Translation and canonization of St. Dominic


Twelve years had elapsed since St. Dominic’s death.  God had manifest His servant’s sanctity by numerous miracles wrought at his tomb or obtained by his intercession.  Crowds of sick persons were constantly seen frequenting his resting-place, who after passing the day and night in the vicinity, went away healed, rendering thanks to St. Dominic for their cure.  The surrounding walls were hung with ex votos, and time did not augment the veneration in which the Saint was held.  But on the Friar’s eyes a cloud seemed to rest; whilst their founder was exalted by the people, his children, far from cherishing his memory, seemed but desirous of dimming its radiancy.  Not only did they leave his tomb devoid of ornament, but, lest they should be accused of seeking some personal advantage from the veneration of which their founder was already the object, they even removed the ex votos suspended from the walls.  Such a mode of procedure was uncongenial to some of their number, who nevertheless did not venture to oppose their brethren.  Finding their number constantly increasing, the Friars were compelled to pull down the old church of San-Niccolà in order to erect a new one, and the holy Patriarch’s tomb was left unsheltered and exposed to the rain and to the destructive influence of the seasons.  Many of the Friars were so moved by this sight that hey consulted together touching the removal of the precious relics to a more fitting resting-place; but they thought this could only be done with the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff.  The Blessed Jourdain de Saxe expresses himself thus with regard to this point:= “Undoubtedly sons have the right of burying their father; but, in the exercise of this filial duty, God permitted them to seek the help of one far greater than themselves, so that the translation of the glorious Dominic should thereby be invested with a canonical character.”[1]


So the Friars prepared a new tomb more worthy of their Father, and sent several of their number to consult with the Sovereign Pontiff.  The venerable Ugolino Conti then filled the Papal throne, under the title of Gregory IX.  He gave the Friars a very cold reception, reproaching them for having so long neglected rendering due honor to their Father, adding, “I knew this truly apostolic man, and doubt not that in heaven he shares the glory of the Holy Apostles.”[2] He even desired to be present at the translation; but as the duties of his office prevented his carrying this design into execution, he wrote to the Archbishop of Ravenna commanding him to proceed to Bologna in company with his suffragans, in order to be present at the ceremony.


It was Pentecost in the year of grace 1233.  The Chapter-General of the Order assembled at Bologna, and was presided over by the second Master-General, Jourdain de Saxe.  In obedience to the Papal command, the Archbishop of Ravenna, and the Bishops of Bologna, Brescia, Modena, and Tournay were then present at Bologna.  More than three hundred Friars from different countries had arrived.  A large concourse of nobles and citizens of distinction from neighboring towns crowded the different hostelries.  All were full of expectation.  “Nevertheless,” says the Blessed Jourdain de Saxe, “behold the Friars in a state of extreme anxiety; they pray, grow pale, and tremble, fearful lest the Saint’s body, so long exposed in its neglected tomb to the heat and the rain, should have become the prey of worms, and exhale an odor by which its reputation for sanctity should be diminished.[3] Tormented by this idea, they though of opening the tomb in secret; but this God did not permit.  Either suspecting their intention, or desirous of establishing more firmly the proofs of the authenticity of the relics, the Podestate of Bologna had the tomb guarded by armed knights.  Nevertheless it was decided that, in order to secure more freedom of action, and also avoid the confusion that would result from the immense concourse of persons then present in Bologna, the tomb should be opened at night.  Therefore, before daybreak on 24th May, two days after Pentecost, the Archbishop of Ravenna and the other Bishops, the Master-General of the Order, the leading nobles and citizens of Bologna and of the neighboring towns, assembled by torchlight around the lowly stone which for twelve years had covered St. Dominic’s remains. In sight of all the spectators, Friar Stefano, Prior-Provincial of Lombardy, and Friar Rudolfo, aided by several other Friars, set about removing the cement in which the stone was laid.  It was excessively hard, and offered much resistance, but having at last succeeded in overcoming this, the outer walls of the tomb became visible, Friar Rudolfo loosened the bricks by means of a hammer, and they were then able to remove the stone slab by aid of pickaxes, but this was not effected without much difficulty.  On raising the stone, an indescribable perfume issued from the half-opened sepulcher, a perfume whose unimaginable fragrance was new to all.  So astonished and delighted were the spectators, that they fell on their knees, weeping and praising God.  The stone was then finally removed, and the wooden coffin enclosing he Saint’s relics was beheld reposing within the vault.  In the lid was a small opening through which the perfume issued abundantly, becoming yet more powerful with the removal of the coffin from the tomb. The knees of all were bent in veneration before that precious wood; they covered it with kisses and bedewed it with tears.  At last they opened it by removing the nails in the lid, and the mortal remains of St. Dominic were revealed to his Friars and to his friends.  There were only bones there, but bones whose celestial aroma bore witness to their glory and their life.  No mortal can fathom the overflowing joy of the spectators; no mortal pencil portray the glories of that balmy night, the eloquence of that silence; those Bishops, knights, and Friars; those tearful faces of kneeling forms bending over a coffin, and seeking by the aid of torches to discern that great and holy man who beheld them from the heights of heaven, and who responded to their pious affection by those invisible embraces which fill the soul with overpowering bliss.  The Bishops deemed their own hands not filial enough to touch the Saint’s remains, and left that consolation and honor to his children.  Jourdain de Saxe approached these holy relics with respectful devotion and removed them into a new coffin made of larix wood, which wood is said by Pliny to resist the effects of time.  The coffin was closed by a triple lock, of which one of the keys was entrusted to the Podestate of bologna, another to Jourdain de Saxe, and a third to the Prior-Provincial of Lombardy.  The coffin was then borne to the chaple, where a plain marble tomb awaited it. 


When the day arrived, the Bishops, clergy, Friars, and nobles reassembled within the Church of San-Niccolà, already thronged with a countless multitude, among which were persons of all nations.  The Archbishop of Ravenna sang the Mass of the day, which was that of the Tuesday in Whitsunweek, and by a touching coincidence the Introit commenced as follows:- Accipite jucunditatem gloriæ vestræ – Receive the joy of your glory.  A sublime fragrance, which the sweet clouds of incense could not overpower, issued from the open coffin; the blast of trumpets mingled from time to time with the chant of the priests and Friars; in the hands of he people shone a countless number of tapers, and even the hardest heart yielded to the chaste raptures of that triumph of sanctity.  The ceremony over, the Bishops deposited the closed coffin within the marble tomb, there to await in peace and glory the signal of the resurrection.  But at the solicitation of several illustrious persons who had been unable to assist at the translation, the tomb was opened.  Jourdain de Saxe, taking within his hands the venerated head of the holy Patriarch, presented it to more than three hundred Friars, who then had the consolation of touching it with their lips, which for a long space of time retained the perfume of that kiss.  Whatever touched the Saint’s relics became impregnated with their virtue.  “We ourselves,” says the Blessed Jourdain de Saxe, “have smelt this precious odor, and that which we have perceived we declare unto you.  It seemed as if we never could satisfy ourselves with that fragrance, although we tarried for many hours near St. Dominic’s remains.  It never palled upon the senses, but excited the heart to piety; miracles were wrought by it, and the same odor was at once imparted to whatever touched the body, whether hand or girdle or any other object.”


With regard to this, Thierry d’Apolda says that during his lifetime God had vouchsafed the Saint this external mark of a purity of soul.  One feast day when celebrating Mass at Bologna, a student approached at the moment of the offertory and kissed the Saint’s hand.  Now it so happened that this young man was a victim to unchastity, from which, probably, he sought to be released. In kissing Dominic’s hand he was conscious of a perfume that suddenly revealed to him all the honor and joy of the pure in heart, and from that moment he, by God’s grace, overcame his corrupt propensities.


The striking miracles accompanying the translation of the Saint determined Gregory IX to defer the canonization no longer.  By a letter of the 11th July 1233, the three following ecclesiastics were appointed to examine into the facts of the Saint’s life, viz., Tancredo, Archdeacon of Bologna; Thomas, Prior of Santa-Maria-du-Rhin; and Palmeri, Canon of Santa-Trinita.  The inquiry lasted from the 6th to the 30th of August.  During this interval the nine following Friars – selected from the number of those intimately acquainted with St. Dominic – were sworn and their evidence heard.  They were Ventura de Verona, Guillaume de Montferrat, Amison de Milano, Bonvisi di Piacenza, Jean de Navarre, Rodolfo di Faënza, Etienne d’Espangne, Paulo di Venezia, Frugeri de Penna.  None of these witnesses having known St. Dominic in the early days of his apostolate, save Jean de Navarre, the Papal commissioners considered it necessary to form a second center of inquiry in Languedoc, consisting of the Abbot of Saint-Saturnin-de-Toulouse, the Archdeacon of the same church, and the Archdeacon of St. Etienne.  Twenty-six witnesses were examined, besides which, more than three hundred illustrious persons confirmed by oath and sign-manual all that the witnesses had deposed respecting St. Dominic’s virtues and the miracles obtained by his intercession.  The precise date of this document is not known, but it was near the end of 1233 or the commencement of the following year.


The deposition from Bologna and Toulouse having been forwarded to Rome, Gregory IX, deliberated thereon with the Sacred College.  A contemporary author states that on that occasion the Holy Father, speaking of St. Dominic, said, “I no more doubt his sanctity than I do that of St. Peter and St. Paul.”[4] The Bull of canonization which was the result of these proceedings is couched in the following terms:- “Gregory, Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to our venerable brothers the Archbishops and Bishops, to our dear sons the Abbots, Priors, Archdeacons, Archpriests, Deans, Provosts, and other Prelates of the Church whom these letters shall reach; health and apostolic benediction.


“The source of wisdom, the Word of the Father, whose essence is goodness, whose work is mercy, how redeems and regenerates those whom He has created, and who will t end the vine He has brought out of Egypt, even unto the end of the world, He, our Lord Jesus Christ, sends new signs and miracles, rendered necessary by the instability of men’s minds and the daring attitude of unbelief.  At the death of Moses, i.e., at the close of the Old testament dispensation, He mounts the four-hours chariot of the Gospel, fulfilling he oaths sworn to our fathers, and having in His hand the bow of Holy Writ, which He kept bent during the Jewish times, He crosses the waves of the sea to that vast extent of nations whose salvation was prefigured in Rahab; He is about to destroy the pride of Jericho, the glory of the world, and him whom in the sight of astonished nations He has already conquered by the first sound of His voice.  The prophet Zacharias beheld four chariots coming out from the midst of two mountains of brass.  In the first were red horses, and by them are typified the rulers of nations, the strong ones of the earth, who serving by faith the God of Abraham, the father of the faithful, have, after his example, and in order to strengthen the foundation of their faith, dyed their garments in Bozra, that is to say, in the waters of tribulation, and reddened all their standards with their blood; these are they who, in view of the glory to come, despised the temporal sword, and who, in becoming martyrs, that is, witnesses, have by their confession subscribed the book of the new law, added to their confession the weight of miracles, consecrated the book and the tabernacles (the work not of ma but of God), and all the vessels of the gospel ministry, not with the blood of animals, but with that of human victims; and at last, by throwing the net of preaching across the vast extent of seas, have drawn within the Church of God all the nations under heaven.  But power having given rise to presumption and liberty to license, the horses of the second chariot were black, symbol of mourning and of penance.  They prefigured that battalion led by the Spirit of God into the desert under the direction of St. Benedict, that new Elijah of the new Israel, that battalion which restored to the children of the prophets the lost treasure of community life, reunited the severed links of unity, and by its good deeds extended itself as far as that land of the north whence all evil proceeds, and gave to the contrite-hearted Him who dwells not with the slave of sin.  After this, as if to refresh the wearied bands and give them joy for lamentation, the third chariot appeared with white horses, that is, with the monks of Cîteaux and of Flore, who as sheep newly shorn, and full of the milk of charity, issued from the bath of penance headed by St. Bernard, that ram clothed with the Spirit of God, who has led them into the thick of the valleys, so that the passers-by, delivered by them, may cry mightily to the Lord, hymn His praise, and pitch the camp of the God of battles even on the very waves of the sea.  These are the three armies with which the new Israel has defended herself from the equal ranks of the Philistines.  But at the eleventh hour, when the shades of night began to fall; when, because iniquity abounded, the love of mercy grew cold, and the Sun of justice was Himself nearing the horizon, the Lord of the vineyard desired to assemble another army yet more capable of protecting the vine that He had planted, and which, although tended by many laborers hired at different seasons, had nevertheless become encumbered with thorns and briars, and was almost destroyed by a hostile number of little foxes.  Therefore, after the three first chariots, each with its different symbols, God raised up in our sight, under the figure of a fourth chariot drawn by strong horses of another color, the legions of the Friar Preachers and Minorites, headed by leaders chosen for the combat.  One was St. Dominic, a man endowed by God with strong and ardent faith, whom, as His glorious one, He sent forth on that divine mission of preaching.  Even in childhood he had a manly heart, practiced works of mortification, and walked in the presence of God.  Dedicated to God under the rule of St. Augustine, he resembled Samuel in his zeal for the house of God, and David in the fervor of his holy desires.  As a courageous athlete he pursued the paths of righteousness and the way of holiness, hardly even reposing from his spiritual labors, keeping his body in subjection to his will, his senses in subjection to his reason.  Spiritually united with God, he strove by contemplation to lose himself in the Divinity, and this without neglecting works of mercy, or diminishing his love for his neighbor.  Whilst waging deadly war against all sensuality, and illumining as with lightning-flash the blinded minds of the impious, the whole sect of heretics trembled and all the faithful leapt for joy.  He grew in grace even as he grew in years, and so zealous was he for the salvation of souls, that, not content with devoting himself wholly to the work of preaching, he enlisted such numbers beneath the same banner that he won a name and a place among the Patriarchs.  A prince and shepherd among God’s people, he instituted a new Order of Preachers, guided it by his example, and confirmed his mission by his miracles.  For among the tokens by which his power and sanctity were manifested during his life, he restored hearing to the deaf and speech to the dumb, gave sight to the blind, restored the paralytic, and healed a multitude of sick persons.  These miracles clearly revealed the spirit that animated his saintly frame.  We who knew him intimately in the days when we filled a less exalted office in the Church, who saw in his life an evident proof of his sanctity, now tat witnesses worthy of credit have attested to the truth of his miracles, we, together with the flock the Lord has entrusted to our care, believe that, thanks to the mercy of God, he may aid us by his suffrages, and after having consoled us on earth by his loving friendship, will aid us by his powerful patronage in heaven.  Therefore, with the advice and consent of our brethren, and of all the Prelates at that time present, we have resolved to enroll him in the book of saints, and we decree his feast, and to cause it to be solemnly celebrated during the nones of August,[5] on the eve of the day on which he laid down the burden of the flesh, and entered, rich in merits, within the city of the saints, so that God, whom in life he honored, moved by his prayers, may grant us grace now and glory hereafter.  Desiring, moreover, that the tomb of this great confessor, by whose miracles the Catholic Church is illumined, be worthily frequented and venerated by Christians.  To the faithful who, having confessed their sins with sorrow, shall visit the tomb each year with respect and veneration on the Saint’s feast-day, we grant an indulgence of a whole year, by virtue of the authority committed to us by God and by the blessed Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.  Given at Rieti, the 5th of the nones of July, in the eighth year of our Pontificate.[6]


With the exception of St. Hyacinth, Gregory IX was the last survivor of the great men who had loved St. Dominic and aided in the completion of his designs. He died August 21, 1241, at the age of ninety-seven, having been for thirty years a Cardinal, and fourteen years a Pope.  His personal qualities were neither eclipsed by the majesty of age nor the splendor of rank.  A jurisconsult, a man of letters, a clever negotiator, not only was he endowed with every mental and physical gift, but with a noble soul large enough to contain St. Francis and St. Dominic, both canonized by him.  It is not likely that we shall ever again see grouped around one single person such men as Azévédo, Montfort, Foulques, Reginald, Jourdain de Saxe, St. Hyacinth, Innocent III, Honorius III, and Gregory IX, nor so many virtues, nations, and events concur to bring about so mighty a result in so short at time.


With the Bull of canonization the cultus of St. Dominic spread throughout Europe; altars were erected to him in many places, but Bologna rendered herself conspicuous by her zeal for the great citizen bequeathed to her by death.  In 1267 she removed the body from the unsculptured tomb where he reposed to a richer and more decorated one.  This second translation was effected by the hands of the Archbishop of Ravenna, in presence of many other Bishops and of the Chapter-General of the Friar Preachers, and also of the Podestate and leading citizens of Bologna.  The coffin was opened and the head of the Saint, after having been kissed by the Bishops and Friars, was exhibited to the people from a pulpit erected outside the Church of San-Niccolà.  In 1383 the coffin was opened a third time, and the head placed in a silver urn, in order that the faithful might more readily enjoy the happiness of venerating that precious relic.  On July 16, 1473, the marble tomb was again removed and replaced by one more highly sculptured, in the style of the fifteenth century.  It was the work of Niccolò de Bari, and represents the different traits of the Saint’s life.  I shall not describe them.  I have seen them twice, and twice, while on my knees gazing at them, the beauty of the tomb has convinced that a Divine Hand guided that of the artist, forcing the stone to express the incomparable goodness of that heart whose dust it covered.  This glorious sepulcher has been untouched since then, and for three centuries no human eye has beheld the sacred remains which are interred there, nor even the wood of the coffin.  The world was no longer worthy of such a sight.  Dominic was conquered, at least, as much so as it is possible for him to be who had kept the battlefield for three hundred years.  He too is a victim to the ingratitude which deluded posterity has showered on the men and the undertakings of the Middle Ages, and must patiently wait in his sealed and silent tomb for that justice which, on reflection, none can refuse to those who have labored on their behalf.  Many of his contemporaries have seen their statues reinstated by history.  I am not so sanguine as to the result of my efforts, but Time will hold the pen when I am gone; and to Time I leave, without fear or jealousy, the duty of completion.




[1] Lettre Encyclique aux Frères, in the Actes des Saints, by Bollandus, vol. i., August, p. 524.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Etienne de Salanhac, Desquarte choses in quoi Dieu a honoré l’ordre des Frères Prêcheurs.

[5] The Feast of St. Sixtus was on 6ht August, and as the preceding day was dedicated to St. Mary ad Nives, St. Dominic’s was fixed for 14th August.

[6] Bullary of the Friar Prechers, vol. i. p. 57.  Vide also the Bolandists’ Commentaire Préalable aux Actes de St. Dominique, vol. i., which has been the subject of some controversy.


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Text from the 1880 Burns and Oats edition

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