The story of Our Lady of Ransom begins with St. Peter Nolasco, born in Languedoc about 1189. At the age of 25 he took a vow of chastity and made over his vast estates to the Church.
After making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat, he went to Barcelona where he began to practice various works of charity.
He conceived the idea of establishing an Order for the redemption of captives seized by the Moors on the seas and in Spain itself; they were being cruelly tormented in their African prisons to make them deny their faith.
He spoke of it to the king of Aragon, James I, who knew him well and already respected him as a saint; for the king had already asked for his prayers when he sent out his armies to combat the Moors, and he attributed his victories to those prayers.
In effect all the Christians of Europe, and above all of Spain, were praying intensely to obtain from God the remedy for the great evil that had befallen them. The divine Will was soon manifested. On one night — August 1, 1218 — the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Peter, to his confessor, Raymund of Penafort, and to the king, and through these three servants of God established a work of the most perfect charity, the redemption of captives.
On that night, while the Church was celebrating the feast of St. Peter in Chains, the Virgin Mary appeared first to St. Peter, saying that she indeed desired the establishment of a religious Order, later known as the Mercedarians, bearing the name of her mercy. Its members would undertake to deliver Christian captives and offer themselves, if necessary, as a ransom pledge.