Cartagena, Colombia: Church of St. Peter Claver
About Peter Claver:
The story of Peter Claver is one of great sacrifice and true Christian love. He was born in Catalonia, Spain in 1580 he attended a Jesuit college in Barcelona before he traveled to the Indies. In 1610 he arrived in Cartagena where he continued his studies and five years later was ordained as a priest.
The African slave trade is one of the saddest stories of the 17th and 18th Century. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were captured and then shipped across the ocean to New Spain, as it was then called, where they faced a life of clearing land, working in the mines and little regard for their lives.
Peter Claver declared himself the “slave of the Negroes forever” and threw himself into his ministry. He was allowed to board every slave ship that came here and, with the help of local translators, he was able to minister to them, baptizing thousands over his lifetime.
He provided them with medications, food and other items to help win them over and convince them that he himself was not a slave trader. He immediately baptized any newborn children or those who were dying after the horrendous journey during which an estimated one-third of them died. Some estimates state that he baptized as many as 300,000 people.
In 1650 he contracted the plague, and although it did not kill him immediately, he was mostly confined to his cell except for occasional visits to the hospital, and unfortunately he was neglected by his care-giver for most of the next four years until his death on September 8, 1654.
Despite his unpopularity with the slave traders, who had no regard for the welfare of the slaves, he was naturally popular with the people. A civic Mass was held for him by the government leaders who now began to appreciate his efforts and Masses were also organized by the Africans and Indians.
As you can imagine he attained great popularity in the U.S. and South America. The Knights of Peter Claver, Inc., headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana is the largest African-American Catholic fraternal organization in the United States.
He was said to have the gift of prophecy as well as the ability to read souls. Many miracles were attributed to his intercession.
His feast day is celebrated on September 9th.
About The Church of Peter Claver:
The church that bears his name is open daily. It contains many works of art. You can view his body under the main altar as shown in the photo at the top of this page. There is a museum here that includes the cell where he lived. Admission is charged, but is very reasonable.
Click here for the official website of Saint Peter Claver
Traveling to the Shrine of Saint Peter Claver:
Cartegena has a major international airport with many arrivals and departures daily. It is also a popular stop on many Panama Canal cruises. It is an easy taxi ride to the church from either the airport or the cruise terminal.
Address: Iglesia De San Pedro Claver, Cartagena De Indias
GPS coordinates: 10° 25′ 18.2928” N, 75° 33′ 3.7116” W
Note about safety: Colombia had a reputation as being extremely dangerous back in the 1980’s and 1990’s due to the drug cartels, but the government has made great progress in restoring order to the country and this part of the city is considered quite safe. However, you should use caution when traveling outside the center area of the city as some criminal gangs still do exist.
Suau, Pierre. “St. Peter Claver.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 April 2013