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The life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order online

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things often enough, as well for good as for evil ; but she
never saw one more universal or* more extraordinary than
the first burst into existence of the mendicant orders.
Francis had heen first in the field, and the first chapter
of his order saw him in the midst of five thousand of his
brethren. But the fields were white with the harvest,
and the Friars Minor were not to be the only gatherers
of it. In three months Dominic had assembled round
him at Rome more than a hundred religious with whom
to begin his new foundation. His convent of S. Sixtus
had to be even yet more enlarged ; and here he may now
be said to have carried out for the first time the entire
observance of that rule of life which was commenced at
S. Romain.

This period of his life is everyway remarkable; it sets
him before us in a new character. Hitherto we have
caught but broken and imperfect glimpses of him in his
life of solitary and unappreciated labour. But now at
length we see him manifested to the world, ruling over a
numerous community, and sending them out to be in
their turn the apostles of their day. Many details of his
character come out to our view which till now have lain
concealed ; and as if to make him known in the eyes of
men in an especial manner, God was pleased at this time
to confirm his teaching and authority by many super-
natural signs. The first of these was on the occasion of
an accident which happened during the erection of the
convent. A mason, whilst excavating under part of the
building, was buried by a mass of the falling earth. The
brethren ran to the spot too late to save him, but Domi-
nic commanded them to dig him out, whilst he betook
himself to prayer. They did so, and when the earth was
removed, the man arose alive and unhurt. This miracle,
however much it confirmed the faith and devotion of his
own followers, was little known or talked of beyond the


walls of his convent ; but it was followed by another of
more public notoriety. Dominic was accustomed at this
time to preach in the church of S. Mark, where he was
listened to with enthusiasm by crowds of all ranks who
nocked to hear him. Among them one of his most constant
auditors was a certain Roman widow, Guatonia or Tuta
di Buvalischi ; and one day rather than miss the preach-
ing, she came to S. Marks, having left her only son at
home dangerously ill. She returned to her honse to find
him dead. When the first anguish of her grief was over,
she felt an extraordinary hope rise within her that by
the mercy of God, and the prayers of His servant Domi-
nic, her child might yet be restored to her. She there-
fore determined to go at once to S. Sixtus; and firm in
her faith she set out on foot, whilst her women servants
carried the cold and lifeless body of the boy behind her.
S. Sixtus was not yet inclosed, on account of the un-
finished state of the convent, and she therefore entered
the gates without difficulty, and found Dominic at the
door of the chapter-house, a small building standing se-
parate from the church and convent. Kneeling at his
feet, she silently laid the dead body before him, whilst her
tears and sobs of anguish told the rest. Dominic, touched
with compassion, turned aside for a few moments, and
prayed ; then, coming back, he made the sign of the cross
over the child, and taking him by the hand, raised him,
and gave him back to his mother, alive, and cured of his
sickness. Some of the brethren were witnesses of this
miracle, and gave their evidence in the process of canon-
ization. Dominic strictly charged the mother to keep the
fact a secret, but she disobeyed him, as the woman of Judea
had before disobeyed One greater than him. Her joy was
too abundant, and out of its abundance her heart and lips
were busy, and so the whole story was quickly spread
through Rome, and reached the ears of Honorius, who
ordered it to be publicly announced in the pulpits of the "
city. Dominic's sensative humility was deeply hurt: he
hastened to the Pontiff", and implored him to counter-
mand his order. " Otherwise, Holy Father," he said, " I
shall be compelled to fly from hence, and cross the sea to


preach to the Saracens ; for I cannot stay longer here."
The Pope, however, forbade him to depart ; he was obliged
to remain and receive what is ever the most painful portion
of the saints, the public honour and veneration of the
populace. And certainly they evinced it with a warmth
which English hearts may find it difficult to understand.
They were Catholics and Romans, and so thought little
of human respect, or of anything save the giving free vent
to that almost passionate devotion which is the hereditary
characteristic of their race. So great and little, old and
young, nobles and beggars, "they followed him about"
(to use the words of contemporaneous authors) " wherever
he went, as though he were an angel, reputing those
happy who could come near enough to touch him, and
cutting off pieces of his habit to keep as relics." This cut-
ting of his hajbit went on at such a pace as to give the
good father the appearance of a beggar, for the jagged and
ragged skirt scarcely reached below his knee. His brethren
on one occasion endeavoured somewhat harshly to check
some of those who crowded round him, but Dominic's
good-nature was hurt when he saw the sorrowfnl and disap-
pointed looks of the poor people. " Let them alone," he
said ; " we have no right to hinder their devotion." A me-
morial of these circumstances may still be seen in that
same church of S. Mark of which we have spoken. Once a
year, on the festival of its patron saint, there is an exhi-
bition in that church of saintly treasures, which few sanc-
tuaries can rival and none surpass. There, amid the relics
of apostles and martyrs in jewelled and crystal shrines
and elaborate carvings, you may see, inclosed in a golden
reliquary, a little piece of torn and faded serge. Priests
are there holding up these precious objects one by one for
the veneration of the kneeling crowd, and they hold this
also for you to look at and to kiss, whilst they proclaim
aloud, "This is part of the habit of the glorious Patri-
arch S. Dominic, who in the first year of his coming to
Rome, was wont to preach in this church." And fancy
is quick to suggest that this precious morsel may be one
of those so unceremoniously torn from him by the crowds
who flocked about him on that very spot.


Other miracles are related as having occurred during
the time of his residence at S. Sixtus, and we give them
here, as no more exact date is assigned. Giacomo del
Miele, a Roman by birth, and the syndic of the convent,
-was attacked by sickness, which increased so rapidly that
he received extreme unction, and was desired by the phy-
sician to prepare for death. The brethren were greatly
afflicted, for he was a man of singular ability for his office,
and much beloved. Dominic was overcome by the tears
of his children: desiring them all to leave the cell, he
shut the door, and, like Elias when he raised the Suna-
mite's son, extended himself on the almost lifeless body of
the dying man, and earnestly invoked the Divine mercy
iand assistance. Then, taking him by the hand, Giacomo
arose entirely recovered, and Dominic delivered him to
his companions, who knew not how to contain and express
their joy.

Among the "Murati," whom we mentioned in a former
page, and whom he still continued to visit and direct, there
were some who lived a life of extraordinary mortification,
and were entirely enclosed in little cells built in the walls,
so as that none could enter, or communicate with their
inhabitants; food and other necessaries being given to
them through a window. One of these recluses was a
woman named Buona, who lived in a town near the gate
of S. John Lateran ; another, Lucy, in a little cell behind
the church of S. Anastasia. Both of them suffered from
incurable and most terrible diseases, brought on by the
severity of their mode of life. One day, after Dominic
had administered the sacrament of penance and the holy
Eucharist to Buona through her little window, and ex-
horted her to patience under her dreadful sufferings, he
blessed her with the sign of the cross, and went away ;
but at the same instant she felt herself perfectly cured.
Lucy was likewise restored in a similiar manner, as Brother
Bertrand, who was present on the occasion, attested.

But perhaps the most interesting of all these miracu-
lous events is one still daily commemorated in every house
of the Dominican order. We are assured that a similar
event happened twice during the period of his residence


at S. Sixtus; but we shall only give the account of one
of these circumstances, as related at length in the nar-
rative of Sister Cecilia : — " When the Friars were still
living near the church of S. Sixtus, and were about one
hundred in number, on a certain day the blessed Dominic
commanded Brother John of Calabria and Brother Albert
of Rome to go into the city to beg alms. They did so
without success from the morning even trl'l the third hour
of the day. Therefore they returned to the convent, and
they were already hard by the church of S. Anastasia,
when they were met by a certain woman who had a great
devotion to the order ; and seeing that they had nothing
with them, she gave them a loaf; " For I would not," she
said, "that you should go back quite empty-handed." As
they went on a little further they met a man who asked
them very importunately for charity. They excused
themselves, saying they had nothing themselves ; but the
man only begged the more earnestly. Then they said one
to another, "What can we do with only one loaf? Let us
give it to him for the love of God." So they gave him
the loaf, and immediately they lost sight of him. Now,
when they were come to the convent, the blessed father,
to whom the Holy Spirit had meanwhile revealed all that
had passed, came out to meet them, saying to them with
a joyful air, "Children, you have nothing]" They re-
plied, "No, father;" and they told him all that had hap-
pened, and how they had given the loaf to the poor man.
Then said he, " It was an angel of the Lord : the Lord
will know how to provide for His own: let us go and
pray." Thereupon he entered the church, and, having
come out again after a little space, he bade the brethren
call the community to the refectory. They replied to him
saying, "But, holy father, how is it you would have us
call them, seeing that there is nothing to give them to
eat?" And they purposely delayed obeying the order
which they had received. Therefore the blessed father
caused Brother Roger the cellarer to be summoned, and
commanded him to assemble the brethren to dinner, for
the Lord would provide for their wants. Then they pre-
pared the tables, and placed the cups, and at a given


signal all the community entered the refectory. The
blessed father gave the benediction, and every one being
seated, Brother Henry the Roman began to read. Mean-
while the blessed Dominic was praying, hi3 hands being
joined together on the table; and, lo 1 suddenly, even as
he had promised them by the inspiration of the Holy
Ghost, two beautiful young men, ministers of the Divine
Providence, appeared in the midst of the refectory, car-
rying loaves in two white cloths which hung from their
shoulders before and behind. They began to distribute
the bread, beginning at the lower rows, one at the right
hand, and the other at the left, placing before each bro-
ther one whole loaf of admirable beauty. Then, when they
were come to the blessed Dominic, and had in like manner
placed an entire loaf before him, they bowed their heads,
and disappeared, without any one knowing, even to this
day, whence they came or whither they went. And the
blessed Dominic said to his brethren : " My brethren,
eat the bread which the Lord has sent you." Then he
told the servers to pour out some wine. But they re-
plied, "Holy father, there is none." Then the blessed
Dominic, full of the spirit of prophecy, said to them, " Go
to the vessel, and pour out to the brethren the wine which
the Lord has sent them." They went there, and found,
indeed, that the vessel was filled up to the brim with an
excellent wine, which they hastened to bring. And Dominic
said, " Drink, my brethren, of the wine which the Lord
has sent you." They ate, therefore, and drank as
much as they desired, both that day, and the next, and
the day after that. But after the meal of the third day,
he caused them to give what remained of the bread and
wine to the poor, and would not allow that any more of
it should be kept in the house. During these three days
no one went to seek alms, because God had sent them
bread and wine in abundance. Then the blessed father
made a beautiful discourse to his brethren, warning them
never to distrust the Divine goodness, even in time of
greatest want. Brother Tancred, the prior of the convent,
Brother Odo of Rome, and Brother Henry of the same
place, Brother Lawrence of England, Brother Gandion,


and Brother John of Rome, and many others were present
at this miracle, which they related to Sister Cecilia, and
to the other sisters, who were then still living at the
monastery of Santa Maria on the other side of the Tiber ;
and they even brought to them some of the bread and
"wine, which they preserved for a long time as relics. Now
the Brother Albert, whom the Blessed Dominic had sent
to beg with a companion, was one of the two brethren
whose death the blessed Dominic had foretold at Rome.
The other was Brother Gregory, and a man of great
beauty and perfect grace. He was the first to return to
our Lord, having devoutly received all the sacraments.
On the third day after, Brother Albert, having also re-
ceived the sacraments, departed from this darksome prison
to the palace of heaven. Allusion is made in the conclu-
ding part of this narrative to a circumstance which took
place a little later. One day, Dominic being full of the
Holy Spirit, was holding chapter, and was observed by all
present to be very sad. " Children," he said, "know that
within three days, two of you now present will lose the life
of your bodies, and two others that of their souls." Within
the time described, the two brothers named above died, as
we have related ; and two others, whose names are not given,
returned to the world.

We said that the circumstance of the angel's visit to
the refectory of S. Sixus, so beautifully related by Sister
Cecilia, is still daily commemorated in the houses of the
order. And it is so ; for from this time the custom was
adopted of beginning to serve the lowest tables first, and
so going up to the table of the prior ; a custom which was
afterwards made a law of the order, being introduced into
the constitutions.


Tl e monastery of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Dominic is ap-
pointed to reform and inclose the community. His success.
Their settlement at S. Sixtus. The restoration to life of the
Lord Napoleon. Sister Cecilia

Some mention was made in the last chapter of a design
entertained by Pope Innocent III., to appropriate the
church of S. Sixtus to a number of religious women then
living in Rome without inclosure, and some even in the
private houses of their relations. The design of collecting
them together under regular discipline had been found
fraught with difficulty, and had failed; even the papal
authority, aided by the power and genius of such a man as
Innocent, had been unable to overcome the wilfulness and
prejudice which opposed so wise a project. Honorius, who
no less than his predecessor ardently desired to see it carried
out, resolved to commit the management of the whole affair
to Dominic. He could not refuse ; but aware of the com-
plicated obstacles which lay in the way, he made it a
condition that three other persons of high authority might
be united with him in a business which, he probably felt,
was far harder than the foundation of many convents,
namely, the reform of relaxation, and the union under one
head and into one body of a number of individuals who
owned no common interest or authority

These religious had for a considerable time been badly
governed; perhaps, we should rather say, they had not
been governed at all. They claimed exemption from the
ordinary rules, were members of powerful families, and
their relatives, among whom many of them lived, urged
them on to resist every encroachment on their liberty as
an act of tyranny. And indeed, in the then existing state
of things, they could not be said to be absolutely com-
pelled to obedience : the matter was one rather demand-


ing address than authority. But if ever man possessed
the art of persuasion it was the blessed Dominic, whom,
as it is said, "none did ever resist;" or rather persuasion
with him was not art, but nature. It was the effect of
that admirable union of patience, prudence, and firmness,
tempered with the charm of a sweet and tranquil gaiety,
which gave so wonderful a magic to his intercourse ; and
his powers were never more severely tested than on this
occasion. The coadjutors given him by the Pope were
the cardinals Ugolino, Bishop of Ostia, the venerable
friend of S. Francis; Stephen of Fossa Nuova; and Ni-
cholas Bishop of Tusculum. The very first steps which the
cautious commissioners took raised a storm of obloquy.
The cardinals had enough to do to quiet the nuns, and
bring them to listen to the Pope's proposals. But those
who held out had a strong party in their favour. The
gossip of Rome was on their side ; and there was a tem-
pest of busy angry tongues all declaiming against tyranny
and aggression, and talking great things about innovation
on an ancient custom. "And truly," says Castiglio, with
a touch of Spanish humour, "the custom was so very an-
cient, that it could scarce keep its legs. Moreover," he
adds, " we know well, that for relaxation and liberty there
will always be ten thousand persons ready to do great
things, but for virtue not one willing to stir a step."
However, as we have said, the nuns had the popular cla-
mour on their side, and they Used their advantage with
considerable address. They had but to receive visitors
all day long, and keep up the excitement of their friends
by perpetual talking, and the Pope and cardinals would
be held at bay.

The most refractory of these religious were some who
were living at that time in the monastery of Santa Maria
in Trastevere, in which was kept a celebrated picture of
our Blessed Lady, said to have been painted by S. Luke.
This picture was a particular favourite with the Roman
people. Tradition said that it had been brought to Rome,
many centuries before, from Constantinople; that it was
t >e same that had been borne processionally by S. Gre-
gory in the time of the plague, on that Easter-day when


the words of the Regina Caeli were first heard snug
overhead by the voices of the angelic choirs. After that
Sergius III. had caused it to be placed in the Lateran
Basilica, but in the middle of the night it found its own
way back to the majestic old church which seemed its
chosen resting-place. The possession of this picture was
no inconsiderable addition to the power and popularity of
the nuns ; without it they were determined never to stir,
and there seemed great difficulties in the way of remoA r -
ing it. Dominic's plan was simply to carry out that pre-
viously designed by Pope Innocent, and collect all the
nuns of the different convents that had no regular dis-
cipline, as well as the others living out of inclosure, into
one community, to whom he proposed giving up his own
convent of S. Sixtus, receiving instead that of Santa Sa-
bina on the Aventine Hill. His first visit was a failure;
the very mention of inclosure and community life was
received by a very intelligible assertion that they neither
were nor would be controlled by him, the cardinals, or the
Pope. But Dominic was not so easily daunted. He used
all the skill and address of manner with whicn God had
endowed him; and on his second visit he found means
to win over the abbess, and after her all the community,
with one solitary exception, to the wishes of the Pope.
There were, however, conditions proposed and accepted.
These were, that they must be suffered to carry their pic-
ture with them to S. Sixtus, and should it come back to
the Trastevere of itself, as in the days of Pope Sergius,
that they should be held free to come back after it. Do-
minic consented ; but, saving this clause, he induced them
to profess obedience in all else to himself ; and they having
done so, he gave them as their first trial a prohibition
to leave their convent in order to visit any of their friends
or relatives ; assuring them that in a very short time
S. Sixtus should be ready to receive them.

After this it seemed as though the affair were pretty
well settled; "but" (to use the words of the grave and
judicious Polidori) " the instability of human nature, and
especially of the female sex, easy to be moved by whatso-
ever wind may blow, did very soon make the contrary to


appear." The wise regulation which Dominic had made
was evaded, and the vituperating tongues were busier
than ever. There were no terms too strong to use in
denouncing the proposed migration to S. Sixtus. It
would be the destruction of an ancient and honourable
monastery ; they were about blindly to put themselves
under an intolerable yoke of obedience, and to whom ?
- — to a new man, a "/rate," whose order nobody had ever
heard of before — a scoundrel (ribaldo), as some were
pleased to term him ; they must certainly have been be-
witched. The. nuns began to think so too, and many
repented of their too hasty promise. Whilst this new
disturbance was going on, Dominic was relating the suc-
cess of his mission to the cardinals. But the fresh dis-
orders which had arisen were revealed to him by the Holy
Spirit even at the moment that they occurred. He re-
solved to let the excitement exhaust itself a little before
taking any new measure; and a day or two afterwards
proceeded to the convent, where, having said mass, he
assembled all the religious in chapter, and addressed them
at considerable length. He concluded with these words:
" I well know, my daughters, that you have repented of
the promise you gave me, and now desire to withdraw
your feet from the ways of God. Therefore, let those
among you who are truly and spontaneously willing to go
to S. Sixtus make their profession over again in my
hands." The eloquence of his address, heightened by
that strange and wonderful charm of manner to which all
who knew him bear witness, whilst none can describe it,
was victorious. The abbess instantly renewed her pro-
fession (with the same condition respecting the picture),
and her example was followed by the whole community.
Dominic was well satisfied with their sincerity; neverthe-
less he thought it well to add one precaution against
further relapse. It was a simple one, and consisted of
taking the keys of the gate into his own custody, and ap-
pointing some of his own lay brothers to be porters, with
orders to provide the nuns with all necessaries, but to
prevent their seeing or speaking with relatives or anV
other person whatsoever.


On Ash Wednesday, which fell that year on the 28th
of February, the cardinals assembled at S. Sixtus, whither
the abbess and her nuns also proceeded in solemn pro-
cession. They met in the little chapter-house before
mentioned, where Dominic raised to life the widow's
child. The abbess solemnly surrendered all office and
authority into the hands of Dominic and his brethren;
whilst they, on their part, with the cardinals, proceeded
to treat concerning the rights, government, and revenues
of the new convent. Whilst thus engaged, the business
of the assembly was suddenly interrupted by an incident
which is best told in the language of one of the eye-
witnesses : — " Whilst the blessed Dominic was seated
with the cardinals, the abbess and her nuns being
present, behold! a man entered, tearing his hair and
uttering loud cries. Being asked the cause, he replied,
' The nephew of my lord Stephen has just fallen from
his horse, and is killed !' Now the young man was called
Napoleon. His uncle, hearing him named, sank fainting
on the breast of the blessed Dominic. They supported

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 10 of 37)