St. Dominic at Santa-Sabina – St. Hyacinthus and the

Blessed Celsus enter the Order – Our Lady

 anoints the Blessed Reginald



The church of Santa-Sabina, near which the Friars had resided since their departure from Saint-Sixtus, was built on the Aventine Mount.  An ancient inscription records its foundation during the Pontificate of Celestine I, at the commencement of the fifth century, by a priest of Illyria named Peter.  It is situated on the loftiest and steepest part of the hill.  The murmuring Tiber, as it hurries away from Rome, leaves the narrow shore at its base, dashing its waves against the ruins of the bridge Horatius Cocles defended against Porsena.


Two rows of ancient columns, supporting a simple roof, divided the church into three aisles, each terminated by an altar.  It was a primitive basilica, beautiful in its simplicity.  The relics of Santa-Sabina, who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Adrian, reposed beneath the high altar, as near the scene of her martyrdom as tradition would allow.  Close to her shrine were other precious relics.  The church adjoined the palace of the Sabelli, then occupied by Honorius III, and from which the Bull authorizing the Order of Friar Preachers was dated.  From the windows of the building, part of which had been just ceded to Dominic, the very heart of Rome could be discerned, and the view was bounded by the hills of the Vatican.  Two winding slopes led into the town, one descending to the Tiber, the other ending at one of the angles of the Palatine, near the church of Santa-Anastasia.  This was the route which Dominic traversed in going from Santa-Sabina to Saint-Sixtus.  No path on earth preserves so many traces of his steps.  Almost daily, for more than six months, he ascended and descended the hill, passing from one convent to the other, impelled by the ardor of his charity.


On entering Santa-Sabina, one of the chefs-d’œuvre of Rome even at the present day, and carefully examining the naves, the traveler discerns ancient frescoes representing Dominic conferring the habit of his Order on a young man kneeling at his feet, whilst another figure is extended on the ground; the faces of both are hidden, and yet the spectator is profoundly moved.  These two young men are Poles, Hyacinthus and Celsus Odrowaz.  They had accompanied their uncle, Yve Odrowaz, Bishop-elect of Cracow, and having been conducted to Saint-Sixtus, probably by Cardinal Ugolino, Yve’s fellow-student in the University of Paris, had witnessed the restoration to life of the young Napoleon.  The Bishop at once entreated Dominic to let him take some Friar Preachers back with him to Poland.  The Saint replied that having none who understood the language or Customs of that country, the better way to propagate the Order there and in the North would be for some of the Bishop’s suite to take the habit.  Hyacinthus and Celsus offered themselves readily.  It is supposed that they were brothers, and it is certain that they were related.  They were of kindred heart as well as of kindred blood; both had been dedicated to Jesus Christ by the priestly office; both had glorified their Master in the eyes of their fellow-countrymen, and their virtues were but heightened by their youth.  Hyacinthus was a canon in the church at Cracow, Celsus was provost of the church at Sandomir.  Both of them took the habit at Santa-Sabina, and two other of their traveling companions, known in Dominican history under the name of Henry the Moravian and Herman the Teuton.  On that mysterious hill, not comprised by the Romans within their sacred enclosure, and the name of which denotes the home of birds,[1] Poland and Germany, till then the sole countries that had proffered no sons to Dominic, now laid their tribute at his feet.


How grand and simple are the ways of God!  Ugolino Conti of Italy and Yve Odrowaz of Poland met at the University of Paris, where they both passed some portion of their youth; then time, which strengthens or destroys friendship, as it does all other things, separated them for the space of forty years.  Yve, promoted to the episcopacy, is obliged to go to Rome, and recognizes in one of the Cardinals the friend of his early days.  The Cardinal conducts his guest to the church of Santa-Sabina, in order to introduce him to a many whose name Yve had never heard, and that same day this man’s virtue is unexpectedly revealed by the most supreme act of power, displaying sovereignty over life and death.  Yve, overcome by the sight of this miracle, petitions Dominic to grant him a few of his Friars, little dreaming that he had journeyed to Paris and to Rome in order to lead to Dominic four noble children of the North, predestined by God to found monasteries of Friar Preachers in Germany, Poland, Prussia, and even in the very heart of Russia.


Hyacinthus and his companions only remained a short time at Santa-Sabina.  As soon as they were sufficiently instructed in the rules of the Order, they set out with the Bishop of Carcow, and in passing through Friesach, a town of ancient Norica, between the Drave and the Murthe, they were moved by the Holy Ghost to announce to the people the Word of God.  The country was stirred to its very depths by their preaching, and, encouraged by their success, hey resolved to found a monastery in that place.  It was completed in six months, and they then left it and its numerous inmates under the direction of Herman the Teuton.  On their arrival at Cracow, the Bishop gave them for their monastery a wooden house belonging to the See.  Such were the first fruits of the Order in the regions of the North.  Celsus founded the monasteries of Prague and Breslau, and before his death Hyacinthus extended the Order as far as Kiev, in the very sight of the Greek schismatics, and amid the din of Tartar invasions.


The South and North seemed to vie with each other as to who should send Dominic the most celebrated laborers.  There was in France a doctor called Reginald, who had taught canonic law in Paris during five years, and who was Dean of the Chapter of Saint-Aignan-d’Orléans.  In the year 1218, he went to Rome to visit the tomb of the Apostles, proposing afterwards to go to Jerusalem and render homage at the Holy Sepulcher.  This twofold pilgrimage was intended by him as t he prelude of a new life which he intended to embrace.  “God had inspired him with the desire of quitting all things to preach the gospel, and he prepared himself for this work, though not knowing in what way to fulfill its duties; for as yet he had not heard that a preaching Order had been instituted.  Now it happened that in a private interview with one of the Cardinals, he opened his heart to him on this matter, saying that he was thinking of quitting all to preach Jesus Christ in a life of voluntary poverty.  Then the Cardinal replied, ‘An Order has just arisen whose aim is to unite the practice of voluntary poverty with the office of preaching, and at this moment the Master of the new Order is in this town, preaching the Word of God.’  Having heart this, Master Reginald hastened to find the blessed Dominic and reveal to him the secret of his soul.  Entranced by the sight of the Saint and by the grace of his conversation, he resolved on entering the Order.  But adversity, the test of all holy undertakings, delayed not to prove his.  He fell so dangerously ill, that nature seemed about to succumb, and the physicians despaired of saving his life.  The blessed Dominic, grieved at so soon losing this new child, urgently besought divine mercy; according to his own words, when relating the fact to his Friars, not to rob him of a child rather conceived than born, but to spare him if only for a little time.  Whilst praying thus, the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God and Mistress of the world, with two young companions of matchless beauty, approached to Master Reginald as he was lying awake, consumed by the violent fever, and he heard the Queen of Heaven saying, ‘Ask what thou wilt, and I will grant thy request.’ Deliberating as to his reply, one of the Blessed Virgin’s companions counseled him to make no request, but leave all to the will of the Queen of mercy, to which suggestion he willingly agreed.  Then the Blessed Virgin extended her pure hand, anointed his eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, reins, and feet, accompanying each anointing with appropriate words.  I have only been able to learn those used in anointing the reins and feet: ‘May thy loins be girt with chastity, and thy feet with the gospel of peace.’  Then she showed him the habit of the Friar Preachers, and saying, ‘Behold the dress of the Order,’ disappeared, leaving Reginald perfectly restored, the result of the anointing bestowed by her who has the secret of all healing.  On the morrow, when Dominic came to ask him how he was, he replied that he was quite well, and he related the vision.  Then both rendered devout thanksgiving to Him who wounds and who heals, who casts down and who raises up again.  This sudden and unexpected recovery astonished the physicians, who know not who had effected the cure.”[2] Three days after, as Reginald was sitting with St. Dominic and a Religious of the Order of Hospitallers, the miraculous anointing was renewed in the presence of the two latter, as if the august Mother of God attached such importance to this act that she desired to perform it openly.  Reginald was but the representative of the Order of Friar Preachers, and in him the Queen of heaven and earth contracted alliance with the whole Order.  As the Rosary had been the first sign of this union, and was the jewel conferred on the Order at its baptism, so the anointing bestowed on Reginald, sign of virility and confirmation, must also have been a durable and commemorative sign.  Therefore the Blessed Virgin in presenting to the new brother the habit of his Order, presented not the habit as it was then worn, but with remarkable alteration, which we must explain.


We have already stated that Dominic, who had for a long period been one of the Canons of Osma, continued to wear his Canon’s habit, and adopted it as the dress of his Order.  It consists of a white woolen tunic, covered by a linen surplice, both of which were enveloped by a cloak and hood of black wool.  Now, in the vestment shown to Reginald by Our Lady, the linen surplice was replaced by a woolen scapular, i.e.; a simple band of stuff, intended to cover the shoulders and chest, and descending as far as the knees.  This scapular was not new.  It was already known to the monks of the East, by whom, doubtless, it had been adopted to replace the cloak when labor or heat obliged them to lay it aside.  Desert-born and the offspring of modesty, the scapular falling as a veil over the heart of man has become in Christian tradition the symbol of purity, and therefore the dress of Mary, Queen of virgins. This is why (when anointing the whole Order in the person of Reginald) the Blessed Virgin girt them with the girdle of chastity, and shod their feet with the gospel of peace; she also presented them with the scapular, as the external sign of those angelic virtues without which it is impossible either to discern or to announce heavenly things.


After this remarkable event, one of the most noteworthy in Dominican history, Reginald set out for the Holy Land, and the linen surplice was exchanged for the woolen scapular, henceforth the distinctive mark of the Order.  On a Friar Preacher making his profession, his scapular only is blessed by the Prior how receives his vows, and in no case may he leave his cell without wearing his scapular – not even when carried to his last home.  At this same epoch the Blessed Virgin gave another proof of her maternal love for the Order.  “One evening, Dominic was praying in the church until midnight, at which hour he entered the corridor where the Friars were asleep in their cells.  Having finished his business, he resumed his prayers at the end of the corridor where the Friars were asleep in their cells.  Having finished his business, he resumed his prayers at the end of the corridor, when chancing to turn his eyes to the other end, he beheld three women approaching, the center on being the most beautiful and venerable.  One of her companions carried a magnificent vase, and the other an aspersorium, which she presented to her mistress, who sprinkled and blessed all the Friars save one.  Dominic, after noting who the Friar was, advanced to meet the woman, who had already reached the middle of the corridor, near the lamp suspended in that spot.  He prostrated himself at her feet, and although he had recognized her, entreated her to tell him her name.  At that same time, the beautiful and devotional anthem of the Salve Regina was not yet sung in the monastery and nunnery of the Order in Rome, but only recited, kneeling, after Compline.  The woman replied, ‘I am she whom you invoke every eve, and when you say, Eia ergo, advocata nostra, I prostrate myself before my Son, entreating Him to protect this Order.’  The blessed Dominic then asked who her two companions were, on which the Blessed Virgin said, ‘One is Cecilia, and the other Catherine.’ The blessed Dominic then inquired the reason for her omitting to bless one of the Friars, and she replied, ‘Because he was not in a becoming posture.’  Then having finished her round, and sprinkled and blessed the Friars, she disappeared.  The blessed Dominic returned to the spot where he had been praying, and hardly had he recommenced his devotions when he was raised in spirit to the presence of God.  He beheld the Lord, having at his right hand the Blessed Virgin, who seemed to Dominic to be robed in a sapphire-colored mantle.  Looking around and discerning Religious of every Order but his own, he began to weep bitterly, not daring to approach our Lord or his Blessed Mother.  Our Lady motioned him to draw near, but he dared not comply until encouraged by our Lord.  Then he approached and prostrated himself weeping bitterly.  The Lord said, ‘Why weepest thou so bitterly?’ and he replied, ‘Because I see members of every Order but my own.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Dost thou wish to see thy Order?’ He tremblingly replied, ‘Yes, Lord;’ and the Lord rested His hand on the shoulder of the Blessed Virgin, saying to Dominic, ‘I have confided thy Order to my mother.’ Then He added, ‘Wilt thou indeed see thy Order?’ to which Dominic replied, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then the Blessed Virgin unfolding her mantle in Dominic’s sight, so that it covered the whole of the celestial abode, he beheld beneath it a multitude of his children.  The blessed Father prostrated himself to render thanks to God and to our Lady, and the vision disappeared.  As he recovered consciousness, the bell was ringing for Matins, and when they were ended, he convoked a chapter of his Friars, and discoursed to them on the love and veneration they ought to have to the Blessed Virgin, and among other things he related this vision.  At the close of the chapter, he privately took aside the brother whom Our Lady had not blessed, and gently asked him if he had not kept back something in the general confession he had made.  He replied, ‘Holy Father, my conscience accuses me of nothing, save that last night, when I awoke, I found I had been sleeping with no garments on.’  At Saint-Sixtus the blessed Dominic related his vision to Sister Cecilia and the others, as if it had been beheld by another person, but the Friars present made a sign to the sisters that it was Dominic who had seen it.  It was on this occasion that the blessed Dominic enjoined that, wherever they slept, the Friars should wear their girdle and their sandals.”[3]


In Lent, on the second Sunday after the sisters’ removal to Saint-Sixtus, Dominic preached in their church before a vast concourse of people, and exorcised a woman who was disturbing the congregation by her shrieks.  On another occasion, having arrived unexpectedly at the convent gate, he questioned the portress as the health of Sisters Theodora, Theadrana, and Nimpha, and on hearing they were ill of fever, he enjoined the portress to “tell them from me that I command them to recover.”[4] The portress obeyed, and as soon as she gave the Saint’s message, they found themselves cured.


It was the venerable Father’s constant habit to devote the whole day to wining souls, either by fervent preaching, by the confessional, or other works of charity.  In the evening he came to the sisters, and in presence of the Friars gave them a discourse or conference on the duties of the Order, he being their sole instructor on this point.  One evening when he was late in coming, and the sisters having ceased to expect him, finished their prayers and retired to their cells, suddenly the brothers rang the little bell announcing the Father’s arrival.  The sisters hastened to the church, and on opening the grille, beheld Dominic already seated with the Friars, and awaiting them. The blessed Dominic addressed them thus: “My daughters, I have been fishing, and the Lord has sent me a fine fish.”  By this he meant Gaudione, whom he had received into the Order, and who was the only son of a certain nobleman named Alessandro, a citizen of Rome and a grand man.  Then having mad them a long and consolatory discourse, he said, “My daughters, I think it would be well to take something to drink.”  And summoning Brother Roger, the cellarer, ordered him to fetch some wine and a cup.  When Roger had done this, the blessed Dominic told him to fill the cup to the brim; then, having blessed it, he drank of it first, and then all the other Brothers present, in number about twenty-five, and consisting of clerics and lay brothers; they drank as much as they liked and yet the cup remained full.  When all had partaken of the wine the blessed Dominic said, “I wish my daughters also to take some.” And calling Sister Nubia, told her to “go to the door, take the cup, and give the sisters to drink.” She went with a companion and carried the cup, which, although brim-full, did not run over.  The Prioress drank first, then all the sisters took as much as they wished, the blessed Father often saying, “Do not hurry, my daughters.”  There were more than four hundred of them, and though they all drank as much as they chose, the wine did not diminish, and when brought back the cup was as full as at first.  That done, Dominic said, “It is the Lord’s will that I go to Santa-Sabina.” But Friar Tancred, Prior of the Friars, Friar Odo, Prior of the Nuns, the Friars, the Prioress, and all the nuns endeavored to detain him, saying, “Holy Father, it is nearly midnight and too late for you to go.” Nevertheless he refused to accede to their request, replying, “The Lord wills me to go, and He will send his angels with us.”






[1] “Dirarum nidus domus opportuna volucrum.” – Virg. Æn., lib viii.

[2] The Blessed Humbert, Vie de St. Dominic, n. 27.

[3] Sister Cecilia’s Narrative, n. 7.

[4] Sister Cecilia’s Narrative, n. 9.


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Text from the 1880 Burns and Oats edition

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