St. Peter, who was born in Alcantara, a small town in Spain, studied at the great university of Salamanca, and entered the Franciscans at the age of sixteen. From the start, Peter adopted a habit of extreme austerity. He trained himself to sleep no more than two hours at night; he wore no sandals on his feet; he would eat no flesh and drink no wine. Eventually he won permission to found a group of Franciscans along these lines. It was said that their cells – only seven feet long – resembled more graves than rooms. Nevertheless, he found many willing followers.
In the course of extensive preaching tours, he came to know St. Teresa of Avila and became her spiritual advisor. At that time, she was seeking courage to undertake her reform of the Carmelite Order and she later testified on behalf of his canonization that it was Peter, more than anyone, who had encourage her mission. “When I came to know him he was very old, and his body so shriveled and weak that it seemed to be composed as it were of the roots and dried bark of a tree rather than flesh,” she wrote. She also claimed, after his death in 1562, to receive visions of Peter, so that “Our Lord has been pleased to let me enjoy more of him than I did when he was alive.”
One time a brother was complaining to Peter about the wickedness of the world, and the saint replied. “The remedy is simple. You and I must first be what we ought to be; then we shall have cured what concerns ourselves. Let each one do the same, and all will be well. The trouble is that we all talk of reforming others without ever reforming ourselves.”
St. Peter died on October 18, 1562. He was canonized in 1669.