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King Ferdinand III after the Siege of Seville - IV

The Last Battle of St. Ferdinand III:
‘The Hour to Die Has Come’

Gregory Johnson
After the conquests of Jaén and Seville, there were almost no Moors on the Iberian Peninsula. The only Muslims who remained, those of Niebla, were languishing and discouraged, almost incapable of inflicting any harm. On the contrary, on the other side of the sea was Islamic Africa, the cradle of those Mohammedan races who, throughout the many centuries, had been overrunning the Peninsula, flooding it with blood and tears.

Ferdinand, knowing that Christ had made him His standard bearer, ardently desired to see the Great King's standards parade in triumph through the African regions. Thus in the Parliament of 1250 Ferdinand recommended that they continue fighting to spread the empire of Christ in Africa. All, prelates, nobles and representatives, approved with acclamations for the Holy Crusade.

African Crusade abruptly interrupted

The preparations for the conquest of Moslem African were underway. The good King Don Ferdinand, close to embarking spoke to the two Alfonsos, his son and his brother, trying to convince one of the two to remain in Spain to govern it. However, neither would yield in their insistent desire to go to Africa with him.

ferdinand and the crusades

After the seige of Seville, the King was preparing to fight the Muslims in Africa

The month of May was ending and the weather was very hot in Seville. In the early morn of the 30th, the King had gone to see the various projects on the docks and was returning, tired but happy, when suddenly an attack of his old sickness assaulted him. It was so terrible and accompanied by such a sharp pain that he clearly realized that this time he would not escape.

He was taken to bed, and as soon as he recovered somewhat and was able to talk, he said to Alfonso and all present there: “Time is running out and the hour for me to die has come.”

Thus, with simple naturality and with no sign of sorrow, he renounced his glorious dreams to fight the Moors in Africa. For him the will of God was everything.

The Crusader King prepares to die

Then, Ferdinand requested the Viaticum to be brought to him. He asked to be dressed in the beautiful white and gold rich silk shirt he wore on feast days. In reverence to Christ’s royal dignity and power, he ordered every reminder of human majesty to be removed from his chamber. He no longer wanted to see his crown or his scepter, or to think about government or honors of this world.

coat of arms ferdinand III

Ferdinand's coat of arms

Soon the room was filled with his sons and brothers, Queen Joan and his daughters, as well as other noblemen of the King’s house and wise men of his council. Don Ferdinand’s eyes were closed, and, absorbed in prayer, he was oblivious to the things of this world. The only sounds in the large room were the difficult breathing of the patient, the crackling of a sputtering candle and unrestrained sobbing.

Suddenly the silvery sound of a distant bell was heard approaching. King Ferdinand opened his eyes to receive the Holy Body of Christ for the last time. Seeing Him, a powerful surge of love revived Ferdinand, who lifted himself from the bed, knelt on the hard marble tiles, and placed a rope he had prepared around his neck as a sinful penitent. Thus, contrite and humiliated, King Ferdinand laid down his royalty before the divine royalty of Jesus Christ.

Before the ceremony began, the King took the Cross in his hands and publically repented for all the sins of his life. Striking his breast with great blows, he ended his confession, humbly asking the Archbishop for absolution. Don Remondo absolved him, and the King made a confession of faith in God, One and Triune.

After devoutly receiving the Sacred Host, Ferdinand ordered his precious tunic to be taken off him and, simply clad, he returned to his bed, his head inclined on the pillows that kept him half-raised in calm and quiet prayer.

Advice to the Infante Alfonso

Finally Don Ferdinand opened his eyes and called his eldest: “My son, Alfonso, come here!”

The Infante knelt at his father’s side. Ferdinand lifted his right hand, and, very slowly because his strength was already seeping away, made the Sign of the Cross on him as a blessing. Then, taking his right hand between his, the King said:

“Son, you see well how my life is ending, and I am leaving to give my soul to Him Who created it and redeemed it. Tomorrow you will be King of all these realms of Castile and León.

viaticum of Ferdinand III

The Viaticum of King Ferdinand III

“Fear, love and obey God and join your will and deeds with Him and you will have a good end. Do not fail to do good while you can, as these good works will save your soul, and everything will pass before you like a dream.

“Rule the people justly and follow my instruction to continue the task of compiling the laws so we can govern all the people with the same consistent code. Take care of your brothers and strive to improve their situations and treat them in such a way that they do not regret having been born second.

“Consider the Queen like a mother and give her all the honor appropriate for a Queen. I also recommend to you Don Alfonso my brother, and all my other brothers and sisters. Honor all the noblemen of your kingdoms and always favor the knights, and faithfully follow their laws and their exceptions and freedoms and those of all your people.”

The King paused briefly to regain his strength because life was leaving him. He looked in Alfonso’s eyes again and added with a great effort: “If all this that I entrust to you, plead with you, and order you to fulfill is accomplished you will have my full blessing, and if not, my curse.

“Amen,” answered Alfonso, his voice also choked from the emotion of that supreme moment.

Then, his other children who were in Seville began to approach. The King blessed each one, making the Sign of the Cross on them with his own hand. To Manuel, the last son he had of Queen Doña Beatrice, to whom he could give no lands, He gave his cherished sword Lobera.

Then, he again called Don Alfonso, his firstborn, and said to him these final words:

“Son, you will be rich in land and in many good vassals, more than any other king in Christendom. Try hard to do good and be good; I leave you lord of all the land this side of the sea that the Moors won from the Visgoth King Roderick. All of it remains under your lordship, either conquered or tributary.

"If you maintain the boundaries of the State as I am leaving them to you, you are as good a king as I; if you conquer more, you are better, and if the boundaries decrease, then you are not as good as I.”

death of ferdinand III

Death scene of King Ferdinand III

Then, his noblemen, his companions in toil and glory, all passed before him, kissing as farewell the rigid hand that had fallen on the sheet. The dying King looked at them, saying his goodbye with his eyes because the fatigue of his heart, which no longer wanted to beat, was choking him like a halter.

Finally, only Don Remondo, the other priests of Santa María and the friars of the monasteries of Seville remained in the royal chamber, the only companions that he wanted in this supreme hour. On a small table at his bedside was the Virgin of the Battles, helping him to win this last one.

The final battle

Suddenly Ferdinand looked fixedly on high, his face transformed by an ineffable happiness that swept away the pain of his final agony. He was like this for some time, and the churchmen surrounding him even believed he had died.

Returning from his ecstasy, he smiled joyously and said to them: “The hour has come… give me the candle!”

Lifting his eyes, he continued speaking to God:


The symbol of his power was his sword Lobera

“Lord, Thou gave me a Kingdom I did not have and more honor and power than I deserved. Thou gave me life as long as it was Thy pleasure. Lord, I give Thee thanks; and I surrender to Thee and deliver to Thee the Kingdom Thou gave me, with the improvements that I was able to achieve, and I offer Thee my soul.”

Then, he looked at those present. “If, through my fault, you have any complaint, please forgive me for it.”

He took the candle with both hands, and somehow found strength in his moral energy to lift it on high while he said: “Lord, naked I came out of my mother’s womb which was the earth, and naked I offer myself to her; and, Lord, receive my soul in the company of Thy servants.”

The sounds of his final agony began. Toward the end, Ferdinand fixed his sight on that point where heaven opened for him.

“Sing the Te Deum!” he ordered in a rapture of joy.

What was he seeing? Was it the angels and saints whom God was sending to receive him? Was it his Lady Holy Mary? Or the Eternal King Jesus Christ coming to receive his knight?

Don Ferdinand very simply and gently lowered his eyes, wishing to lock forever in its pupils that final and sweetest vision of his life. The holy King Don Ferdinand was entering the last and noblest of all of his conquests, the Kingdom of Heaven. It was May 30, 1252.

Ferdinand was buried in the Cathedral of Seville by his son, Alfonso X. He was canonized as St. Ferdinand by Pope Clement X in 1671. Today his incorrupt body can still be seen in the Cathedral of Seville, for he rests enclosed in a gold and crystal casket worthy of the King. His golden crown still encircles his head as he reclines beneath the statue of the Virgin of the Kings.

The symbol of his power as a king was not the staff but his sword Lobera.


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Adapted from M.C. Fernandez de Castro ACJ,
The Life of the Very Noble King of Castile and Léon, Saint Ferdinand III
NY: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, Inc. 1987, pp. 266-278

Posted December 26, 2018

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