Dominic’s journey to Spain and France – His vigils

in the grotto of Segovia – His manner of traveling

and mode of life



After a laborious year spent in founding San-Sisto and Santa-Sabina, Dominic turned his gaze towards those distant countries throughout which his first children were scattered.  He longed to see them again, to fortify them by his presence, and with t hem to bless God for the Good and evil His hands had bestowed.


In the autumn of 1218 he set out, accompanied by a few members of his own Order, and was afterwards joined by a Minorite Friar named Albert.  Having arrived at some place in Lombardy, they stopped at an inn and seated themselves at table with the other guests.  On the meat being handed round, Dominic and his companions refused to take any, and the hostess seeing that they contented themselves with bread and a little wine, grew violently angry, addressing insulting language to the Saint.  In vain Dominic tried to appease her by his patience and his edifying conversation; and as none of the party could stem the torrent of her maledictions, he at last said to her gently, “My daughter, in order that you may learn to receive the servants of God in a charitable manner for their Master’s sake, I pray the Lord Jesus to impose silence on you.” He had hardly finished speaking when the hostess became dumb.  On repassing the same spot, on his return from Spain, eight months later on, he was recognized by this woman, who cast herself at his feet, entreating pardon by her tears.  Dominic made the sign of the cross on her lips, and immediately her tongue was loosed.  Friar Albert, who related this event, also says that on Dominic’s tunic being torn by a dog, the Saint joined the torn part with a little mud, and so repaired the damage.


Having crossed the Alps, Dominic found himself once more in Languedoc, traversing its well-known roads.  But all was changed.  He had not even the consolation of praying at the tomb of his magnanimous friend the Count of Montfort, whose remains had been transported to the Abbey of Fontevraud, far from that territory where he had been crowned Duke and Count, and where his now lifeless sword could no longer protect his coffin.  After passing greeting to Saint-Romain-de-Toulouse and to Notre-Dame-de-Prouille, Dominic hastened to his native land, whose soil had been untrodden by him for a space of fifteen years.  He left it a simple Canon of Osma; he returned an apostle, thaumaturgist, founder of an Order, legislator, patriarch, destroyer of the heretics of the day, and one of the most valiant servants of truth and of the Church.  But this glory was his only possession.  Any one meeting him in the gorges of the Pyrenees, his face turned towards Spain, would have taken him for a foreign beggar going to bask in the glorious Iberian sun.  Whither did he first wend his steps?  Was it to the vale of Duero?  Was he looked for in the palace whence death had chased his parents?  Was he going to pray at their tomb at Gumiel d’Izan, and at that of Azévédo at Osma? Did the Abbey of San-Domingo- de Silos behold him on his knees on that pavement where his mother had been consoled by enigmatic presages? History gives no reply, and we need no words of hers to tells us what the Saint’s heart has already revealed.  From Jesus Christ he had learnt to elevate, without destroying, the natural sentiments of the human heart.  The first place where we find him in Spain is a proof of the love he had retained for his native land.  History presents him to us at Segovia, one of the chief towns of Old Castile, and situated not far from Osma.  He lodged in the house of a poor woman, who soon discerned the treasure she possessed.  Since his abode in Languedoc he had been accustomed to wear a rough garment, of wool or hair.  Whilst in Segovia he laid aside his inner garment of wool, in order to substitute one of harder texture.  His hostess, aware of the fact, took possession of the left-off garb, which she reverently deposited in a chest; and on her room taking fire one day during her absence, everything was consumed, save her most valued possessions, the chest and the garment it contained.


Another miracle awoke the gratitude of the inhabitants of Segovia.  Although it was the Christmas of the year 1218, a prolonged drought had prevented the land being sown.  The people gathered together outside the town to offer their united supplications to God that He would send them rain.  Dominic stood up in the midst of the crowd, and after a few words which seemed ineffectual in soothing their alarm, exclaimed, “Cease your fears, my brethren, and trust in the mercy of God, who will this very day send you an abundant rain, and will change your mourning into joy.”[1]


On another occasion, Dominic attended a council of the principal inhabitants of the town, and after the royal letters had been read, addressed the assembly as follows: “Brethren, you have just listened to the words of a terrestrial and mortal king, now here the commands of the Heavenly and Eternal One.” On this a nobleman angrily exclaimed, “Does this prater mean to keep us hear all day and hinder our dinner?” He then turned his steed homewards, the servant of God saying, “You withdraw now, but ere the year is ended your horse shall be riderless, and in vain will you seek to escape from your enemies by fleeing to the tower you have built.”[2]  This prophecy was accurately fulfilled; ere the year closed, he, and his son, and one of his relatives ere killed on the very spot where he was when Dominic addressed him as above.


Segovia lies between two hills separated by a river.  On the one to the north, where the city walls did not extend, Dominic discovered a desert cave, fit spot for the mysteries of penance and contemplation.  On this hill he founded the monastery of Santa-Cruz, and whilst its humble walls were being erected the Saint used the adjoining cave as his nocturnal oratory, for he was in the habit of consecrating part of the night to prayer and other spiritual exercises.  The day he gave to his fellow-creatures, to preaching, and to business; but when the sun began to set, he too quitted the world, finding in the Divine Presence the bodily and spiritual refreshment he needed.  After compline he remained in the choir, taking care that none of the Friars should follow his example, unwilling to set them one too difficult for them to follow, or from a holy modesty that made him shrink from their discovering the secret of his intercourse with God.  But curiosity won the day; taking advantage of the darkness, several Friars hid themselves in the church in order to witness his vigils, the touching details of which were thus learnt.  On finding himself alone, protected by the silent darkness, he would unfold his heart to God.  The church, type of the heavenly and eternal city, seemed to him to be endued with life and capable of being moved by his entreaties, groans, and tears.  He passed round, stopping to pray at each altar, either making a profound obeisance, or prostrated or kneeling on the ground.  It was generally in the former manner that he began his adoration of our Lord, as if the altar, sign and memorial of His sacrifice, were indeed His very person.  Then prostrating himself with his face to the ground, he was heard uttering these words of the Gospel, “God be merciful to me a sinner;” and those of David, “My soul cleaveth to the ground; give me live according to Thy word;” and many similar passages.  Rising, he gazed intently at the Crucifix, genuflecting a certain number of times, alternately gazing and adoring.  From time to tune this silent contemplation was interrupted by the following ejaculations: “Lord, to Thee have I cried, turn not Thy face from my petition, but listen to my cry,” and other expressions drawn from Holy Writ.  Sometimes his genuflections were prolonged; no words passed his lips; he seemed to see heaven open, and the tears streamed down his cheeks, his breast heaving with emotion, as does the traveler’s on nearing his native land.  At other times he stood erect, his hands stretched out before him as a book, in which he seemed to read attentively, when he would raise them on each side as far as the shoulder in the attitude of a man listening, or veil his eyes in order to meditate more profoundly.  At times he was seen standing on tiptoe, his face heavenwards, and his hands clasped above his head in the form of an arrow; then he would separate them as if asking something, and then close them as if he had received what he desired; and in this state, seeming no longer a denizen of earth, he was wont to say, “Lord, hear my voice whilst I cry unto thee, whilst I lift up my hands to Thy holy temple.”  There was one mode of praying adopted by him, but rarely, and only when he desired to obtain some extraordinary favor from God; it consisted in standing erect with his arms and hands outstretched in the form of a cross, as those of our dying Lord were extended when He sent up to heaven those loud cries that saved the world.  He would then say in a grave and clear voice, “Lord, to Thee have I cried, to Thee have I stretched out my hands all day long; my soul is in thy sight as a thirsty land; hear me, and that right speedily.”  Thus did he pray when he restored the young Napoleon to life; but those present did not hear the words he used, nor did they dare to ask him what they were.


Besides the private supplications with which day’s needs and events inspired Dominic, the cause of the Universal Church as ever present to his mind.  He prayed for the extension of the faith in the heart of Christians, for those in the bondage of error, and for the souls in purgatory.  “So intense was his love for souls,” says one of the witnesses in the process of his canonization, “that it not only extended to all the faithful, but to unbelievers, and even to those suffering in hell, for whom he shed many tears”[3] Tears did not suffice; thrice each night he mingled his blood with his prayers, thus satisfying, as far has he could, that thirst for immolation which is the generous part of love.  They heard him flogging himself with knots of iron, and the grotto of Segovia, which witnessed all the severity of his penances, has retained for centuries the traces of his blood.  It was divided by him into three parts: one for his own sins, the second for the sins of the living, and the third for the sins of the departed.  More than once he constrained some of the Friars to strike him in order to augment the humiliation and pain of his sacrifice.  A day will come when, in presence of heaven and earth, God’s angels will place on the altar of judgment two full cups; an unerring hand will weigh them both, and, to the eternal glory of the saints, it will be known that each drop of blood given by love will have spared torrents of the same.


When Dominic had spent a long space of time in vigils, prayers, and tears, and had offered his soul and body as a sacrifice, if the matin bell had not rung, he would go and visit his children, as if longing to see them again.  He would enter their cells very quietly, making the sign of the cross on each of the inmates, and re-covering those whose clothing had become disarranged in sleep.  After this he returned to the choir.  Sometimes he would be overtaken by sleep during the pious mysteries of his night, and he would be found leaning against an altar or extended on the ground.  When the matin bell rung, he joined the Friars, and going from one to the other side of the choir, exhorted them to sing joyously and heartily.  The Office ended, he withdrew to sleep in some corner of the house, for, unlike the other Friars, he had no cell of his own, but would throw himself down, all dressed as he was, on the nearest object, whether bench, straw, bare ground, or, as sometimes happened, even on a bier.  So brief was his nightly rest, that he often fell asleep at table during his meal.


On quitting Segovia, where he left Friar Corbalan as Prior, Dominic came to Madrid.  There he found a monastery already begun, by the instrumentality, it is supposed, of Pedro de Madrid, one of those sent to Spain by Dominic on the dispersion of the Friars.  It was situated outside the walls of the town.  Dominic changed its destination by making it a convent, and dedicated it to San-Domingo-de-Silos.  But in time the name Silos was lost, and by one of those imperceptible transformations for which the world is responsible, the convent afterwards bore the founder’s name.  It is worthy of note that as in France and Italy, so in Spain also the holy Patriarch was as zealous in founding convents as monasteries, ever mindful that Notre-Dame-de-Prouille was the first fruit of his labors.  A lasting proof of his solicitude for the inmates of the Madrid convent is to be found in a letter addressed to them soon after their establishment there, and which runs as follows: - “Friar Dominic, Master of the preachers, to the Mother Prioress, and to the nuns of the convent in Madrid, health and amelioration of life by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We rejoice greatly and render thanks to God for your spiritual advancement, and because He has drawn you from the mire of this world.  By prayer and fasting strive, my dear daughters, against your old enemy, for only he who strives lawfully shall be crowned.  Until lately you possessed no suitable dwelling in which to carry out the rules of the Order, but now you are without excuse, seeing that by God’s grace you now have an abode in every way appropriate to the exact fulfillment of the Rule.  Therefore I desire that silence be henceforth observed in all places designated by the constitutions of the Order, viz., in the choir, refectory, and corridors, and that elsewhere you live according to your Rule.  Let none of you pass through the convent gate, nor any enter there, unless it be a bishop or prelate coming thither to preach or to make a public visit.  Neglect not vigils and discipline, be obedient to your Prioress, and lose no time in vain conversation.  As it is impossible for us to provide for your temporal wants, we desire that they may not be augmented, and we therefore forbid and Friar whatsoever to receive any novices at your expense; but the Prioress shall have power to do this at the desire of the convent.  We ordain that our dear brother Mannès, to whom you and your convent are so much indebted, shall arrange, regulate, and order all things in the manner he may deem most conducive to your advancement in the religious life.  We empower him to visit and correct you; and if he judge it necessary, and the majority of the nuns consent, even to depose your Prioress.  He may also grant you dispensations according to this own discretion.  Farewell in Christ.”


Many other monastic houses in Spain claim the honor of having been founded, directly or indirectly, by Dominic.  As early historians are silent on this point, we deem it unnecessary to allude to claims hardly warranted by the brevity of Dominic’s sojourn in Spain.  We shall only mention Palencia, where the Saint passed ten years of his early life, and where it appears certain that he established a Confraternity of the Rosary and a monastery named San-Paulo.


A Gaudalaxara, not far from Madrid, while on his way to France, Dominic was deserted by all the brothers who had accompanied him, save Friar Adam and two lay brothers.  Turning to one of them, he asked if he also intended to desert him.  “God forbid,” replied the brother, “that I should leave the head to follow the feet!”[4] This defection had been announced to Dominic in a vision.  He prayed for the lost sheep, and had the consolation of seeing nearly all of them return to the fold.  It was probably in t heir behalf that, when nearing Toulouse, an when they had but one cup of wine for eight persons, he miraculously augmented it, “moved by compassion,” say the historians, “at sight of some of the Friars who had been delicately brought up.”[5]

At Toulouse Dominic met Bertrand de Garrigue, one of his earliest disciples.  They traveled together en route to Paris,[6] visiting on their way the celebrated Roc-Amadour, an ancient sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady, and built on a steep and rocky solitude of Quercy.  “After passing the night in prayer, they were joined on the morrow by several German pilgrims, who having heard them singing psalms and litanies, reverently followed them on their way.  At the nearest village their new companions invited them to dinner, and continued their hospitality for four days running.  On the fifth day the blessed Dominic addressed Bertrand de Garrigue, and, sighing, said, “Brother Bertrand, I am uneasy in conscience, seeing that we reap temporal things of these pilgrims, without bestowing on them any spiritual gifts.  Therefore, if you please, we will kneel down and ask God for grace to understand and speak their language, so that we may preach the Lord Jesus to them.”  That done, to the pilgrims’ great surprise, they began to speak in German, and during the four remaining days that the y traveled together, and until they reached Orleans, they discoursed to them of the Lord Jesus.  At Orleans, the pilgrims took the road to Chartres, after bidding farewell to Dominic and Bertrand and commending themselves to their prayers, the latter proceeded to Paris.  Next day the blessed Father said to Bertrand, “Brother, we are now at Paris; if the Friars learn of the miracle the Lord has wrought, they will look on us as saints, while in reality we are but sinners, and if the world hear of the miracle, our humility will be in danger; therefore I forbid you to mention it to any one until after my death.”[7]


One of the first houses that greeted Dominic’s gaze on entering Paris by the Orleans gate was that of St. Jacques.  It then contained thirty religious.  The holy Patriarch only stayed there a few days, during which time he bestowed the habit on the young Guglielmo de Montferrat, whose acquaintance he made at the residence of Cardinal Ugolino, and to whom he promise that he should enter the Order, after studying theology for two years at the University of Paris.  Dominic kept his word.  He also made a new friend in the person of a native of Saxony named Jourdain.  He was a frank, eloquent, amiable, and God-fearing youth.  He was born in the diocese of Paderborn, was a member of the noble House of Ebernstein, and had come to Paris to drink of the fountain of divine knowledge.  Moved for some time by the Spirit of God, who destined him to succeed Dominic in the general government of the Order, he felt himself drawn to that great man, whose heir he was to be, and who discerned how ardent was the impression made by Jesus Christ on the young man’s heart.  In spite of his ordinary decision of action, Dominic, fearing lest he should hurry the work of grace in this predestined soul, counseled the young Saxon to try the yoke of the Lord, by entering the diaconate, and left him to be matured beneath the winds of Heaven, until the moment when the reaper’s hand should gather him in.


The courage and decision with which Dominic habitually acted was never manifested more clearly than by the results attendant on his brief sojourn at St. Jacques.  The continuous exertion of several worthy men had during the year gathered together thirty Religious, and the aim of this rising community was to increase its members by its own individual efforts.  Dominic arrives, casts one glance at the little band of Frenchmen, and deems is sufficient to people France with Friar Preachers.  At his voice, Pierre Cellani stes out for Limoges, Phililppe for Rheims, Guerric for Metz, Guillaume for Poitiers, a few others for Orleans, commissioned to preach and found monasteries in those towns.  Pierre Cellani was diffident, and pleaded his ignorance and want of books.  Dominic replied, trusting confidently in divine help, “Go, my son, and fear not; twice a day will I remember thee before God.  Do not doubt.  Thou wilt win many souls; thy harvest shall be abundant; thou shalt increase and multiply, and the Lord will be with thee.” Pierre Cellani afterwards related, in the intimacy of friendship, tat whenever he experienced any trouble, remembering this promise, he invoked God and Dominic, and all his efforts were crowned with success.


Dominic quitted Paris by the Burgundy gate.  At Chatillon-sur-Seine he restored to life the nephew of an ecclesiastic, in whose house he was then lodging.  The child had fallen from an upper story, and was found half dead.  The uncle gave a grand banquet in the Saint’s honor.  Dominic, observing that the child’s mother ate nothing because she was suffering from an attack of fever, offered her some eel that he had blessed, telling her to eat it in God’s strength.  She did so, and was cured at once. 


“After that the glorious Father returned to Italy, accompanied by a lay brother named Jean.  While traversing the Italian Alps, this brother grew so faint from hunger that he could neither walk nor even rise from the ground.  The pious Father said, ‘my child, what is the matter? Why can you not walk?’ He replied, ‘Holy Father, I am dying of want.’ The Saint rejoined, ‘Take courage, my son; let us walk a little farther, and we shall find something to refresh us.’  But on the brother replying that he was unable to advance a single step, the Saint, with his usual kindness and commiseration, had recourse to his usual refuge – prayer.  He uttered a short petition, and turning to the brother, said, ‘Arise, my son; go to yonder spot, and bring back what you will find there.’  The brother arose with extreme difficulty, and dragged himself  to the spot indicated, distant about a stone’s-throw.  There he beheld a loaf of wonderful whiteness, enveloped in very white linen.  He took it back, and, in obedience to the Saint’s commands, ate of it until he found himself refreshed.  When he had finished, the man of God asked him if he could continue his journey, now that his hunger was appeased, and he replied that he could do so. “Arise, then,’ said he; ‘wrap up the remaining portion of the loaf in the cloth, and take it back to the spot where you found it.’  The brother obeyed, and they went on their way.  When they had gone a little distance, the brother, suddenly recollecting himself, exclaimed, ‘O my God! Whence did the bread come, and who placed it in that spot? I must have been beside myself not to have wondered at this before.’ And he said to the Saint, ‘Holy Father, whence came that loaf, and who put it there?’ Then this genuine lover and observer of humility replied, ‘My son, have you eaten as much as you desired?’ He answered, ‘Yes.’ ‘Then,’ rejoined the Saint, ‘if you have done so, thank God, and do not trouble about the rest.’”[8]


We will stop at this spot, where Dominic’s companion lost courage, and examine more closely the traces of those steps whose path we also tread.


Dominic traveled on foot, a staff in his hand, and a bundle of clothes upon his shoulder. When in uninhabited spots, he walked barefooted, and when hurt by a stone would say laughingly, “This is our penance.”[9] Once, when traveling with Friar Bonvisi, they arrived at a place bristling with sharp stones, when the Saint exclaimed, “Ah! Once I was unfortunately obliged to put on my shoes here.”  And on the brother asking why had had done so, he replied, “Because there had been a great deal of rain.”[10] On approaching a town or village, he would put on his shoes, keeping them on until he had passed through; and when a river or torrent had to be traversed, he, making a sign of the Cross over the waters, would fearlessly enter the stream, setting an example to his companions.  If it began to rain, he would sing aloud the Ave Maria Stella or the Veni Creator Spiritus.  He carried no money with him, leaving himself to the mercy of Providence.  He preferred lodging in monasteries, when that was practicable.  He never consulted his own inclination as to when to rest, but yielding in this respect to the fatigue or wishes of his companions.  He ate whatever was set before him, meat always excepted; for even when traveling, he rigorously observed the days of abstinence and fasting, although he dispensed his companions from the same.  The more he was maltreated, the happier he felt.  When sick, he ate roots and fruit, rather than partake of more delicate dishes.  When obliged to dine with people of the world, he first quenched his thirst at some fountain, fearing lest hi might drink more than was becoming in a Religious, and so doing, might give scandal to those present.  Sometimes he begged his bread from door to door, always humbly thanking the donors, occasionally even on his knees.  He slept on straw or a plank, and without undressing.


When traveling, he omitted none of his religious duties.  If a church was at hand, he daily offered the Holy Sacrifice, and that amid floods of tears, so impossible was it for him to celebrate the Divine Mysteries without deep emotion.  When the moment drew near that heralded the advent of Him, whom, from his early years, he had transcendentally loved, his whole frame thrilled, and tears streamed rapidly down his pale and radiant face.  He uttered the Pater Noster in manner so seraphic, that it manifested the near presence of the Father who is in Heaven.  He enjoined silence on his companions in the morning until nine o’clock, and again after Compline.  During the intervening time he spoke of God, his discourse assuming the form of conversation or of theological controversy, and every other imaginable form.  Sometimes, especially in solitary places, he requested his companions to remain at a little distance, gently repeating those words of the prophet Osee, “I will lead them into the wilderness, and there will speak to their heart.”  He either preceded or followed, meditating on certain passages of Scripture.  On these occasions the Friars observed that he often passed his hand before his face, as if to drive some troublesome insects away.  His marvelous acquaintance with Holy Writ is attributed to this practice of frequent meditation.  So imbued was he with the consciousness of the Divine Presence, that he hardly ever raised his eyes from the ground.  He never entered any house as guest without first praying in a church, if one was to be found in that locality.  After finishing his repast, he withdrew to a room in order to read St. Matthew’s Gospel or St. Paul’s Epistles, which he always carried with him.  After sitting down, he opened his book, made the sign of the Cross, and began to read attentively.  So enraptured was he by the Divine Word, that he appeared beside himself; gesticulated as if holding converse with some one; then appeared to be listening, arguing, and contending; alternately laughed and wept; then, after gazing intently, would cast down his eyes, solioquise, and strike his breast.  From reading he passed to prayer, from meditation to contemplation; at times lovingly kissing the book, as if grateful to it for the happiness it conferred; then, becoming more and more enraptured with its sacred joys, he covered his face with his hands and hood.  When night arrived, he betook himself to the church to practice his wonted vigils and penance, and if there was no church at his disposal, he retired to some distant chamber, whence, in spit of his precautions, his groans disturbed the slumbers of his companions.  He awoke them at the hour of Matins, that they might recite their Office in common; and when he was tarrying in any monastery, even of another Order, he would knock at the cell-doors, exhorting the inmates to arise and descend to the choir.


He preached to all whom he met in the roads, towns, villages, châteaux, and monasteries.  His words were the words of love.  His protracted studies at Palencia and Osma had initiated him into all the mysteries of Christian theology, which, welling forth from the depths of his loving heart, carried conviction to the most obdurate.  A young man, enraptured by his eloquence, asked him what books he studied.  He replied, “My son, chiefly in the book of charity, for that teaches everything.”[11] When in the pulpit, he often wept, and was generally full of that supernatural melancholy resulting from a deep insight into spiritual things.  When he perceived the crowed roofs of distant towns and cities, the thought of human misery and sin so saddened his reflections that his face betrayed his grief.  Love, joy, trouble, and serenity passed in rapid succession across his brow, rendering his countenance most attractive in its expressiveness.  “He was amiable to all,” said one of the witnesses in the process of his canonization, “to rich and to poor, and to the numerous Jews and infidels of Spain, in which country he was beloved by all, save by heretics and the enemies of the Church, whom he convinced by his controversies and his sermons.”[12]




[1] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk ii.

[2] Ibid., Bk ii ch. Vii.

[3] Actes de Bologne, deposition of Fr. Ventura, n. 9.

[4] Vincent de Beauvais, Miroir Histo., Bk xxx. Ch. lxxvii.

[5] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk ii. ch.v.

[6] In vol. i. of the Annales des Frères Prêcheurs, by Mamachi, p. 60, Appendix.

[7] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk ii. ch.x.

[8] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk ii.

[9] Actes de Bologne, deposition of Jean de Navarre, n. 3.

[10] Third deposition of Bonvisi de Piacenza.

[11] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk ii. ch.xxv.

[12] Actes de Bologne, deposition of Jean de Navarre, n. 3.


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