Dominic’s fourth journey to Rome – Founding of the

monasteries of Saint-Sixtus and Santa-Sabina, and

accompanying miracles



Dominic did not quit Languedoc immediately after the dispersion of the Friars.  This is proved by an agreement concluded by him on the 11th of the following September, respecting the tithes previously assigned to him by Foulques.  There was a query as to the extent of these rights, and it was decided that the tithes should not be extracted from any parish containing less than ten families, and arbiters were appointed to settle any further difficulties.  This done, Dominic crossed the Alps on foot, with not companion but Etienne de Metz.  History loses sight of him until he arrives at Milan, where he is seen at the door of the College of Saint-Nazaire asking hospitality of the Canons, by whom he was at once received in virtue of his Canon’s dress.


On arriving in Rome, his first care was to find a suitable locality for his monastery.  At the southern base of Mount Cœlius, facing the gigantic ruins of the Baths of Caracalla in the Appian Way, was an ancient church dedicated to St. Sixtus II, Pope and martyr, near whose remains five other Martyr-Popes were interred.  On one side of the Church, recently restored, stood an unfinished cloister.  The profound solitude of the spot contrasted strangely with the newly erected work, which had evidently been suddenly interrupted.  This was indeed the case, as the restoration of his ancient and celebrated edifice had been suspended by the death of Innocent III, who had destined this cloister for the abode of those nuns who were living in Rome under too lax a rule.  Dominic, ignorant of this intention, hastened to ask the Sovereign Pontiff to grant him the church and monastery.  Honorius III acceded to this request.


In three of four months Dominic had gathered together at Saint Sixtus as many as a hundred Religious.  The slowness of action, hitherto characteristic of his career, was no succeeded by a marked rapidity; and though only commencing his career at the age of twenty-five, and spending twelve years in the formation of sixteen disciples, he now saw them falling at his feet as ripe grain before the reaper’s scythe.  There is nothing marvelous in this; for it is a law of nature and grace that a force long suppressed acts with impetuosity when its barriers are removed; and in everything there is a point which, once attained, renders success prompt and inevitable.  Situated on the road by which the roman conquerors proceeded to the Capitol, Saint Sixtus witnessed, during a whole year, scenes far more marvelous than any the Appian Way had ever yet beheld.  Never did Dominic show clearer manifestations of the power God had given him over the souls of men, and never did nature render him more reverent obedience.  This was the triumphant moment of his life.


First of all, there was the monastery to be completed; and whilst that work was going on, Dominic resumed his preaching in the churches and his instruction in the Vatican.  Each day brought him some new disciples, with whom he peopled the habitable portion of his monastery; the morning saw him issue forth, staff in hand, and at evening he returned, bring home his spoil; thus the progress of the spiritual and material building was simultaneous.  Satan, jealous of such success, wished to mar its progress.  One day when the Friars were engaged in showing to an architect an arch that needed restoration or removal, the structure gave way, burying a workman beneath the ruins.  The Friars, overwhelmed with grief, and distressed as to the state of the poor man’s soul, and the unfavorable impression that might result from this untoward event, knew not what course to take.  Meanwhile Dominic arrives, has the body removed from beneath the ruins, and on its being laid at his feet, invokes Him who has promised always to hear the prayer of faith, and in answer to his petition returning life animates the mangled form.


On another occasion the procurator of the monastery, Jacques de Melle, was so dangerously ill that the last sacraments had been administered to him.  The Friars were gathered around his bed, praying for his departing soul, and sorrowing over the loss of a man so useful to them, inasmuch as he was better known in Rome than any of their number.  Dominic perceiving his children’s grief, commanded every one to quit the room, closed the door, and being left alone with the sick man, prays so fervently that the dying man revives, and Dominic, summoning the Friars, gives him back healed.


As the monastery possessed no revenues, it was the procurator’s duty to provide, wit the aid of providence, for the needs of the community, who subsisted on the daily alms collected from street to street by the Friars.  On morning Jacques de Melles told Dominic that there was nothing for dinner save two or three loaves of bread.  Dominic appeared delighted at these tidings, and ordered the procurator to divide that little, according to the number of the inmates, into forty portions, and to have the dinner-bell rung at the usual hour.  On entering the refectory, each person found a mouthful of bread set before him, and grace having been said more joyously than ever, they sat down.  Dominic was at the Prior’s table, his heart upraised to God.  After a moment’s delay, two young men clothed in whit appeared in the refectory, and advancing to Dominic’s table, placed on it the loaves they carried in their mantles.


The same miracle occurred later on, attended by circumstances which we must allow the lips of antiquity to relate.  “While the Friars were yet residing in the church of Saint Sixtus, in number about one hundred, the blessed Dominic one day ordered Friar Giovanni de Calabria and Friar Alberto Romano to go and seek alms in town.  Three o’clock arrived and they had received nothing; they were returning home, and when they had already reached the church of Saint-Anastasia, when a woman, much devoted to the Order, met them, and seeing that they had nothing, gave them a loaf, saying, ‘You shall not return empty handed.’  A little farther on they were accosted by a man who earnestly besought them for alms; they replied they had nothing for themselves, and therefore had nothing to give him.  The man still persisting, they said to one another, ‘One loaf is of little use to us; let us give it to him for the love of God.’  They then gave him the bread, and he disappeared instantly.  Now, as they were about to re-enter the monastery, the holy Father, to whom the Holy Spirit had already revealed all that had taken place, met them, saying with a joyous air, ‘Children, have you nothing”’ ‘No, father,’ they replied, and then they related to him all that had happened, and how they had given their only loaf to the poor man.  Dominic replied, ‘It was an angel of the Lord; the Lord will provide for His own; let us pray.’  Thereupon he entered the church, and coming out after a little while, told the two Friars to summon the community to the refectory.  They replied, ‘But, holy Father, how will you that we call them, when there is nothing to eat?’ and they purposely delayed executing his order, sot that the blessed father sent for Brother Roger, the cellarer, and ordered him to summon the Friars to dinner, for the Lord would supply their needs.  The tables were therefore laid, the cups were set, and at a given signal the whole community entered the refectory.  The blessed Father said grace, and when every one was seated, Brother Enrico Romano began to read.  The blessed Dominic continued praying, his clasped hands resting on the table, when behold, in answer to a promise made him by the Holy Spirit, to beauteous young men, ministers of Divine Providence, appeared in the midst of the refectory, carrying loves in two white cloths suspended from their shoulders.  They began with the lower ranks, placing before each brother a whole load of singular beauty.  Then, coming to the blessed Dominic, they placed a loaf before him, b owed and disappeared, without anyone ever knowing, even to the present day, whence they came or whither they went.  The blessed Dominic addressed his children, saying, “My brothers, eat the bread which the Lord has sent.’ He then told the lay brothers to pour out the wine, but they replied, ‘Holy Father, there is none.’ Then the blessed Dominic, full of the prophetic spirit, said unto them, ‘Go to the cask, and give the Friars the wine the Lord has sent.’  They went, and found the cask filled to the brim with excellent wine, with which they speedily returned.  And the blessed Dominic said, ‘My brothers, drink the wine that is sent you by the Lord.’  Then they ate and drank as much as they liked, that day and the morrow and the day following.  But after the meal of the third day he ordered all the remaining bread and wine to be given to the poor, and none to be kept.  During those three days no one had gone seeking alms because the Lord had sent an abundance of bread and wine.  After this the blessed Father preached a beautiful sermon to the Friars, biding them never to distrust Divine Providence, even in the hour of the greatest penury.  Friar Tancred, Prior, Friar Odo, and Enrico of Rome, Friar Laurence of England, Friar Gaudione, and Friar Giovanni Romano, and many others were present at this miracle, which they related to Sister Cecilia and to other sisters then residing in the convent of Santa-Maria_tras-Tevere, and to whom they even gave portions of the bread and wind, which were preserved for a long time as sacred relics.  Friar Alberto, sent by the blessed Dominic to beg in company with another, was one of the two whose death Dominic had predicted.  The other was Friar Gregorio, a man of singular beauty and grace; he was the first to die, and entered the presence of the Lord after receiving the last sacraments.  On the third day after his death, Friar Alberto, having also received the sacraments, went from this gloomy prison to the celestial palace.”[1]


This ingenuous narrative reveals the inner life of Dominic’s family, and makes us realize the early character of the Order far better than any description could do.  We behold how populous monasteries arose without the aid of gold and silver; how faith supplied the want of fortune; who exquisite was the simplicity of those men, many of whom had been the denizens of palaces.  Friar Trancred, Prior of Saint-Sixtus, was a knight of lofty birth, attached to the Imperial court of Fredric II.  Chancing to be in Bologna early in the year 1218, at the same time that some of Dominic’s Friars were there, as we shall see later on, he one day began suddenly to reflect on the danger of losing his soul.  Troubled by this thought, he had recourse to the blessed Virgin, who on the following night appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Enter my Order.”  Upon this he awoke, but falling asleep again, beheld two men habited as Friar Preachers, one of whom, an aged man, addressed him thus: “Thou has besought the Blessed Virgin to show thee the way of salvation; come to us and thou shalt be saved.”[2]  Tancred, to whom the Order was as yet unknown, deemed that what he had seen was an illusion.  Next morning he arose, and entreated his host to conduct him to a church, so that he might hear mass.  He was taken to a small church called Santa-Maria-de-Mascarella, recently given to the Friar Preachers; and scarcely had he crossed the threshold when he met tow Friars, one of whom he recognized as the old man in his dream.  Having set his affairs in order, he took the habit and joined Dominic in Rome.


Friar Enrico, also alluded to by Sister Cecillia, was a young Roman noble, whose friends were so indignant at his joining the Order that they determined to carry him off.  Dominic, knowing their resolve, dispatch the young man with a few companions, bidding them take the Nomentan Way.  His friends followed and reached the banks of the Anio just as Enrico had crossed.  The latter, seeing how great was his danger, raised his heart to God, entreating help for Dominic’s sake.  The waters at once rose with rapidity, the knights vainly essaying to cross the stream.  When they had withdrawn, Enciro quietly returned to Saint-Sixtus.


Friar Laurence of England, another witness of the miracles, had been sent to Paris on the dispersion of the Friars, but returned soon after with Juan of Navarre.  Two others, Dominic de Segovia and Miguel de Uzéro, had also returned from Spain, after an apparently fruitless mission.  It was Honorius’s intention to carry out his predecessor’s design, and reunite in one convent and under the same Rule the nuns scattered among the religious houses of Rome.  This intention he imparted to Dominic, considering him the most capable of accomplishing so difficult an undertaking.  Dominic readily acceded to the Holy Father’s proposition, seeing in it a means, not only of restoring Saint-Sixtus to its primitive destination, but also of founding a community of Dominican nuns, after the model of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille.  His only request was, that some of the Cardinals should be associated with him, in order to give weight to the undertaking.  The Pope granyed him three, Ugolino, Bishop of Ostia, Stefano de Fosso-nuovo, and Nicolai, Bishop of Tusculum, and in exchange for Saint-Sixtus gave him the church and monastery of Santa-Sabina on the Aventine Mount, close to his own abode.  Simultaneous preparations were at once made for the reception of the Friars at Santa-Sabina and for the nuns at Saint-Sixtus. 


Though busied with this twofold charge, Dominic still continued his preaching.  One day a woman left her sick child in order to hear him preach at San Marco, and on returning home, found her child was dead.  Her hope was as great as her grief; and, accompanied by a servant carrying the child, she hastened to Saint-Sixtus without giving herself time to shed a single tear.  On entering the court of Saint-Sixtus by the Appian Way, the church and monastery were at your left, and in front was the low and isolated building called the Chapter-house.  At his door Dominic was standing when the poor mother arrived.  She ran straight to him, seizing the child, laid it at his feet beseeching him to restore it to life.  Dominic withdrew for a moment into the Chapter-house, then returning to the threshold, made the sign of the cross over the child, and, stooping down, took it by the hand and restored it to the mother, charging her to tell no one what had just occurred.  Nevertheless, the news spread rapidly, and the Pope desired that the miracle should be proclaimed from every pulpit.  Dominic opposed this, threatening to turn to the heathen and quit Rome for ever. But silence could not be enforced, and Dominic was held in higher veneration than ever.  Wherever he went he was followed by the nobles and people, who regarded him as an angel of God, and esteemed themselves happy of they might touch him. They had cut so many pieces from his cloak, in order to preserve them as relics, that it scarcely reached his knees.  And when the Friars endeavored to prevent this destruction on his garments, he replied, “Let them do it; it is a proof of their love,”[3]


The miracle was witnessed by the Friars Tancred, Odo, Enrico, Apberto, and many others.


Notwithstanding the striking proofs of Dominic’s sanctity, the proposed re-union of the nuns at Saint-Sixtus met with much opposition.  The majority of them refused to sacrifice the liberty they had hitherto enjoyed of quitting their cloister and visiting their friends.  But God came to His servant’s aid.  At that time there was a convent in Rome, named, on account of its position, Santa-Maria-Tras-Tevere, in which was preserved one of those pictures of the Blessed Virgin attributed by tradition to St. Luke.  This picture was held in great veneration by the people, inasmuch as when carried in procession by St. Gregory the Great, it had arrested the plague then ravaging the city, and the popular belief was, that on being placed in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, it returned of its own accord to its former abode.  The Abbess of the above-named convent, and all the nuns, save one, voluntarily offered themselves to Dominic, to whom they made a vow of obedience, on the sole condition of their bring the picture of Our Lady wit them, if the picture returned voluntarily to its former abode, then their vow of obedience should be annulled.  This condition was accepted by Dominic, who, in virtue of the authority with which they had just invested him, forbad them henceforth to quit their convent.  These religious belonged to some of the noblest families in Rome, and when their friends learnt the character of the new project and the nature of the vows taken, they hastened to Santa-Maria in order to dissuade the nuns from fulfilling their promise.  They were so blinded by passion that they treated Dominic as an unknown adventurer, and so unsettled the nuns that many of them repented of their vow.  Dominic, inwardly conscious of all that was going on, came to see them one morning, and after saying Mass and preaching, addressed them as follows: “My daughters, I know that you regret your decision, and that you desire to quit the heavenly road; let such as remain faithful, renew their vow;”[4]  then all of them, headed by their Abbess, made a fresh profession of obedience.  Dominic took possession of the keys of the convent, placed lay-brothers to guard the building day and night, and prohibited the nuns holding any conversation whatsoever without the presence of a third party.


Matters being at this point, Cardinals Ugolino, Stefano de Fosso-nuovo, and Nocolai assembled at Saint-Sixtus on Ash Wednesday.  The Abbess of Santa-Maria, accompanied by the nuns, was there in order to make a solemn resignation of her office and cede all the rights of the convent to Dominic and his Friars.  “Then when the blessed Dominic and the cardinals were seated, and the Abbess and her nuns were assembled, a man rushed in, tearing his hair, and uttering loud cries.  They asked him what was the cause of his grief, and he replied, ‘Monsignor Stefano’s nephew has just been thrown from his horse, and killed.’ The young man’s name was Napoleon, and his uncle, on hearing his name, fell senseless on Dominic’s breast.  The bystanders supported him, and Dominic, arising and sprinkling him with holy water, rant to the spot where lay the young man, horribly shattered and mangled.  He ordered him to be removed to a room and left there.  Then he told Friar Tancred and the others to make preparations for Mass.  The blessed Dominic, the Cardinals, Friars, the Abbess and the nuns proceeded to the spot where the altar was, and the blessed Father celebrated Mass, weeping all the time.  At the moment of the elevation of the Sacred Host, the astonished spectators beheld Dominic raised a cubic from the ground.  Mass ended, he returned to the body of the dead man, accompanied by the Cardinals, the Abbess, nuns, and bystanders, and approaching the corpse, composed its limbs with his own sainted hands, then prostrated himself on the ground, praying and weeping.  Thrice he arranged the limbs of the deceased, and thrice he prostrated himself on the ground.  Having arisen for the third time, he made the sign of the cross over the dead man, and standing at his head, with arms outstretched to heaven and his body elevated more than a cubic from the ground, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Napoleon, I commend thee in the name of the Lord, arise!’ Then, in sight of the astonished spectators, the young man arose save and sound, saying to Dominic, ‘Father, give me to eat.’ The Blessed Dominic gave him food and drink, and restored him to his uncle the Cardinal, full of joy, and bearing no trace of injury.”[5]


Four days later, on the first Sunday in Lent, the nuns of Santa-Maria, of Santa-Bibisana, and of other convents, and some people of the world, entered Saint-Sixtus, where they received the habit from Dominic’s hands.  They numbered forty-four in all, and among them was a sister of Santa-Maria, aged seventeen, and called Cecilia.  She it is to whom we are indebted for the leading events of the holy Patriarch’s life at this epoch, which events have been preserved in an account written at her dictation, and which is in itself a chef-d-œuvre of simplicity and truth.


The picture of the Blessed Virgin was removed to Saint-Sixtus on the evening of the day in which the nuns entered that convent.  Night-time was selected, as the inhabitants of Rome disapproved of the removal.  Dominic, accompanied by the Cardinals Stefano and Nicolai, and preceded and followed by many persons with torches in their hands, bore the picture on their shoulders.  All were barefooted, and the nuns were on their knees in Saint-Sixtus, awaiting the picture, which was happily installed in the church.


All these events, including the journey to France and Rome, are comprised within the space of five or six months, and between the 11th of September 1217 and the commencement of the following March.  Yet, despite his numerous avocations, Dominic still found time for private acts of charity.  He often visited the recluses, women who voluntarily seclude themselves within holes in walls, and never quitted those abodes.  A few of them were scattered here and there throughout the town, on the desert sides of Mount Palatine, in the gloomy interior of disused towers, and beneath the broken arches of aqueducts; such were the ruined posts where the sentinels of eternity kept watch.  Dominic visited them at sunset, bearing a ray of comfort expressly reserved for them.  After discoursing to the multitude he turned his steps to the abode of solitude.  One of these recluses, named Lucia, living behind the church of Santa-Anastasia, on the road to Saint-Sixtus, and whose arm was eaten to the bone by a dreadful disease, was healed one evening by Dominic’s blessing.  Another, whose breast was devoured by worms, lodged in a tower near the gate of St. John Lateran.  Dominic confessed her, and brought her the Holy Eucharist from time to time.  On one occasion he requested to see one of the worms which tormented her, and which she lovingly cherished in her bosom as heaven-sent guests.  Bona, such was her name, consented to Dominic’s wish, but the worm was transformed into a precious stone hi Dominic’s hand, and Bona’s breast became pure as that of a babe.


Dominic was then in the zenith of his maturity, his body and soul having reached that point when age has but perfected their vigor.  “He was of middle height, and thin, his countenance beautiful, and his complexion rather florid; hair and beard blonde, and his eyes beautiful.  From his brow and from between the eyebrows issued a radiant brightness commanding respect and love.  He was always joyous and happy, save when moved by compassion at the sight of other’s sorrow.  His hands were long, and beautifully formed, his voice loud, noble, and sonorous.  He never became bald, and his tonsure was entirely surrounded by beautiful white hair.”[6]


Thus is he depicted by St. Cecilia, who knew him in the heroic days of Saint-Sixtus and Santa-Sabina.



[1] Sister Cecilia’s Narrative, n.3.

[2] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Book iv. ch. xiv.

[3] Sister Cecilia’s Narrative, n.1.

[4] Sister Cecilia’s Narrative, n.13.

[5] Sister Cecilia’s Narrative, n.2.

[6]Sister Cecilia’s Narrative, n.14


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