Peter Sanz was among the first group of martyrs in Tonkin. The viceroy of Peking wrote this about the five martyrs that included Peter Sanz: “What are we to do with these men? Their lives are certainly irreproachable; even in prison they convert men to their opinions, and their doctrines so seize upon the heart that their adepts fear neither torments nor captivity. They themselves are joyous in their chains. The jailors and their families become their disciples, and those condemned to death embrace their religion. To prolong this state is only to give them the opportunity of increasing the number of Christians.”
Sanz was born 22 September 1680 in Ascó, Ribera d’Ebre, in the Catalan region of Spain. In 1697 he professed religious vows as a member of the Dominican Order in Lerida. He was ordained in 1704, volunteered for the Chinese missions, and was sent to Manila, The Philippines, in 171 3 to prepare for this mission, where he studied the Chinese language for two years. He entered China where he spent 31 years evangelizing the Chinese before he was captured.
In January 1728, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith named him as Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic of Fujian, for which he was consecrated a bishop on 22 February 1730 by the Bishop of Nanking, with the new titular see of Maurocastrum. Sanz succeeded to the office of Vicar in January 1732, upon the death of Friar Magino Ventallol, O.P., who had been unable to be consecrated a bishop during the thirteen years of his administration.
When a renewed persecution of Christians flared up in 1746, he was accused of breaking the laws by converting thousands to Christianity by a man to whom he had refused to lend money, according to one account.
The five men including Bishop Francis Serrano, Father Joachim Royo, Father John Alcober, and Father Francis Diaz, bound together by their vows and their work, were brought more closely together during their imprisonment at Foochow. Fathers Serrano, Alcober, and Diaz were captured first, and tortured to reveal the whereabouts of Bishop Sanz. They did not break down, but the bishop and Father Royo, hearing about the torture, surrendered in the hope of sparing their brothers’ suffering, says another account.
The five priests were dragged in chains to the emperor’s court, where they were subjected to frightful torments. All of them, with a catechist named Ambrose Kou, were sentenced to death in December 1746. During the long imprisonment, a Dominican, Father Thomas Sanchez, managed to see them. He brought them some clothes and a little money, and all the news he could find.
On May 25, 1747, Bishop Sanz was beheaded at Fu-tsheu. Even the pagans were impressed with his gentle demeanor as he was led out to die, and a fellow prisoner who had been converted in prison, followed him closely through the mob, openly proclaiming his sanctity. As the headsman prepared to swing the axe, the venerable bishop looked at him and said, “Rejoice with me, my friend; I am going to heaven!”
“I wish I were going with you!” blurted out the unhappy man.
Laying his head upon the block, the bishop preached his last sermon: “If you want to save your soul, my friend, you must obey the law of God!” Pagan friends of the priests scurried through the crowd, gathering up the relics which they saved for the Christians. Many of these people, including the executioner, were later baptized.
On October 20, 1747, after the death of Sanz, word arrived that Father Serrano was had been appointed titular bishop of Tipsa and coadjutor to Blessed Peter Sanz. At that point, he and the others were summarily executed at Fukien.