Dominican lay brother. The illegitimate son of a Spanish grandee (John de Porres, knight of the Order of Alcantara) and of Anna Velasquez, a free negress of Lima, Peru, Martin apprenticed himself to a barber-surgeon. Some years later he joined the Dominicans as a lay-helper, but his life, especially his dedication to the poor, was so impressive that he was invited to make profession as a lay-brother.
He would spend his nights in prayer and penance, sometimes accompanied by visions and ecstasies, his days in nursing the sick and the plague-stricken, working for his monastery as barber, gardener, and counsellor; above all, caring for the poor, irrespective of race and colour. His cures seemed miraculous, his control of animals prodigious. His own community recognized his holiness to such an extent that they accepted his spiritual direction. They called him ‘father of charity’ but he called himself ‘mulatto dog’.
At the age of sixty he died of a violent quatrain fever. His veneration by the faithful was immediate and spontaneous, miraculous cures were claimed at his tomb and a canonical inquiry began in 1660. This led eventually to his beatification in 1837 and his canonization by Pope John XXIII in 1962. His recognition as patron of race relations was due, not to any political or revolutionary activity but to his universal, caring charity to men of all races whom he served without counting the cost. Feast: 3 November.
G. Cavallini, St Martin de Porres: Apostle of Charity (1963); N.C.E., xi. 595–6; Bibl. SS., viii. 1240–5.