Nuno Alvares Pereira was born on the 24 June 1360 in the village of Bomjardin close to Lisbon, Portugal. He was the illegitimate son of Brother Álvaro Gonçalves Pereira, Hospitalier Knight of St. John of Jerusalem and prior of Crato and Donna Iria Gonçalves do Carvalhal. About a year after his birth, Nuno Alvares was legitimized by royal decree and so was able to receive a knightly education typical of the offspring of the noble families of the time.
At sixteen years of age, at the wish of his father, he married a rich young widow Donna Leonor de Alvim. Three children were born to the union, two boys who died early in life, and a girl, Beatrice, who would eventually marry Afonso, first Duke of Bragança, son of King João I.
When King Fernando died, without an heir on 22nd October 1383, his brother João, became involved in the struggle to win the Lusitanian crown, which was being contested by the King of Castile, who had married the daughter of the dead king. Nuno took João’s side. Nuno led the Portuguese army to victory on various occasions up until the battle of Aljubarrota (14th August 1385), which brought the conflict to an end.
Throughout the war, Nuno displayed great valor. He was also acknowledged as a great military strategist. In 1384 he overcame the Castilians at the Battle of Atoleiros. As a result, at 25 years of age, he was declared constable, or supreme commander of the Portuguese army. Throughout his years as a soldier, Nuno lived a life of deep spirituality. On the field of battle, he would kneel and pray. He encouraged his soldiers to receive the sacraments as often as they could. He discouraged them from participating in immoral activities that were so common among soldiers of the day.
Following the death of his wife in 1387, Nuno did not wish to marry again and became a model of celibate life. He joined the Order in 1423 at the Carmo Convent in Lisbon which he had founded in fulfilment of a vow, and took the name of Friar Nuno of Saint Mary (in Portuguese: Irmão Nuno de Santa Maria). There he lived until his death on Easter Sunday of 1431. He was noted for his prayer, his practise of penance and his filial devotion to the Mother of God. His life of piety included an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Virgin Mary. He was totally dedicated to Marian prayer, and he fasted in Mary’s honor on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
His personal banner or standard was divided into four quadrants divided by a cross. In the quadrants was a depiction of Mary standing at the foot of the cross, Mary, Mother of God, and his two knightly role models, St. George and St. James.
Nuno also did not keep his wealth to himself. He was generous to the poor and to the Church. He built multiple churches dedicated to Our Lady throughout Portugal, including the Carmelite church and monastery in Lisbon.When the war was over, Nuno gave away most of his wealth to war veterans. While the fame of Nuno’s holiness remained constant and grew over time, more complex was the interim period of time leading to the process of canonization. This process was begun by the Portuguese sovereigns, and then by the Carmelite Order. But many other obstacles were to get in the way.
In 1894 Fr. Anastasio Ronci, then Postulator General of the Carmelites, succeeded in introducing the process of recognition of the cult ab immemorabili of Blessed Nuno, which despite the difficulties came to a happy conclusion on 23rd December 1918 with the Decree Clementissimus Deus of Pope Benedict XV.
Even the relics were moved many times for the original tomb in the Carmelite church, until finally in 1961 on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the birth of Blessed Nuno, a pilgrimage was organized with the precious silver reliquary in which they were kept. Shortly afterwards this too was robbed and the reliquary was never found. In their place some bones, relics from other places, were gathered together and preserved. The discovery of the site of the original tomb in 1996, together with some authenticated bone fragments, awakened the desire to hasten the proclamation of Blessed Nuno as a saint in the church.
The Postulator General of the Carmelites, Fr. Felipe M. Amenós y Bonet, took up the cause again and this was collaborated by an approved miracle in the year 2000. The required inquiries having been undertaken, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI made the proclamation of the decree of the miracle on 3rd July 2008. During the Consistory of 21st February 2009 he indicated that Blessed Nuno would be enrolled in the list of saints on the 26th April 2009.