Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/St. Peter Gonzalez

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 11
St. Peter Gonzalez

by Francis Mershman


Popularly known as St. Elmo, b. in 1190 at Astorga, Spain; d. 15 April, 1246, at Tuy. He was educated by his uncle, Bishop of Astorga, who gave him when very young a canonry. Later he entered the Dominican Order and became a renowned preacher; crowds gathered to hear him and numberless conversions were the result of his efforts. He accompanied Ferdinand III of Leon on his expeditions against the Moors, but his ambition was to preach to the poor. He devoted the remainder of his life to the instruction and conversion of the ignorant and of the mariners in Galicia and along the coast of Spain. He lies buried in the cathedral of Tuy and was beatified in 1254 by Innocent IV.

St. Elmo's fire is a pale electrical discharge sometimes seen on stormy nights on the tips of spires, about the decks and rigging of ships, in the shape of a ball or brush, singly or in pairs, particularly at the mastheads and yardarms. The mariners believed them to be the souls of the departed, whence they are also called corposant (corpo santo). The ancients called them Helena fire when seen singly, and Castor and Pollux when in pairs.

[Note: Despite the common epithet "Saint," Peter Gonzalez (or Gonzales) was never formally canonized, although his cult was confirmed in 1741 by Pope Benedict XIV. The diminutive "Elmo" (or "Telmo") belongs properly to the martyr-bishop St. Erasmus (d. c. 303), one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, of whose name "Elmo" is a contraction. However, as St. Erasmus is the patron of sailors generally and Peter Gonzalez of Spanish and Portuguese sailors, they have both been popularly invoked as "St. Elmo."]

BUTLER, Lives of the Saints; HARRIS, The Dioscuri in Christian Legends (London, 1903); DRESSEL, Lehrbuch der Physik (Freiburg, 1895).

FRANCIS MERSHMAN