris pericula ad palmam martyrii perduxisti : eorum intercessione concede; ut, inter mundanas varietates et sæcularia desideria, fideles usque ad mortem in confessione tui nominis maneamus. Per Dominum. Amen.


O God, Who in Thy wondrous providence, didst lead blessed Dionysius and Redemptus through the perils of the sea to the palm of martyrdom, grant through their intercession that in the midst of earthly vicissitudes and worldly desires we may remain steadfast even unto death in the confession of Thy name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.