St. Dominic’s sixth and last journey to Rome –

Second Chapter-General – The Saint’s illness and death


With the institution of the Third Order St. Dominic’s work was accomplished.  Nothing now remained to be done save to bid farewell to all he had loved on earth; and without doubt Rome was the spot he held most dear.  Ere commencing his public life, he had journeyed thither with his earliest friend, Azévédo, and returned there to obtain the confirmation of his Order.  In Rome he founded San-Sisto and Santa-Sabina, and made that city the center of his Order.  There he filled the office of Master of the Sacred palace, won the confidence of two eminent Pontiffs, restored three persons to life, and became the object of an ever-increasing veneration.  Rome was the seat of the Infallible Vicar of Him whom Dominic had ever loved and served.  How could he close his eyes in death ere receiving once more the Papal benediction and gazing on those hills encircling the holy city?  How fold his hands for their last rest ere offering the Holy Sacrifice once again on the altars of St. Peter and St. Paul?  How take his last sleep until his feet had once more pressed the soil they had so often trod?


For a sixth time Rome welcomed to her maternal embrace that great man to whom she had given birth in her old age, that son who should raise up to her a faithful seed, even in lands as yet unknown.  Honorius III gave him many written proofs of his paternal affection and solicitude.  In the first of these, dated 8th December 1220, he relieved several Friars from the irregularity they had incurred by their uncanonical reception of holy orders.  In three other documents, dated 18th January, 14th February, and 29th March of the following year, he recommends the Friars to the whole of the Christian hierarchy.  In another, of the 6th of May, he gave them permission to offer the Holy Sacrifice on a portable altar, in case of necessity.  This was the last page Honorius signed in favor of the Order during its founder’s life.  This Pontiff had the singular privilege of beholding St. Dominic and St. Francis flourish during his reign, and his acts proved him not unworthy of this singular favor.


Whilst Dominic was paying his farewell visit to Rome, Providence sent him his earliest living friend, Foulques, Bishop of Toulouse.  The sight of him recalled olden days in Languedoc, the erection of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille and Saint-Romain-de-Toulouse, together with all the blessings and memories that clustered around the cradle of the Order.  How sweet must the converse of those two have been!  God had crowned their mutual and secret vows by an unprecedented success; and the office of preaching, the necessity of re-establishing which they had so often discussed, was now exalted throughout the Church by a Religious Order already extending from one end of Europe to the other.  Their share in this great work awoke within them no feeling of pride, but their joy in the Church’s glory was the deeper for their previous sorrow at her woes.  Foulques felt no regret that God had chosen another to be the chief instrument in carrying out His plan.  From the very commencement he had been superior to the secret sting of envy, and his truly paternal soul rose above those fears so natural when another is at the helm.  His crown was pure, his heart content.  And for Dominic, what more could he desire?  Oh, happy moment when the Christian, at the end of his course, filled with the happy consciousness of having accomplished God’s will, shares the peace resulting from that holy service with another Christian, his companion and his friend!


One document extant owes its existence to this meeting.  It is a species of testament, the perusal of which will console the reader for possessing no further details of their last intercourse.


“In the name of God, be it known to all who shall read these lines, that for the remission of our sins, for the defense of the Catholic faith, and for the welfare of the whole diocese, we, Foulques, grant to you Dominic, MASTER OF PREACHING, to your successors, and to the Friars of the Order, the church of Notre-Dame-de-Fanjeaux, together with all the tithes and rights thereto pertaining, both those belonging to us personally, and those appertaining to the church and to the chaplain thereof; saving and except that we reserve to ourselves and to our successors the cathedral rights, and the power of attorney, and also the cure of souls, with which the priest presented to us by the Master-General, by the Prior of the above church, or by the Friars of the Order, will be invested.  And we, Dominic, MASTER OF PREACHING, in our own name and in that of our successors and of the Friars of our Order, cede to you, Foulques, Bishop, and to your successors, the sixth part of the tithes of all the parish churches of the Toulouse diocese, which tithes were formerly granted us by you, with the full consent of the Canons of St. Etienne.  We renounce this donation for ever, as well as our legal and canonical rights thereto.”[1]


This document is dated Rome, 17th April 1221.  Three seals are appended, those of the cathedral of St. Etienne, Foulques, and Dominic.  Dominic’s seal represents him standing dressed in the Friar Preacher’s garb and holding a staff; around it are engraved these words: “Seal of Dominic, Minister of Preaching.”  This proves that the lofty title of Master of Preaching, attributed to him in the above deed, was not his own choice, but was an homage on the part of Foulques, who could find no words more fitted to express the high esteem in which he held his friend.  In his Bulls and letters, the Holy Father always styled Dominic, Prior of Saint-Romain, and later on, Prior of the Order of Friar Preachers.


Foulques survived Dominic for the space of ten years.  He died on the 25th December 1231, and was interred in a chapel within the Abbey of Grand-Selve, not far from Toulouse.  His tomb has disappeared beneath the existing ruins; but the lapse of ages and the vicissitudes of empires cannot efface the memory of an individual so intimately united with one over whose early career and destiny he has so faithfully watched, and by whose success he has been immortalized.


A few days after signing the above-named deed, Dominic set out from Rome by the Tuscan Road, on which route lay Bolsena, by one of whose inhabitants he had often been hospitably received, and who, during the Saint’s life, was rewarded for such hospitality in the following miraculous manner.  During a violent storm that ravaged the vineyard at Bolsena, Dominic was seen in the air extending his cloak over his host’s vineyard, thus preserving it from the hail.  This spectacle was witnessed by all the inhabitants, and Thierry d’Apolda mentions that, as late as the thirteenth century, the cottage where Dominic resided when passing through Bolsena was still to be seen in the vineyard.  It was carefully preserved by the descendants of its former proprietor, in accordance with whose express recommendation the Friar Preachers always received a kindly welcome there.  In the year 1221, Pentecost fell on the 30th May.  It was the day fixed for the opening of the second Chapter-general at Bologna.  On entering San-Niccolà, Dominic observed that they were raising the walls of one of the wings of the monastery in order to enlarge the cells.  At seeing this he wept, saying to Friar Rodolfo, the procurator, and to the other Friars, “How now! You wish to renounce poverty already, and build yourselves palaces!”  He commanded that the work should be stopped, and it was not recommenced until after his death.


We know nothing of the doings of the second Chapter-general, save the division of the Order into eight Provinces, viz., Spain, Provence, France, Lombardy, Rome, Germany, Hungary, and England.  Precedence was granted to Spain, not by virtue of antiquity, but out of respect for the holy Patriarch to whom she had given birth.  Suéro Gomez was appointed Prior-Provincial of Spain; Bertrand de Garrigue, of Provence; Matthieu de France, of France; Jourdain de Saxe, of Lombardy; Giovanni di Piacenza, of Rome; Conrad le Teuton, of Germany; and Gilbert de Frassinet, Provincial of England.  In the six first-named Provinces about sixty monasteries had been founded in less than four years.  The two last, Hungary and Germany, having as yet received no Friar Preachers, Dominic at once dispatched members of the Order to those provinces. 


Paul, destined for Hungary, was a professor of canon law in the University of Bologna, and had quite recently entered religion.  He set out with four companions, among whom was Friar Sadoc, a man renowned for his great virtues.  Thy founded their first monasteries in Vseprin and Albe-Royale, and later on advanced to the territory of the Cumans, so long the object of Dominic’s solicitude, and amongst whom he desired to end his days.  I shall relate but one incident in connection with the establishment of the Friars in Hungary; it will initiate us more fully into the manner in which those holy undertakings ere accomplished.  “In those days two Friars of the Hungarian Province arrived at a certain village at the hour of Mass.  When Mass was ended and the people had returned to their homes, the sacristan closed the church door and the Friars remained outside, no one having offered them any hospitality.  Seeing this, a poor fisherman was moved by compassion, and yet dared not ask them under his roof, having nothing to set before them.  He ran home, saying to his wife, ‘Oh, would that we had some food to give those poor Friars! It grieves me to see them standing there at the church door, and no one offers them anything.’  The woman replied, ‘We have no food at all, save a little millet.’ Her husband nevertheless bid her shake the purse to see if there was not something in it; she did so, and to their surprise two pieces of money fell out.  Transported with joy, the fisherman said to his wife, ‘Go, quickly, by some bread and wine, and cook the millet and the fish.’ He then rant to the church, and finding the Friars still there, humbly invited them to come home with him.  The Friars, seating themselves at that poor table where so great love presided, appeased their hunger, and after thanking their hosts, withdrew, praying to God to reward their entertainers.  God heard their prayer; and from that day the fisherman’s purse was never empty; there were always two pieces of money in it.  Its owner purchased a house, fields, sheep and oxen; moreover, the Lord gave him a son.  And not until he was well provided for did the miracle of the two pieces of money cease.”[2]


The English mission was as successful as the Hungarian one.  Gilbert de Frassinet, its head, presented himself and his twelve companions to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who at once ordered Gilbert to preach before him in a church, the pulpit of which he himself had intended to occupy that day.  So pleased was he with the result, that he at once extended his friendship to the friars, and remained their faithful protector till death.  Their first establishment was at Oxford, where they erected a chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, and opened schools, named, after the parish in which they were situated, St. Edward’s.  Now that Dominic had established his Order in England and Hungary, the whole of Europe was his.


Ere long Heaven warned him of his approaching end.  One day, while praying and longing for the dissolution of his earthly tenement, a young man of great beauty appeared, saying to him, “Come, my beloved, enter into bliss!”[3] The exact time of his departure was also revealed to him.  And on visiting some of the university students of Bologna, to whom he has much attached, after conversing with them a while, he arose to take his leave, exhorting them to despise the world and remember the hour of death, adding, “Dear friends, now you see me in good health, but ere the Feast of the Assumption I shall have departed this mortal life.”[4]


After this he started for Venice, to commend the interests of his Order once more to Cardinal Ugolino, then residing in Venice as Legate Apostolic, and also to take a lasting farewell of so dear a friend.  It was the height of summer when he returned, arriving at the monastery of San-Niccolà one evening lat in July.  Though much fatigued by the journey, he conversed for a long while with Prior Rodolfo and Friar Ventura, the procurator, respecting the affairs of the Order.  Towards midnight, the latter, being very tired, urged Dominic to retire to rest and not rise for Matins.  The Saint would not consent, but spent the night in prayer within the church, remaining there until the time of Office, which he celebrated with the Friars.  After it was ended, he told Friar Ventura that he was suffering from headache; and shortly after, violent dysentery set in, accompanied by fever.  Though in great pain, he refused to go to bed, and only lay down on a woolen sack, dressed in his usual garb.  The progress of the malady elicited no murmur, groan, or sign of impatience from the sufferer, who remained joyous as ever.  But feeling that he was rapidly growing worse, he sent for the Friars, in whose presence he made a general confession to Friar Ventura. When it was concluded, he addressed them, saying, “Divine mercy has preserved my virginity unsullied to this day; if you desire the same grace, shun all dangerous intimacy.  Chastity renders its possessor pleasing in the Lord’s sight, and honored and esteemed by man.  Continue to serve God fervently; exert yourselves to maintain and extend this Order, which has only just begun; be steadfast in holiness, constant in obedience, and increase in all virtue.”[5] Then, in order to rouse them to greater vigilance, he added, “Although Divine Goodness has hitherto kept me pure, I avow there is one imperfection I have not been able to overcome, that of taking more pleasure in conversing with young women than with aged ones.”[6] Then, alarmed at his own sweet, saintly naïveté, he said in a low voice to Friar Ventura, “Brother, I think I have committed sin by speaking to the Friars publicly of my virginity; I ought not to have mentioned it.”[7] Then, turning to them again, bequeathed them the following legacy, saying: “My beloved brothers, this is the inheritance your Father leaves you; love on another, practice humility, and be faithful in the observance of voluntary poverty,”[8] And in order to give greater force to the last clause of this testament, whoever should dare to corrupt his Order by bringing into it any worldly possessions, he threatened with God’s malediction and his own.


The Friars did not yet despair of their Father’s recovery, neither did they believe that God would so soon deprive the Church and themselves of his presence.  In compliance with medical advice, and thinking that change of air might prove beneficial, they moved him to Santa-Maria, a church situated on an eminence near Bologna. But prayers and remedies were of no avail.  Dominic grew worse, and believing himself near death, summoned the Friars anew.  Twenty of them came with Ventura, their Prior, and ranged themselves around the sick man. Nothing has been preserved of the nature of Dominic’s words on this occasion, save that never had more touching, heartfelt utterances issued from his lips.  After this he received extreme unction.  And learning from Friar Ventura that the monk appointed to the Church of Santa-Maria intended to bury him there, he said, “God forbid that I should be buried elsewhere than beneath the feet of my Friars. Carry me out into the vineyard, that I may die there and be interred in our own church.”[9] then the Friars took him back to Bologna, fearing every moment that he would expire in their arms.  As he had no cell of his own, they placed him in that of Friar Moneta.  They wished to change his garments, but having none save those which he word, Moneta gave one of his own tunics with which to cover him.  Friar Rodolfo supported the Saint’s head, wiping the death-sweat from his brow, the rest of the Friars looking on, weeping.  In order to comfort them, Dominic said, “Do not weep.  I shall be of more use to you where I am going than I have been here.”[10] One of the Friars asked him where he desired to be interred.  He replied, “Beneath the feet of my Friars.”[11] This was about an hour after their arrival in Bologna.  Dominic observing that the Friars were so overwhelmed by grief that they were forgetting to pray for his departing soul, sent for Friar Ventura, telling him to “make ready.”[12] They did so at once, and ranged themselves in solemn order around the dying man.  He told them to “wait a while;” and Ventura, embracing this last opportunity spoke thus to the Saint: “Father, you know in what grief and desolation you leave us; remember us in the presence of the Lord.”[13] Then Dominic, raising his eyes and hands to heaven, uttered this prayer: “Holy Father, I have accomplished Thy will, and those whom Thou hast given I have kept; I now commend them unto Thee.  Do Thou preserve and keep them.”[14] And a moment later he told them to “begin.”[15] They then commenced the solemn prayers for the departing soul, in which, from the movement of his lips, Dominic appeared to take part.  When they came to these words, “Let the holy angels of God come forth to meet him, and conduct him to the city of the Heavenly Jerusalem,” his lips moved for the last time; he raised his hands heavenwards, and God received his soul.  This occurred at noon on Friday, 6th August 1221.


At the self-same day and hour, Friar Guala, Prior of the monastery of Brescia, and afterwards Bishop of the same town, resting for a moment against the bell-tower of the monastery, fell into a light slumber, during which he beheld, in spirit, heaven open, and two ladders descending thence to earth. Above one was our Lord Jesus Christ, and that the summit of the other was His Blessed Virgin Mother.  Between the two ladders, at their base, was placed a seat, on which was a person resembling a friar, but his face being covered with a hood, after the manner of the dead, it was impossible to discern who he was.  Ascending and descending the ladders were angels singing canticles.  The ladders and he who was seated thereon, were drawn up by our Lord and His Blessed Mother, and when they had quite reached heaven, it closed, and the vision disappeared.  Though still week from the effects of a recent illness, Friar Guala at once repaired to Bologna, where he learnt that Dominic’s death took place on the very day and at the very hour in which he had sent the vision.


On the same day, two Friars living in Rome went to Tivoli, arriving there a little before noon.  Tancred ordered his companion to say Mass, and on the latter making his confession, Tancred told him that as his penance he was to offer the Holy Sacrifice for their Father Dominic, then sick at Bologna. Reaching that part of the Mass where commemoration of the living is made, on directing his intention as enjoined, he fell into and ecstasy, during which he beheld Dominic leaving Bologna, having a golden crown upon his brow, surrounded with a brilliant light, and accompanied by two venerable persons, one on each side.  It was also revealed to him at the same time that the servant of God had just expired, and had gloriously entered the celestial country. 


We have not far to seek for the meaning of these two ladders and the two aged persons.  Doubtless they are typical of action and contemplation, those two things so marvelously combined by Dominic in himself and in his order.


Providentially, Cardinal Ugolino arrived at Bologna shortly after Dominic had breathed his last.  Desiring to celebrate the Funeral Office, he came to San-Niccolà, where the Patriarch of Aquilea, several bishops, Abbot, nobles, and a number of persons had assembled.  The body of the Saint was brought forth, spoiled of its sole remaining treasure, an iron chain, which had been won next the flesh, and which Friar Rudolfo had removed on robbing him in his grave-clothes.  The chain was afterwards given by him to the Blessed Jourdain de Saxe.  All hearts and eyes were riveted on that lifeless body.  The Office commenced by mournful strains, partaking of the universal sadness, and falling like tears from the mourners’ lips.  By degrees the Friars raised their thoughts above this world; they no longer beheld their Father vanquished by death, leaving them only his lifeless remains.  They were certain that he had entered glory; the funeral lamentations gave way to a song of triumph, and an unspeakable joy descended from heaven upon the hearts of all.  At this moment, Albert, Prior of Santa-Caterina of Bologna, for whom Dominic had cherished a warm affection, entered the church, and the joy of the Friars contrasting so vividly with his own deep sorrow, he could no longer restrain himself.  Throwing himself on the lifeless body of the Saint, he covered him with kisses, holding him in a long embrace, as if to compel him to return to life and speak to him.  His friend’s remains responded to this deep love.  Albert arose, saying to Prior Ventura, “Good news, Father Prior.  Master Dominic has embraced me, and has told me that this very year I shall rejoin him in Christ.”[16] He died within the year.  At the close of this Office, in which such intense grief and joy were so strangely blended, the Friars deposited their Father’s remains in a simple wooden coffin with long iron nails.  He was placed there just as he was when he died, with no other perfume than the odor of his virtues.  Beneath the pavement of the church a grave had been dug, the sides of which had been lined with thick stones.  The coffin was let down, and re-covered with a heavy stone, carefully cemented, to guard it from the touch of rash hands.  Nothing was engraved on this stone, neither was any monument erected.  Dominic was, as he had desired to be, literally beneath his Friars’ feet.  On the night of his interment, a student of Bologna, who had been unable to be present at the funeral, beheld hem in a dream in the church of San-Niccolà seated on a throne and crowned with glory.  Astonished at the sight, he said, “Did you not die, Master Dominic?” The Saint replied, “I am not dead, my dear son, because I have a Good Master, with whom I live.”[17] On the following morning the student repaired to the Church of San- Niccolà and found Dominic’s tomb on the very spot where he had beheld him seated on a throne. 


Such in the life and death was Dominic de Gusman, founder of the Order of Friar Preachers, a man endowed by nature with a most brilliant genius and most tender heart, gifts rarely combined in the same individual.  The former manifested itself in the unceasing activity of his daily life, and the latter in that inner life of which it may be truly said, that each breath was an act of love to God and man.  His contemporaries have bequeathed us brief but numerous records concerning him.  Their perusal has filled me with admiration, so simple yet sublime is the spirit pervading them; it has filled me with astonishment on account of the character ascribed by them to their hero. For though I was certain that St. Dominic had been maligned by modern writers, I had no idea that history afforded so little warrant for their assertions.  I have undeceived myself, and in so doing have learnt how difficult it is to preserve here below even a few vestiges of truth.  What I have found I have faithfully recorded; but it was impossible to transcribe the deep love for Dominic with which these ancient writings overflow, nor yet the inexhaustible pleonasms with which the thirteenth century speaks of his gentleness, kindness, mercy, compassion, and all those varying hues of which his loving heart was so susceptible.  Their testimony is unimpeachable; they never dreamt of writing from our point of view. If unable to reproduce all the tenderness in my copy of their portrait, I have at least learnt to blush ad the mere thought of transforming his history into an apology: to do so would be to insult this great man, therefore I close my record of his life, but proffer no defense.  I imitate his children, who graved no epitaph upon his tomb, so persuaded were they that words were needless there.  But as his earliest biographers, before taking their leave of him, piously preserved the chief traits of his physiognomy, I will do the same; and though acknowledging my own inability to equal the force and naïveté of their description, I will borrow from the earliest and most illustrious of their number the venerated portrait of my Father. 


The Blessed Jourdain de Saxe says:- “So pure was he and so full of holy zeal, that at the first glance on knew him to be a vessel of honor and grace, replete with precious gifts.  Nought save compassion and pity could later the serenity of his soul.  And because a contented heart makes glad the countenance, the peaceful and happy expression of his features revealed the inner calm of his soul, over which no shade of anger ever passed.  He was resolute in his undertakings, and his words were well and carefully weighed.  His countenance, though radiant with sweetness and amiability, commanded respect; yet he easily won the hearts of all, even at first sight.  Whether journeying with companions, partaking of hospitality at a stranger’s table, or surrounded by nobles, princes, and prelates, it mattered not; wherever he was, his conversation and example incited men to the contempt of the world, and to the love of God.  In word and deed he was truly an apostolic man.  By day, when in the society of his Friars or with his companions, he was most winning and agreeable; by night, he exceeded others in his vigils and his prayers.  His tears he kept for evening, his joy for morning; and knowing that God has set apart the day for works of mercy, and night for prayer, he gave the former to his neighbor and the latter to his God. He wept much and often; tears were his food by night and day, when offering the Holy Sacrifice, and also during his nocturnal vigils.  He rarely slept on a bed, but passed his nights in church, watching and praying though the hours of darkness as long as his bodily strength permitted, and when at last overpowered by weakness, would take a short sleep in front of the altar, or elsewhere, resting his head, like Jacob, on a stone, and on awakening, would continue his devotions.  So wide was his charity that it embraced the whole human race, and as he loved all, so was he beloved by all.  He rejoiced with those who rejoiced, and wept with those who wept, devoting himself to his neighbor and to the afflicted.  The simplicity of his conduct made him universally beloved, so free was it from subtilty and guile.  Being a lover of poverty, he word but mean garments; he kept his body in subjection, observing great abstemiousness in eating and drinking, content with simple food, moderate in the use of wine, taking only enough to satisfy the needs of the body and yet leave his mind fresh and unclouded.  Who shall ever equal this man’s virtue? Admire hem we may, and note how far he excels all others of our day; but attain his eminence in sanctity, that none can hope to do, save those privileged ones, if any such there be, to whom god shall vouchsafe His special grace to raise them to the same degree of holiness.  Nevertheless, brothers, let us imitate our Father, as far as in us lies, and rendering thanks to the Redeemer in that He has given His servants such a guide, let us entreat the Father of Mercies that, aided by that Spirit by which His children are led, and following in the steps of our predecessors, we may enter by the narrow way into that blissful country whither the blessed Dominic has gone before.”[18]




[1] In Mamachi, Annals de l’Ordre des Frères Prêcheurs, vol. i., Appendix, p. 70.

[2] Thierry d’Apolda, Vie de St. Dominique, ch. xxvii. n. 319 and 320.

[3] Barthélemy de Trente, Vie de St. Dominique, n. 13.

[4] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk. ii. ch. xxvii.

[5] The Blessed Jourdain de Saxe, Vie de St. Dominique, ch. iv. n. 68.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Actes de Bologne, Friar Ventura’s deposition, n. 7.

[10] Ibid., Friar Rodolfo’s deposition, n. 4.

[11] Ibid., n. 7.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk. ii. ch. xxiii.

[17] Ibid., Bk. ii. ch. xxix.

[18] Vie de St. Dominique, ch. iv. n. 74 &c.


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