MariaElena at Fountain of Elias reminds us that Sept 24 is the (pre Vatican II) feast of Our Lady of Ransom. This feast was one of the church’s way of reminding folks of the many captured by various pirates and to raise money to ransom them.

The origins of the Feast can be found in the little known Mercedarian Order.
This was founded in the early thirteenth century by St Peter Nolasco and St Raymond of Penafort (who can both be seen at Our Lady’s feet in the picture above) to ransom Christian slaves taken by the Muslims during their frequent raids on Europe.

True, the slave traders were all over the place, from the survivors of Troy to the pirates who kidnapped Julius Caesar to the Irish ones who kidnapped St. Patrick, or the Vikings who made a lot of money selling Irish captives to the  land of Muslim Andalucia, or selling the Slavs to the Muslims in Bagdad.

The church feast was mainly about trying to ransom those captured by the North African slavers, who frequently raided the southern coast of Europe and terrorized ships in the Mediterranean for almost a thousand years, until Thomas Jefferson had enough and stopped it by America’s first foreign war.

But the pirates of North Africa didn’t just prey on ship and villages along the Mediterranean but raided England, Ireland and even Iceland.


While googling about Icelandic literature, I ran into this story of the Icelandic poet Halgrim Peturson and the story of how he helped those ransomed after a raid on Iceland:

Between three and four hundred persons were
taken captives chiefly by the Algerians, and sold
as slaves in the market at Algiers. Many suffered
great cruelty, largely in the form of persecution
for their faith. They were ” chained in in
supportable positions, beaten on the hands and
faces, exposed naked in public places, and again
beaten until they lost the power of speech.” At
length, however, an Icelander was allowed to
carry a petition to the King of Denmark, asking
for 1,200 rix-dollars as a ransom price for the
surviving captives. A subscription was raised
in Iceland, to which the King of Denmark him
self largely contributed. This was paid over in
due course, and in 1637, ten years after the raid,
thirty-four survivors out of the hundreds taken
were set at liberty.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the pirates of Somali are doing the same to the merchant seamen who they capture, and of course, various terror groups and criminals have made a fortune on kidnapping civilians all over the world…(even here, Lolo worries and won’t let me travel alone on the street, even though they caught the local kidnap gang last year).

It’s no longer correct to remember the good old days when Muslim states allowed the slave trade to flourish, so the slave trade from Europe is pretty well ignored today, although as StrategyPage Points out,knowing this history is important:  it is one of the back stories not usually mentioned when you read about the present day “terrorism” wars of Africa: Mali, Ethiopia and even the recent mall attack in Kenya was by a Somalian terrorist group (funded by ransom money for the seamen they captured) all  have their roots in the Arab slave trade against their black neighbors.

So although the history books prefer to forget any perfidy if done by politically correct groups, the tragedies of history are still remembered, at least by those of us old enough to remember the pre Vatican II days, when we still were allowed to celebrate feasts such as Our Lady of Ransom and Our Lady of Victories (which celebrated the naval battle of Lepanto that saved much of Europe from falling to the Ottoman empire).

It must be a Catholic thing, but shrines to commemorate battles and victories are found all over the world: nor is this just a “catholic” thing: the backstory of Our Lady of Kazan is the Russian victory over the Swedes, and later, over that agnostic upstart Napoleon.

Here in the Philippines, not only do we have our Lady of Peace Shrine on the EDSA (to commemorate the People power revolution against Marcos) but Our Lady of La Naval de Manila, which commemorates the Spanish victory that kept the Dutch from conquering the Philippines.

The Philippines also had a problem with slavers: the Chinese pirates took Filipinos as slaves, but the main problem was the long tradition of Moro pirates who decimated the Visayas with their raids.

Basilan Island’s reputation as a staging-ground for Moro raids on Zamboanga, the Visayas and even Luzon, and as a temporary repository of the plunder from these raids. gave the island a notoriety not unlike the “Treasure Islands” of the West Indies or the buccaneers’ havens and pirate coves of the Caribbean.


The Spanish attempt to conquer the southern island is now seen as an evil crusade, but I suspect there is another story here that is no longer politically correct to relate: about the sorrow of ordinary folks torn from their land to labor and die.

Finally, although the opponents of the American takeover of the Philippines (including myhusband’s relatives, who were among those fighting for independence) would prefer to forget it, the bloody war by the Americans against the Moros of the south is how those slave traders were finally stopped.

The American zeal to gradually abolish slavery, and its refusal to make a distinction between criminal debt bondage and chattel slavery, was the first strike against the traditional “pyramidal power structure” that provided for the existence of the ruling datu class. Imperialism was the only means of eliminating slavery – to give the Moros complete autonomy was to tolerate  its continuation. The American military officers and civilians genuinely sought to abolish slavery and recognized that this required coercive force.

So when you read that the city of Zamboanga, a city with 75 % Christian, has been shut down by an “insurgent” group:  just remember not to paint them as heroes fighting imperialism but as the descendents of some pretty evil pirates, who are actually terrorizing the local civilians in order to blackmail the government to give them access to more money from those lovely developmental funds.

Because, for the victim, pirates and terrorists are evil, but for those doing the killing and stealing, hey, it’s just business as usual.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Part of this essay was posted on her blog, FinestKind clinic and Fishmarket.

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