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

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the fields and vineyards wrapped in a woollen sacking,
weeping as they went. Having no cell of his own, he
was taken to that of Brother Moneta, and there laid on
his hed. He had already received Extreme Unction at
Santa Maria ; and after remaining quiet for about an hour,
he called the prior to him, saying, " Prepare," (meaning
for the recommendation of a departing soul) ; but as they
were about to begin, he added, "you can wait a little ;"
and it was perhaps during these moments that, according
to the revelation made to S. Bridget, the Mother of
God, to whom he had ever shown himself so loyal and
loving a servant, visibly appeared to him, and promised
that she would never withdraw her patronage and pro-
tection from his order.

He was now sinking so rapidly, that they saw a very
short time would rob them of the father to whom their
hearts cleaved with so overflowing a tenderness ; all were
bathed in tears. Rodolph held his head, and gently
wiped the death-sweat from his forehead ; Ventura bent
over him, saying, "Dear father, you leave us desolate
and afflicted; remember us, and pray for us to God."
Then the dying saint summoned his fast-failing strength,
and, raising his hands and eyes to heaven, he said in
a clear and distinct voice ; " Holy Father, since by Thy
mercy I have ever fulfilled Thy will, and have kept and
preserved those whom Thou hast given me, now I recom-
mend them to Thee. Do Thou keep them: do Thou
preserve them." Then, turning to his children, he
added tenderly, "Do not weep, my children; I shall
be more useful to you where I am now going, than
I have ever been in this life." One of them again
asking him to tell them exactly where he would be
buried, he replied in his former words, "Under the feet
of my brethren." He seemed then for the first time to
perceive that they had laid him on a kind of bed, and
obliged them to remove him, and place him on ashes on
the floor : the novices left the room, and about twelve of
the elder brethren alone remained beside him. He made
his general confession to Father Ventura, and when it
was finished, he added, addressing himself to the others,


" Thanks be to God, whose mercy has preserved me in
perfect virginity until this day: if you would keep
chastity, guard yourselves from all dangerous conver-
sations, and watch over your own hearts." But, an
instant afterwards, a kind of scruple seemed to seize
him ; and he turned to Ventura with a touching hu-
mility, saying, " Father, I fear lest I have sinned in
speaking of this grace before our brethren." The re-
commendation of his soul now began, and he followed
the prayers as well as he could ; they could see his lips
moving ; and as they recited the words, " Subvenite,
Sancti Dei; occurrite, angeli Domini, suscipientes ani-
mam ejus, offerentes earn in conspectu altissimi" he
stretched his arms to Heaven, and expired; being in the
51st year of his age.

His weeping children stood for awhile around the body,
without venturing to touch the sacred remains ; but as
it became necessary to prepare for their interment, they
began to strip off the tunic in which he died, and which
was not his own, but one belonging to Brother Moneta;
and having done so, their tears of tenderness flowed
afresh, for they discovered an iron chain tightly bound
round his waist, and from the scars and marks it had
produced, it was evident that it had been worn for many
years. Rodolph removed it with the utmost reverence,
and it was afterwards delivered to blessed Jordan, his
successor in the government of the order, who kept it as
a precious relic. It was a singular and appropriate cir-
cumstance that the funeral obsequies of this great man
should be performed by one who had ever during life
shown himself Ids truest and most faithful friend. Car-
dinal Ugolino Conti came from Venice to Bologna to
preside at a cermony which, in spite of their orphanhood
and desolation, his children could scarcely feel a melan-
choly one. Ugolino claimed this ofhce as his right, and
it was he who celebrated the funeral mass. The people of
Bologna, who had shown an extraordinary sympathy with
the friars during the last days of Dominic's illness, and had
made continual prayers for their benefactor's recovery,
followed the procession in a dense body. Patriarchs,
p 2


bishops, and abbots from all the neighbouring country
swelled the train. Among them was one who had been a
dear and familar friend of the departed saint, Albert,
prior of the convent of S. Catherine in Bologna, a man
of great piety and warm affections. As he followed,
sorrowful, and bathed in tears, he observed that the friars
chanted the Psalms with a certain joyfulness and calm of
spirit ; and this had such an effect on him, that he too
stayed his tears and began to sing with them. And then
he began to reflect on the misery of this present state,
and the folly of mourning it as an evil, when a holy soul
was released from bondage and sent to the presence of
his God. With this thought in his heart, he went up, in
an impulse of devout affection, to the sacred body, and
bending over it and conquering his grief, he embraced
his dead friend, and congratulated him on his blessedness.
When he rose, an emotion of wonderful happiness was
observable on his countenance. He went up to the prior
of S. Nicholas, and taking him by the hand, " Dear father,
rejoice with me," he said ; " Master Dominic has even now
spoken to me, and assured me that before the year is ended
we shall be both re-united in Christ." And the event
proved his words, for before the close of the year Albert
was with his friend.

Nor was this the only revelation of the blessedness of
Dominic which was granted to his friends. At the same
hour in which he expired, Father Gnallo Romanoni, prior
of the convent of Friars Preachers in Brescia, fell asleep,
leaning against the bell-tower of his church, and he
seemed to see two ladders let down from an opening in
the sky above him. At the top of one stood our Lord,
and His blessed Mother was at the summit of the other.
Angels were going up and down them, and at their foot
was seated one in the habit of the order, but his face was
covered with his hood, after the fashon in which the
friars were wont to cover the face of the dead when they
are carried out for burial. The ladders were drawn up
into heaven, and he saw the unknown friar received into
the company of the angels, surrounded by a dazzling
glory, and borne to the very feet of Jesus. Guallo


awoke, not knowing what the vision could signify; and
hastening to Bologna, he found that his great patriarch
had breathed his last at the very moment in which it had
appeared to him, namely, six in the evening; and he
judged it as a certain token that the soul of Dominic had
been taken up to heaven. Moreover, on that same day,
the 6 th of August, Brother Raoul had gone from Borne
to Tivoli in company with Tancred, the prior of Santa
Sabina, and at the hour of Sext he celebrated mass, and
made an earnest memento for his holy founder, whom he
knew to be then lying in the extremity of sickness at
Bologna. And as he did so, he seemed to see the great
road reaching out of that city, and walking along it was
the figure of Dominic between two men of venerable
aspect, crowned with a golden coronet, and dazzling with
light. Nor was this the last of these visions. A
student of the university, warmly attached to the saint,
who had been prevented by business from assisting at
his funeral, saw him on the following night in a state of
surpassing glory, as it seemed to him, seated in a parti-
cular spot in the church of S. Nicholas. The vision was
so distinct that, as he gazed on it, he exclaimed, "How,
Master Dominic, are you still here?" "Yes," was the
reply, "I live, indeed, since God has deigned to grant
me an eternal life in heaven." When he went to S.
Nicholas on the following morning, he found the place of
sepulture was the same indicated in his dream.

We shall not attempt the task of transcribing the
miracles which rendered the place of his rest glorious;
they already fill volumes entirely devoted to the purpose
of racording them. His brethren of Bologna have been
severely blamed by many authors, because in spite of
this accumulation of prodigies and Divne favours, they
allowed the body to remain under the plain flagstone
where it had been placed by the care of Rodolph of
Faenza, without any sign of honour to distinguish it to
the eye. And what is more, in spite of the crowds who
flocked thither day and night on pilgrimage, and whose
gratitude for the graces poured out on them with such
abundance was attested by a very forest of waxen images,


and other similar votive offerings which they hung over
the spot, no move was made by the authorities of the
order to obtain the canonization of the saint. This
conduct has, we have said, been censured as a culpable
neglect ; but we may perhaps be permitted to instance it
as an example of that simplicity and modesty which
Dominic left behind him as a heritage to his children.
The answer of one of the friars, when questioned on the
subject, may be taken as a sample of the spirit of the
whole body. "What need for canonization?" he said;
" the holiness of Master Dominic is known to God: it
matters little if it be declared publicly by man." A
feeling similar to this has been hereditary in the order,
and has been the cause why the early annals of many of
their most illustrious saints are so barren of details.
They never thought of providing for the applause of man ;
and brilliant as is the renown of the Dominican institute
in the history of the Church, it may perhaps be said that
its greatest works have never been made manifest.

It was chance, or rather necessity, that at length
obliged the religious of S. Nicholas to undertake the first
translation of the sacred relics. The convent had to be
enlarged on account of the ever-increasing size of the
community, and the church stood in need of repair and
alteration. The tomb of Dominic had, therefore, to be
disturbed, and to do so, the Pope's permission was first
required. Honorius III. was dead, and his successor in
the papal chair was none other than Ugolino Conti, who
had been consecrated Pope under the name of Gre-
gory IX. He acceded to the request with joy, sharply
reproving the friars for their long negligence. The
solemn translation accordingly took place on the 24th of
May, 1233, during the Whitsundide chapter of the order,
then assembled at Bologna under blessed Jordan of
Saxony, who had succeeded his great patriarch in the
government. The Pope wished to have attended in per-
son at this ceremony, but, being prevented doing so,
deputed the archbishop of Ravenna to represent him, in
company with a crowd of other distinguished prelates.
Three hundred Friars Preachers, from all countries, were


assembled to assist at this function, not without a secret
fear lest the sacred remains should be found to have
suffered change ; and this doubt as to the result of the
translation agitated many of them during the day and
night preceding that on which it was appointed to take
place, with a painful emotion. Among those who showed
the greatest disturbance was one named Brother Nicholas
of Giovenazzo ; but it pleased God to re-assure him, and
all who shared his timidity, by a special revelation. For,
as he prayed, there appeared to him a man of majestic
appearance, who spoke these words in a elear and joyous
tone : " Hie accipiet benedictionem a Domino, et miseri-
cordiam a Deo salutari suo." And he understood them
to signify the blessedness enjoyed by S. Dominic, and to
be a pledge of the honour which God would cause to be
shown to his relics.

On the 24th of May the ceremony of translation took
place. The general, and all the chief fathers of the
general chapter then assembled at Bologna, together
with the bishops, prelates, and magistrates, who had come
to be present on the occasion, stood round in silence
whilst the grave was opened. Bodolph of Faenza, who
still held the office of procurator, and who had been so
dear a son to the great patriarch, was the first to com-
mence raising the stone. Hardly had he begun to
remove the mortar and earth that lay beueath, when an
extraordinary odour was perceptible, which increased in
power and sweetness as they dug deeper, until at length,
when the coffin appeared, and was raised to the surface
of the grave, the whole church was filled with the per-
fume, as though from the burning of some precious and
costly gums. The bystanders knelt on the pavement,
shedding tears of emotion as the lid was raised, when
there were once more exposed to their eyes, unchanged,
and with the same look of sweetness and majesty they
had ever worn in life, the features of their glorious father.
Cantipratano, in his second book De Apibus, relates a
singular circumstance, which has been repeated by Mal-
venda. He says that among the fathers present at the
ceremony was John of Vicenza, whose singular zeal and


sanctity had always rendered him specially dear to S.
Dominic. As he stood by the body, he made way to give
place to William, bishop of Modena ; but immediately the
sacred remains were seen to turn in the direction in which
he stood. His humility moved him to change his place
again, and the same thing was observed ; and it seemed as
though, on this the first day when the public honour of the
Church were about to be paid to the holy patriarch, he was
willing by this token to show that he counted his chiefest
glory to be less in such honours than in the sanctity of his

It was blessed Jordan who raised the body of the
beloved father from the coffin, and reverently laid it in
a new case. Eight days afterwards, this was once more
opened to satisfy the devotion of some nobles and others
who had been present on the previous occasion; then it
was that Jordan, taking the sacred head between his
hands, kissed it, while tears of tenderness flowed from
his eyes ; and, so holding it in his arms, he desired all
the fathers of the chapter to approach and gaze at it for
the last time: one after another they came, and kissed
the features that still smiled on them like a father; all
were conscious of the same extraordinary odour; it re-
mained on the hands and clothes of all who touched, or
came near the body; nor was this the case merely at the
time of the translation. Flaminius, who lived 300 years
afterwards, thus writes in 1527 : " This divine odour of
which we have spoken, adheres to the relics even to this
present day."

We shall not pause to give a detail of those abundant
miracles which every day shed fresh glory round the
sepulchre of S. Dominic. They were scarcely needed, one
may say, as attestations of his sanctity ; it seemed the
universal feeling, both of prelates and people, that his
canonization should be no longer deferred. The bull to
that effect was published in the July of 1234; and it
was the singular happiness of Pope Gregory IX., who
had been bound in such close ties of friendship to the
founders of the two orders of the Friars Minors and
Friars Preachers, that both should be raised to the


altars of the Church by his means, and during his pontifi-
cate. His well-known expression with regard to Dominic
has been preserved to us by Stefano Salanco ; " I have no
more doubt of the sanctity of this man, than I have of that
of S. Peter or S. Paul."

Three festivals have been consecrated to the memory
of S. Dominic : the 4th of August, on which his death is
celebrated (instead of the 6th, already occupied by the feast
of the Transfiguration) ; the 24th of May, in memory of
the translation of his relics; and lastly, the 15th of Sep-
tember, in honour of the miraculous picture of Suriano.
An obscurity rests over the origin of this picture ; or perhaps
we should rather say that the Church, whilst granting the
festival, and bearing her willing testimony to the extra-
ordinary Divine favours shown to the devotion of the
pilgrims of Suriano, has been silent as to the history of the
painting itself. It first appeared in the convent in the year
1530, and did not attract much popular regard until the
beginning of the following century, when the miracles and
conversions wrought at Suriano made it a place of pilgrimage
to the whole world. After a number of briefs granted by
sucessive pontiffs, and a severe examination of the facts.,
Benedict XIII. at length appointed the 15th of September
to be observed through the whole order, in commemoration
of the graces received before this remarkable picture.

A second transalation of the relics of S. Dominic took
place in 1267; but the beautiful sculptures which now
adorn his place of burial, and which are probably the first,
both in design and execution, among similar works of art,
were not placed over his tomb until 1473, being the chef-
docuvre of Nicholas de Bari.


Dominic's writings. His supposed defence of the Immaculate
Conception. His portraits by Fra Angelico, and in the veraea
of Dante. Observations of the Order.

"We should have wished," says Polidro in the con-
cluding chapter of his life, "to have been able to put
before the eyes of our readers all that S. Dominic
ever wrote in defence of the Catholic religion, for the
instruction of his disciples, in order that they might
collect from these writings yet greater and more copious
illustrations of his virtues. But there remains to us
nothing, except the constitutions of his order (added
to the rule of S. Austin), the sentence of reconciliation
to the Church of Pontio Rogerio, and the faculty granted
to Raymond William of Altaripa, to entertain the here-
tic William Uguccione in his house. It is, however,
certain that he wrote many letters to his brethren,
especially exhorting them to the study of the Sacred
Scriptures, but none of these now remain ; that ad-
dressed to the Polish friars, and bearing his name, not
being genuine." We have already spoken of the letter
here alluded to, and, as may be remembered, have
mentioned that many of the best and most cautious
writers have taken a more favourable view of its claims
to authenticity. We shall not, therefore, again enter
on the question in this place. The commentaries of
S. Dominic on the Epistles of S. Paul were still extant
in the time of Giovanni Colonna ; and when we re-
member how these Epistles formed the constant and
favourite reading of the Saint, we shall know how to
regret the loss of their exposition from the hand of one
who followed so closely in the footsteps of S. Paul, and
seemed in a special manner to have borne his mantle
and received his spirit.


The lectures he gave in the apostolic palace on these
same Epistles, together with the conferences given at
Bologna, on the Psalms and the canonical Epistles, and
on the Gospel of S. Matthew, are also referred to by
Lusitano as still existing in his day; but all have since
been lost, and it is the misfortune of the order and of the
Church that, with the exceptions mentioned above, nothing
of the writings of this great man now remains.

There is one book, the mention of which occurs in one
of the most striking anecdotes of his life, and which,
could it be restored to us, would naturally be held iu
peculiar veneration, not merely for the sake of its author,
but also for that token of the Divine approbation which
gave to its doctrines and contents even more than the
authority of a saint. We refer to the book written by
Dominic in confutation of the Albigensian heresies, and
which, thrice cast into the fire remained uninjured, and
was even flung out of the burning heap by the flames
which refused to touch it. Although this book is lost to
us, together with the other writings of S. Dominic, there
exists a tradition concerning its contents which is of par-
ticular interest to us at this time; and which, without
passing any judgment as to its authenticity, we will give,
as it is to be found alluded to by several writers. The
following extract is from a letter of Father Alessandro
Santo Canale, of the Society of Jesus, published in a
collection of letters on the Immaculate Conception, at
Palermo, in the year 1742. He says, "All the regular
orders, following the inclination of the Holy Church their
mother, have always shown a courageous zeal in defence
of the Immaculate Conception. And I say all; because
one of the most earnest in favour of the Immaculate
Conception has been the most learned and most holy
Dominican order, even from its very first beginning, — I
mean even from the time of the great patriarch S.
Dominic, in the dispute which he held with the Albi-
genses at Toulouse, with so much glory to the Church
and to himself. Almost from the time of S. Dominic
down to the present day, there has been preserved in the
public archives of Barcelona a very ancient tablet, whereon


is inscribed the famous dispute of the saint with the
Albigenses, and the triumph of the truth, confirmed by
the miracle of the fire, into which, at the request of the
heretics, the saint having thrown his book, when that of
the Albigenses was destroyed, his remained uninjured."
Of which book this inscription thus speaks : — " Against
these errors S. Dominic wrote a book on the Flesh of
Christ. And the Albigenses, rising up furiously against
the said blessed Dominic, said that the Virgin was con-
ceived in original sin. And blessed Dominic replied,
even as it is contained in his book, that what they said
was not true ; because the Virgin Mary was she of whom
the Holy Ghost says by Solomon, ' Thou art all fair, my
beloved, and there is no stain in thee.' " In this book of
S. Dominic's on the Flesh of Christ, chap, xvii., there are,
among other passages, the following words, quoted from the
Acts of S. Andrew : — " Even as the first Adam was made
of virgin earth, which had never been cursed, so also was
it fitting for the second Adam to be made in like man-
ner."* It would seem, therefore, that the book was still
extant at the time of this inscription, and that the above
passages were quoted from it. Nor is it in any way sur-
prising or difficult for us to believe, that Dominic,
educated in the schools of Palencia, should have been a
firm and undoubting defender of that doctrine which was,
so to speak, the heritage of Spanish theologians.

Two men have been given to the world, each of them
foremost in the ranks of genius, who have in different
ways left us the living portraits of S. Dominic. The first
is his own son Angelico, who, steeped in the spirit of his
order, drew its founder, not indeed according to the
material likeness of flesh and blood, — for that he had not

* "According to creditable opinion," says Mon seigneur Parisis,
" S. Dominic professed in very express terms his belief in the
Immaculate Conception. It is even said that he committed it to
writing in a certain book, which the heretics required him to cast

into the flames, &c It contained (it is said) in the following

terms the precious text of the Acts of the Martyrdom of S. An.
drew." And he proceeds to quote the words given above — De-
monstration, de VImmaculaUe Conception, de la B. Vierge Marie, Mer$
ds DUu.


seen, — but according to that truer portraiture which is
the type of the spiritual man. The idea of S. Dominic as
it came before the eye of Angelico in hours of prayer and
mystic contemplation, has been left us on a thousand
frescoed walls, in every attitude and under every variety.
Amidst them all, we see it is the same idea, the same
man ; he is there in his joyousness, his majestic beauty,
and his life of prayer. Always noble, always simple,
with his bright star upon his forehead, and the lily in his
hand, he stands among a crowd of saints and angels,
beneath the Redeemer's Cross, or by the side of the
Madonna's starry throne and everywhere we recognize
in him our old familiar friend ; him who drew all men to
him by his winning courtesy, and from whose brow there
went out that mystic splendour which attracted all who
gazed upon it.

The other painter is a poet ; the poet of Italy and of
the middle ages. If Dante drew his inspiration from
the fount of human imaginations, it was to the order of
S. Dominic that he owed the religious character in which

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 20 of 37)