Caleruega, Burgos, Spain in the year 1170.
Bologna, Italy. August 6, 1221.
He was canonized by Gregory IX in 1234.
St. Dominic was born into a noble family in Caleruega, Burgos, Spain in 1170. His parents and brothers are also venerated in the Church; his mother, Juana de Aza and his brother Manés have both been beatified and his father, Félix de Guzmán and his other brother, Anthony, are both venerable. The couple was family of the royal family.
When he was six or seven years old, he was sent to Gumiel de Izán, Burgos, to be educated by his uncle, Gonzalo, who was the town’s governor. During the time in which he was living with his uncle, it is believed that he began to feel called to the priesthood. When he was 14 years old, he moved to Palencia to finish his studies. There he studied Arts (Humanities and Philosophy). In 1190 he received the tonsure and was named canon regular in the cathedral of Osma. He then studied Theology until 1194, when he was ordained a priest. He was chosen as Regent of the Sacred Scripture Department in Palencia and spent 4 years there teaching. During his time as a student and as a teacher, St. Dominic stood out for his great love of Sacred Scripture and for his care for the poor.
In 1198 he joined the chapter in Osma, Soria. The bishop there immediately noticed the exceptional qualities of the canon and named him president of the chapter and Vicar General of the diocese. The prelate asked him to accompany him to Italy to attend to a matter, which the King of Castilla had entrusted to him. During the trip, the saint realized the need for evangelization and the problems that the Albigensian heresy was sowing throughout Europe. This led him to decide to go to France to preach, with the permission of the Pope. During the ten years in which he was preaching throughout France, other men, moved by his same ideals, began to join him. One of these men, Peter Sella, gave him his house, in Toulouse, France, and there the first community of the incipient Order of Preachers was established in 1215.
St. Dominic and his companions chose to live the Rule of St. Augustine, making necessary adaptations to give it the apostolic character of preaching that they desired to take on, and they wrote their constitutions. Pope Innocent III gave his blessing over the foundation, and, later, Pope Honorius III approved the Order of the Preaching Friars with the bull “Religiosam Vitam,” on December 22, 1216.
St. Dominic wanted his friars to live in austerity and poverty and emphasized the importance of the community life. He also wanted them to be well formed in doctrine, through prayer and study. This basis permitted them to fulfill their mission of evangelizing as itinerant preachers.
A year after the approval, St. Dominic decided that the moment had arrived for the community to disperse throughout Italy, France and Spain, so that their apostolate might be more effective and reach more people. The saint remained in Rome, though he frequently left the city to visit convents, traveling on foot and begging for his food and lodging. During this time, he became close friends with Cardinal Hugolino, who later became the pope who would canonize St. Dominic. Later, the Holy Father asked St. Dominic to bring together several women religious who had left their cloisters and were living throughout the city. The saint began a reform, giving the women his convent of St. Sixtus. In exchange, the Holy Father granted him the Basilica of St. Sabina, on the Aventine, to where the convent of Dominicans moved.
His reputation of holiness spread and on several occasions he worked miracles. However, his first biographer, blessed Jordan of Saxony, (who succeeded him as head of the Order) said that he stood out more for his good conduct and his spirit of prayer than for his supernatural prodigies. These are some of the aspects of his personality:
"He had a very constant spirit, except when he was moved by compassion and mercy. And, since a joyful heart gladdens one’s appearance, his interior was reflected outwards in his goodness and in the peacefulness of his face…Because of this, everyone easily loved him. As soon as they saw him, he easily entered their hearts. Where ever he was found, traveling with his companions, in a house with his host and the rest of the family, or among noblemen, princes and prelates, he always had something edifying to say and gave a good example, through which others were directed to the love of Christ and disdain of the world. In his words and in his actions, he was always an evangelical man. During the day, there was no one more kind and joyful with the other friars or traveling companions and at night, no one more perseverant in prayer. At night he cried but in the morning he was filled with joy. He consecrated the day to his neighbors and the night to the Lord, convinced that the Lord had sent his mercy during the day and his canticle at night…He was a true lover of poverty, he used the cheapest garments. He was very moderate in food and drink and avoided exquisite foods and joyfully contented himself with simple ones. He had a firm dominion over his body."
In 1220, he attended the first General Chapter of the Order in Bologna. The next year he convoked a new Chapter in which the Order was restructured into 8 provinces, for there were already 60 communities.
However Dominic was tired and fell seriously ill. On his death bed, he convoked his brothers together to leave them this testament: “Dear brothers, this which I leave you, by the right of inheritance of one’s children, is all that I possess: be charitable, maintain humility, possess voluntary poverty.” The brothers cried, knowing that his end was near. St. Dominic tried to encourage them and he assured them, "I will be more useful to you, and I will acquire greater graces for you, after my death." After all of his recommendations, he commended his soul to the Father with these words, “Holy Father, you know that I have always tried to do your will with all my heart. I have kept and conserved all those whom you have entrusted to me. I commend them to you; keep them and save them.” On August 6, 1221, surrounded by his brothers, he passed away and, according to his wishes, was buried in the convent in Bologna.
His successor, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, during the General Chapter in Bologna, in May of 1233, began Dominic’s “process of canonization” collecting testimonies of his life, death and miracles, in Bologna and in Toulouse.
On July 3, 1234, Pope Gregory IX (cardinal Hugolino), canonized St. Dominic in the city of Rieti, Italy, with the Bull “Fons Sapientiae.”
St. Dominic’s spirituality is profoundly marked by the mystery of the Cross. Christ Crucified, before whom he spent long hours and entire nights in prayer, penetrated and impelled his whole apostolic life. He had a special devotion to the Blood of Christ, poured out for the salvation of all men, which gave him a holy desire to spread this salvation to others.
St. Dominic’s love of the Eucharist was shown, above all, in the importance which he placed on the celebration of the Holy Mass. He taught his brothers to celebrate it and to live it well. Those who met him say that he shed many tears during the Mass and he was especially moved when he pronounced the words of the Eucharistic Prayer.
During the years in which St. Dominic preached in France against the Albigensian heresy, the Mother of God was his comfort and safehold. He didn’t have an easy life and he went to her, praying for the conversion of the enemies of the faith.
In 1208, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him to give him the Holy Rosary. She taught him to pray it and asked him to spread this devotion as a powerful weapon against heresies. The saint obeyed and thanks to the Rosary, many of the Albigensians converted.
Caleruega, Burgos, Spain
St. Dominic was baptized in the parish of St. Sebastian. You can see the baptistery there, however the baptismal font was moved to Madrid. In the Church’s crypt you can find what is called “St. Dominic’s little well,” a spring-fed well which appeared when they began to dig on the site of the Saint’s birth. A chapel was built around the well and later the church above it.
Burgo de Osma, Soria, Spain
St. Dominic was a canon regular in this town. The Crucifix before which he frequently prayed is found in the cathedral.
“St. Dominic’s cave,” where he went to pray and which is now converted into a chapel, can be found next to the Eresma river.
St. Dominic’s baptismal font is found in the Monastery of St. Dominic el Real in Madrid. The members of the Spanish royal family are baptized there.
St. Dominic’s remains can be found in the Basilica of St. Dominic. The Basilica belongs to the Dominican convent where the saint died.
Near the Thermal Baths of Caracalla is the convent that St. Dominic built next to the church of St. Sixtus. The Saint resurrected a young man there.
On the Aventine, in the Basilica of St. Sabina, you can find the cell where the saint slept during his stay in Rome.
By the saint:
St. Dominic didn’t leave any written works. Some of his letters and the Order of Preacher’s Constitutions are preserved. After his death, some spiritual writings were written down from his preaching’s. For example, “St. Dominic’s Nine Ways to Pray,” which you can find in religious bookstores and on some web pages of the Order of Preachers.
From the Popes:
- Encyclical Letter “Fausto Appetente” from Pope Benedict XV, in memory of the VII centenary of the death of St. Dominic. Given on June 29, 1921.
- Benedict XVI’s catechesis on Febuary 3, 2010.
- Benedict XVI’s catechesis on August 8, 2012.
From other authors:
-“St. Dominic” by Sister Mary Jean Dorcy, O.P.
-“St. Dominic’s Family: lives of over 300 famous Dominicans” by Sister Mary Jean Dorcy, O.P.
-“The Life of St. Dominic” by Sister Augusta Theodosia Drane.
-And for children, “St. Dominic and the Rosary” by Catherine Beebe.