Apostolate of St. Dominic, from the interview at Montpellier to the commencement of the Alibgensian War – Founding of the Monastery of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille


That which the Apostolic Legates and the Bishop of Osma had decided on was at once carried into effect.  The Abbot of Cîteaux left for Burgundy, in order to preside in the general chapter of his Order, promising to bring back with him a certain number of evangelical laborers.  The tow other Legates, Don Diégo, Dominic, and a few Spanish priests, set out on foot for Narbonne and Toulouse, stopping in the towns and villages on their route, as the Spirit of god moved them, or as external circumstances made them judge their preaching would be of use.  When they had decided on evangelizing any spot they proportioned their stay either to the importance of the place or the impression that they made.  In the churches they preached to the Catholics, and in private housed held their controversies with the heretics.  Such conferences are of very remote antiquity.  St. Paul frequently held such with the Jews, St. Augustine with the Donatists and African Manicheans.  If perversity of will be one cause of error, ignorance is perhaps a more general one.  The majority of men oppose truth through ignorance of the truth, and because they represent it to themselves under a false exterior.  Therefore one of the duties of the apostolate consists in clearly setting forth the true faith, freed from the mists with which error and ignorance have obscured here, at the same time leaving to the human intellect all the liberty which the Word of God, and its interpreter, the Church, allow.  But this exposition is serviceable, only so far as it attracts those who stand in need of it, and complete, only when both sides have equal freedom of discussion.  This is the aim of all controversies in which honest men challenge honest men to enter the lists, and where speech is a weapon at the service of all, and conscience, the only judge.  Although these controversies were in themselves nothing new, they were marked by a novel and daring feature.  The Catholics often chose their adversaries as umpires, referring matters to their decision. They requested some of the leading heretics to preside in the meetings, declaring beforehand that they would accept their decision regarding the weight of the arguments brought forward on either side.  Such heroic confidence was crowned with success, and they often had the satisfaction not only of knowing that they had not presumed too much on the human heart, but they also received a striking proof of the sources of good that lie hidden there.


Caraman, near Toulouse, was one of the first towns where they made any stay; and they preached with such success during a whole week, that the inhabitants wanted to drive away the heretics, and, when our missionaries set forth, they escorted them some distance on their way.  They remained a fortnight at Béziers, where they little army experienced a diminution of its ranks by the withdrawal of the Legate, Pierre de Castelnau, whom his friends persuaded to depart, on account of the great hatred which the heretics evinced for him.  A third station was held at Carcassonne, another at Verfeil, in the vicinity of Toulouse; another at Fanjeaux, a small town situated on an eminence between Carcassonne and Pamiers, and which spot is rendered celebrated by the miraculous occurrence that took place there, and which the Blessed Jordain de Saxe thus relates: - “An important conference was held at Fanjeaux in presence of a great number of the faithful and of the heretics.  The Catholics had drawn up several outlines of arguments and authorities in support of the faith, but on comparing them, they gave the preference to those of God’s blessed servant Dominic, and resolved to make use of his production in answer to the document put forth by the heretics.  Three umpires were unanimously elected to decide on which side lay the most powerful arguments and consequently the soundest faith.  Now after much discussion, these umpires, finding themselves unable to come to any decision, suddenly resolved to throw the writings into the fire, so that if one escaped the flames they would know that it contained the true doctrine.  The fires was kindled, the two volumes were thrown in; that of the heretics was consumed immediately, and the other, written by Dominic, the blessed servant of God, not only remained intact, but was cast out of the flames, and that in presence of the whole assembly.  Twice, and thrice they returned it to the flames, and each time the result clearly manifested on which side lay the true faith and that was the sanctity of the writer.”[1]


The remembrance of this prodigy lived not only on the page of history, but in the memory of the people of Fanjeaux, who in the year 1325 obtained from the king, Charles le Bel, permission to purchase the house where the event occurred, and to erect a sanctuary there, which the Sovereign Pontiffs have enriched with many privileges.  A similar miracle took place at Montréal, but secretly, among the heretics, who had met during the night to examine another of the writings of this servant of God.  They had agreed among themselves to conceal this prodigy; but one of them becoming converted, made this secret known.


Meanwhile Dominic had remarked, that one cause of the progress of heresy was the address with which the heretics took in their own hands the education of the daughters of those noble families who were too poor to give them and education suitable to their rank.  He meditated how he might, with God’s help, find a remedy for this, and thought the best plan would be to found a convent, in which to shelter those young Catholics whose birth and whose poverty exposed them to the snares of heresy.  At the village of Prouille, situated in a plain at the foot of the Pyrenees, between Fanjeaux and Montréal, was a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and long held in great veneration by the people.  Dominic was much attached to this church, and had often offered up his prayers there whilst on his missionary journeys.  On crossing the Pyrenees to enter Languedoc, the humble sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille dawned on his vision as a sanctuary of hope and consolation, and on that spot, close to the church, he erected his monastery, with the full consent and support of the Bishop Foulques, recently appointed to the See of Toulouse.  Foulques was a Cistercian monk, eminent for the purity of his life and the ardor of his faith, and elected by the Catholics of Toulouse as their Bishop, in place of Raymond de Rabenstens, whom a pontifical decree had deprived of the episcopate.  The elevation of Foulques to so important a See caused universal joy in the Church, and when the Legate Pierre de Castelnau heard of the event, though then dangerously ill, he rose from his bed, and with uplifted hands rendered thanks to Heaven. The Bishop took Dominic and Don Diégo at once into his friendship, furthered with all his might the erection of the convent, to which he granted the first use, and later on the possession, of the church of Sainte-Marie, at the side of which St. Dominic had built his monastery.  Bérenger, Archbishop of Narbonne, had already preceded him in this generous course by giving to the nuns, four months after their enclosure, the church of St. Martin de Limoux, and all the revenues appertaining to the same.  In the course of time, Count Simon of Montfort and other Catholics of distinction bestowed large benefactions on Prouille, which soon became a flourishing and celebrated convent.  One signal grace seemed always vouchsafed to it: the civil and religious war, which broke out soon after, respected its walls, and whilst churches were ravaged, monasteries destroyed, and armed heresy was often victorious, poor defenseless women prayed in security within the walls of their newly erected cloister; and the reason was this: The early works of the Saints have a virgin purity which moves the heart of God, and He who shields the tender blade from the fury of the tempest, keeps guard over the cradle of momentous events.


What were the rules and habits of the sisters of Prouille at that early date, we cannot with certainty say.  They had a prioress, but she was under the authority of Dominic, who retained the administration both of the spiritual and temporal affairs of the convent, so that he might included his dear daughters in his future Order, of which they were the first beginning.  But as his apostolic labors prevented his residing at Prouille, he entrusted the administration of its temporal affairs to an inhabitant of Pamiers who was much attached to Dominic, and whose name was Guillaume Claret.  The spiritual administration was shared by Dominic with one or two French or Spanish ecclesiastics, whose names are not known.  Part of the convent, outside the enclosure, contained the apartments of Dominica and of his coadjutors, so that the dwelling, distinct and yet under the same roof, might be a guarantee of the unity which would one day subsist between the Friar Preachers and the Dominicanesses, two branches springing from the same trunk.  On the 27th December 1206, Feast of St. John the Evangelist, all preparations being completed, Dominic had the happiness of throwing open the gates of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille to many noble ladies desirous of consecrating themselves to God, under his direction.


As the first recipient of the world’s redemption was a poor virgin daughter of David, so the earliest of the Dominican institutions was an asylum to protect the triple helplessness of sex, rank, and poverty.


In its solitude and simplicity, at the foot of the Pyrenees, Notre-Dame-de-Prouille waited long and patiently the countless numbers of religious who should one day be her portion, and bear her name even to the very ends of the world.  Eldest daughter of a father, himself slowly molded by the patient training of God, she grew up in silence, honored by the friendship and protection of many noble men.  Dominic, who since the interview at Montpellier had renounced the title of Sub-Prior of Osma, no added to the lowly name of Brother Dominic that of Prior of Prouille.  Some time after, having preached at Fanjeaux, Dominic, according to his usual custom, was praying in the church, when nine noble ladies prostrated themselves at his feet, exclaiming, “Servant of God, help us.  If what you have preached today be true, our minds have been long blinded by error; for until now we have believed and followed with all our hearts those whom you call heretics, and we call good men. Now we know not what to think.  Servant of God, have pity on us, and pray the Lord your God to reveal to us the true faith.”  Dominic, having passed a few moments in silent prayer, replied, “Have patience, and fear nothing.  I believe that God, who wills the death of none, will show you what master you have served till now.”  Then they suddenly beheld the spirit of error and hatred, under the form of an unclean animal, and Dominic, reassuring them said, “From what God has just shown you, you may easily know what master you have served in following the heretics.”[2] Then these women, rendering thanks to God, became firm converts to the Catholic faith, and many of them consecrated themselves to God in the convent of Prouille.


The Albigenses and the Catholics held a conference at Montréal in the year 1207.  The Catholics selected from among their opponents four umpires, to whom both parties entrusted their writings on the disputed points.  The public discussion lasted a fortnight, at the end of which period the umpires retired without giving any decision.  Their conscience convinced them that the Catholics were in the right, but they had not the courage to give a decision adverse to their own party; and yet, notwithstanding this, a hundred and fifty men abjured heresy and returned to the bosom of the Church.  The Legate, Pierre de Castelnau, was present at this conference, and soon after there arrived at Montréal the Abbot of Cîteaux, twelve other Abbots of the same Order, and about twenty Religious, all men of courage, learned in divine things, and whose holiness of life was worthy of the mission they had come to fulfill.  They left Cîteaux at the close of the general chapter, and set forth on their journey, taking with them, in accordance with the bishop of Osma’s advice, nothing save what was absolutely necessary.  This reinforcement gave new vigor to the Catholics, who, after two trying years, at last beheld the fruit of their labors, experiencing the truth of the promise that God will not forsake those who work for Him in sincerity and truth.  The province of Narbonne had been evangelized throughout; conversion had been effected; the pride of the heretics had been humbled by the sight of virtues of which they themselves were incapable; and those who carefully watched the movement that was going on, knew that the Church was still alive.  Under Foulques the episcopate revived.  Navarre, Bishop of Concerans, followed his example, the weak among their colleagues awoke from their lethargy, and the poor Catholic nobles were encouraged by the erection of the convent at Prouille.  The grandest result was the having united in one common thought (that of the apostolate) so many men eminent for their virtue, learning, and reputation, and the having given to this rising apostolate an unhoped-for character of stability.  Nevertheless, unity was wanting to these elements, then under the control of four different authorities, the Legates, Bishops, Cistercian Abbots, and Spaniards.  The necessity of establishing a Religious Order, the peculiar office of which should consist in preaching, had often been a subject of discussion; and the arrival of the Cistercians at Montréal not only strengthened them in this conviction, but also inspired them with the desire of proceeding still further.  The Bishop of Osma, though in rank inferior to the Legates, and, as a foreign Bishop, on independent of the French Prelates, was in reality the head of the movement.  He came to the rescue when all seemed lost; was the first to put his hand to the work, without on backward glance; and had even won the affections of the heretics, so that they had declared “it was impossible but that such a man was predestined to salvation, and that doubtless he had only been sent in their midst to learn the true faith.”[3] That hidden power which assigns each man his post, had given him precedence of the rest.  He determined to return to Spain in order to settle the affairs of his diocese, collect funds for the convent of Prouille, which stood in need of help, bring back fresh laborers with him to France, in order to profit by the existing state of things, and having formed this resolution, started on foot for Spain.


On entering Pamiers, Don Diégo found the Bishops of Toulouse and Concerans, and a number of Abbots from different monasteries, who, having heard of his arrival, had come to do him honor.  Their presence gave rise to a celebrated dispute with the Vaudois, who flourished in Pamiers under the protection of the Count of Foix.  The Count invited the heretics and Catholics, by turns, to dine with him, and offered his palace for them to hold their conference in.  The Catholics chose one of their most violent adversaries, belonging to the leading aristocracy of the town, as umpire.  The result far exceeded all expectation.  The umpire, Arnauld de Campranham, pronounced in favor of the Catholics, and abjured heresy.  Another heretic of note, Durand de Huesca, not only became a Catholic, but embraced the religious life in Catalonia, whither he had retired, and became the founder of a new Congregation known by the name of Poor Catholics.  These two abjurations – there were others also – created a profound sensation in the town of Pamiers, and the Catholics received many proofs of the joy and esteem of the people.  After this triumph, by which his apostolate was so worthily crowned, Don Diégo took leave of those who had met to do him honor on his departure from France.  Whether Dominic accompanied him so far, we know not; it may be that their parting took place at Prouille, and that beneath its much-loved roof they beheld each other for the last time, for God, in his impenetrable counsels, had decreed that they should meet no more on earth.


Don Diégo traversed the Pyrenees and Aragon, still on foot, revisited Osma, sat once more on his Episcopal throne – from which he had been absent three years – and just as he was about to leave his native land again, God called him to the heavenly abode of angels and of men.  His body was interred in one of the churches at Osma, which this brief inscriptions: “Here lies Diégo de Azévédo, Bishop of Osma; he died in the year 1245.”[5]  His death, announced so simply to posterity, nevertheless produced an effect which clearly manifested the greatness of the man.  Hardly had the report of his death crossed the Pyrenees, when the heroic work set on foot by him suddenly collapsed.  The abbots and monks of Cîteaux went back to their monasteries; the majority of the Spaniards left by Don Diégo under Dominic’s direction, returned to Spain.  Of the three Legates, Raoul had just died, Arnault disappeared almost immediately, and Pierre de Castelnau was in Provence, on the eve of falling victim to the blows of an assassin.  There remained but one man mindful of Toulouse and Montpellier – a man who, still young, and a foreigner, with no jurisdiction, and who had not even appeared in the foremost ranks, could not all at once replace such a man as Azévédo, whose genius and piety were enhanced by his Episcopal office, by his age, and by his celebrity.  Dominic could do no more than resist succumbing to this heavy bereavement and remain steadfast under the loss of such a friend.  Eight laborious years were requisite to repair the void, and never did man at first gravitate more slowly to, and then attain with such marvelous rapidity, the end he had in view.


Miracles were wrought at the tomb of Azévédo, and later a chapel was erected to St. Dominic, in the same edifice, where, beneath the effigy of the one, pious hands laid the other to test; but, as if Dominic would not permit that he who had been his guide on earth should remain in such a lowly position, reverent hands transferred the head of Don Diégo to the monastery of the Friar Preachers at Malaga.  In spite of these marks of respect, adequate justice has not been done to his memory.  France had but a passing glimpse of him; Spain saw him only for a short time; ere his work was consummated, death summoned him away.  Destined by God to be only the forerunner of one more holy and more extraordinary than himself – no easy task this, and one which presupposes a perfectly unselfish heart – Azévédo fulfilled this task with the same simplicity that prompted him to cross the Pyrenees on foot.  He never thought of self; but the posterity of Dominic evinces for him an esteem proportioned to the greatness of his humility, and I take my leave of him with the emotion of a son who has just closed the eyes of a departed father.


The death of the Bishop of Osma threw everything into confusion.  Dominic stood almost alone; and as the two or three associates who remained were bound to him only by voluntary ties, they might quit him at any time.  And soon a terrible war increased the loneliness and difficulty of his position.


It had often been asserted by the Legate, Pierre de Castelnau, that religion would never re-flourish in Languedoc until that country had been watered by a martyr’s blood, and he earnestly besought God to allow him to be the victim.  His petition was granted.  He went to St. Gilles, at the pressing invitation of the Count of Toulouse, who expressed himself most anxious to make his peace with the Church.  The Abbot de Cîteaux accompanied his colleague, both of them extremely desirous that the interview might result in peace.  But the Count had acted hypocritically, intending really to compel them to free him from the ban of excommunication; for he threatened the Legates with death, if they dared quit St. Gilles without absolving him.  The Legates despised his menaces, and withdrew, under protection of an escort given to them by the magistrates of the town.  They spent the night on the banks of the Rhone, and on the following morning, having dismissed their escort, they prepared to cross the river; then two men approached, one of whom pierced Pierre de Castelnau with a lance.  The Legate, mortally wounded, addressed his murderer in these words, “May God forgive you, even as I do,”[6] this he repeated many times; exhorted his companions to serve the Church courageously and unweariedly, an then expired.  His body was removed to the Abbey of St. Giles: he was assassinated on the 17th January 1208.


This murder was the signal for the outbreak of a war in which Dominic took no part, and which was the source of great affliction to him in the exercise of his apostolate.  As, however, the events of this war are interwoven with those of his life, it becomes necessary for me rapidly to trace its history.



[1] Vie de St. Dominique, ch. i. n. 20.

[2] Le B. Humbert, Vie de St. Dominique, n. 44.

[4] Le B. Jourdain de Saxe, Vie de St. Dominique, ch i. n. I.

[5] The Spanish era began thirty-eight years before the Christian era.

[6] Pierre de Vaulx-Cernay, Histore des Albigeois, ch. Viii.


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