Travelling was a characteristic aspect of St Dominic’s experience of life and of faith. We are proposing an itinerary which, developed on the layout of the ancient Via Francigena from Rome to Bologna, follows in the footsteps of St Dominic during his last journey.
You are invited to discover that you are travellers, pilgrims, wanderers, who feel the need to step forward in the impulse deep within you, to make it real or simply to accept it, becoming aware of it. You will discover that you are already on a path and that this, your own path, demands the accompaniment of the mind and heart – just as happened for Dominic, crossing half Europe on foot.
We are inviting you to undertake this pilgrimage, ideally following the stages suggested below, but also to really set out on a journey.
All the organisational information, on the distance between one stage and another, but also on the history, art and Dominican spirituality linked to these places, is available on the “SloWays” App, which can be downloaded free of charge from this link: www.sloways.eu/mobile-app-it.
For further information on the organisation of the journey, we refer you to the website of SloWays, an agency specialising in eco-friendly tourism and technical partner of the initiative: www.sloways.eu/viaggi?theme_id=26&theme_id=1.
St Dominic came to live in Santa Sabina in or about 1219. In Rome he devoted himself to founding a monastery of nuns, preached in the city and the surrounding area and carried through the process of foundation of the Order. His last journey, in 1221, took him from Rome to Bologna, where he died on 6 August of that year. Dominic was a man of prayer and preaching. He drew his strength from contemplation of the truth of God and imparted his faith to others. Of him his contemporaries said: “He always spoke with God or about God.”
The suggested pilgrimage is based on St Dominic’s last journey and is an invitation to meditate on the various aspects of his life and spirituality that formed the Order he founded. The texts illustrating this pilgrimage, which are drawn from his contemporaries or from those who have left us their account of the first years of the Order, are designed to act as impulses to link certain moments of St Dominic’s life with still-visible places and with others that have been destroyed or modified beyond recognition.
Dominic first came to Rome in 1205 or 1206; his second visit to the Eternal City was in 1215.
After meeting the Cathars as he and Diego d’Acebo were travelling towards northern Europe, Dominic had settled in the south of France, preaching above all to the Cathars, to whom he felt he had a special mandate. The friars who knew him agree that he truly suffered at the sight of so many people drawing way from the truth of the Gospel. He was full of compassion for those who had taken the wrong road, a road that would lead them away from eternal salvation – a fact that moved Dominic to tears. During the years he spent in the Languedoc he had founded a monastery for repentant Cathar women at Prouilhe, and a community of preachers in Toulouse. But this community could not remain a small group approved only by the bishop of Toulouse. Dominic had a vision of something greater, a genuine Order of Preachers who would be able to proclaim the Word of God in every city, every diocese and every country. In 1215 he had the opportunity to return to Rome, accompanying his bishop Fulk to the Fourth Lateran Council. It was this visit that made it possible for him to present his project to pope Innocent III.
St John Lateran
The Lateran was to be the most important place for Dominic on the two visits that are lined to the confirmation of the Order. This was where the Pope lived, this was where the Council fathers met and where Dominic was to meet one of his most important supporters and friends in the Roman Curia: the bishop of Ostia, Cardinal Ugolino, the future Pope Gregory IX. Pop Innocent III received Dominic at the Lateran for the first presentation of the new Order. Sadly, the audience did not have the hoped-for result. Jordan of Saxony, Dominic’s successor as Master of the Order, wrote:
“Br Dominic accompanied by the aforesaid Bishop went to the Council and with that same desire asked Pope Innocent to confirm for Br Dominic and his companions that Order that was to be in name and fact an Order of Preachers … But, having heard their request, The Roman Pontiff told Br Dominic to go back to his Friars to choose by common agreement, after discussing the matter with them, one of the Rules that were already approved … this done, Br Dominic was to go back to the Pope to receive confirmation of the whole” .
On the one hand, the Fourth Lateran Council had spoken clearly against the teachings of the Cathars and Albigensians, and had confirmed that “And should anyone after the reception of baptism have fallen into sin, by true repentance he can always be restored” . The Council had, indeed, recognised that “Among other things that pertain to the salvation of the Christian people, the food of the word of God is above all necessary ”  and hence “we command that … suitable men be appointed whom the bishops may use as coadjutors and assistants, not only in the office of preaching but also in hearing confessions, imposing penances, and in other matters that pertain to the salvation of souls” . In presenting his Order, Dominic had proposed precisely this, but he was not thinking of preaching as an activity that the friars should undertake from time to time, but as one to which they should devote their entire lives. On the other hand, the Council had decided that “Lest too great a diversity of religious orders lead to grave confusion in the Church of God, we strictly forbid anyone in the future to found a new order, but whoever should wish to enter an order, let him choose one already approved. Similarly, he who would wish to found a new monastery, must accept a rule already proved”  .
Jordan’s account, when he wrote his Libellus, the short book on the beginnings of the Order, around 1233, gives a generic summary of what happened in Rome. It may be possible to glimpse between the lines a hint at the pope’s scepticism when he postponed approval of the Order to a later meeting, on the basis of the canons of the Council regarding the new foundations of religious communities. Constantine of Orvieto, who wrote one of the first legends about St Dominic around 1246, relates that the pope was convinced only after he had dreamed
“that the church of the Lateran had loosened all its conjoints, and thus demonstrated that it was perpetrating a great ruination. Seeing this weeping and greatly trembling, he nonetheless saw the servant of God Messer St Dominic who with his own shoulders held up that whole building that was on the point of falling” .
In any case, Dominic went back to Toulouse at the turn of the year 1215-1216, consulted with the friars and together they chose – as Jordan tells us – “without hesitation the Rule of that great preacher that St Augustine was”  . That he attributes the choice of the Rule to the importance St Augustine had as a preacher leaves no room for doubt that from the first moment of its existence, the purpose of the Order was made clear. Dominic and his friars did not want to be religious like so many others, but preachers, evangelical men who lived the Word of God as the essential element of their lives.
After his time in France, Dominic went back once again to Rome. Innocent III had died on 16 July 1216, but after only two days the conclave had elected his successor, Cardinal Cencio , who took the name of Honorius III. The new pope followed in the line of his predecessor, and when Dominic met him “he obtained complete confirmation, according to his wishes and the idea he had conceived, of the Order and all he had asked for”  . The pope approved the Order, but Jordan’s memory appears to have betrayed him, for the pop did not wholly satisfy Dominic’s wishes and his idea: in the bull Religiosam vitam of 22 December 1216 one vital element was missing: the name of the new Order, which expressed its purpose. It was only in a second bull, Gratiarum omnium largitori, on 21 January 1217, that the Pope explicitly called Dominic and his friars “preachers” . 
Audiences were normally held in the “patriarchate”, the pope’s residence. In Dominic’s time, this complex occupied almost the whole of the area around the basilica. When the present Lateran palace was built from 1585 to 1589, the architect, Domenico Fontana, had a great part of the pre-existing buildings demolished, including the council hall with the Loggia delle Benedizioni. In the Middle Ages, a colonnade linked the hall to the other buildings of the patriarchate, such as the Triclinium Leoninum, of which only the mosaic survives, though no longer in situ, but transferred to a recess created to house it. The only segment remaining in situ is the Sancta Sanctorum, the old private chapel of the popes, today enclosed in the Scala Santa building. The Sancta Sanctorum takes its name from the wealth of relics and the icon of Christ, considered to be acheropita, not the work of human hands, preserved there. Tradition relates that the Scala Santa was brought to Rome by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, from the Antonian Fortress in Jerusalem, together with fragments of the Cross and other relics that recalled the salvific death of Jesus Christ and today are exhibited in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, not far from the Lateran.
It is possible to visit the Sanctuary of the Scala Santa and climb the stairs while praying, or to take one of the lateral staircases which leads to the Sancta Sanctorum Chapel.
It is not known where Dominic lived during his second and third periods in Rome, but according to Br William of Monferrato “in those days [he is referring to 1215] Br Dominic stayed at the Roman Curia”  ; this is probably correct, since in both 1215 and 1216 he had come with his bishop. At the canonisation process Br William testified regarding his having met Dominic in Rome at the home of Ugolino, because “Dominic often came to this bishop’s home in Ostia” . This seems to be confirmed by Thomas of Celano, who puts the meeting between Dominic and Francis at Ugolino’s home  ; but it is no longer possible to locate this house.
When Dominic went to the Basilica of St John to pray in the omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput (mother and head of all the churches in the city and in the world), it was still characterised by the majestic simplicity typical of late antiquity, free of the baroque additions and of the transformation of the interior made by Francesco Borromini. A depiction at San Martino ai Monti shows the basilica as it was before Borromini’s intervention, giving an idea of the church as Dominic saw it during his visits to Rome. Sadly, the basilica offers no material recollection of Dominic’s visits; however, in the second chapel in the southern external nave there is an altarpiece by Giovanni Odazzi and Ignaz Stern, depicting the assumption of Mary with Sts Dominic and Philip Neri. Beneath this altarpiece there is also the remains of a fresco of the Dormitio Mariae which, prior to being removed to this position, was in the Council hall.
In the chapel of the Crucifixion, to the right of the northern entrance, is the tomb of Innocent III, the first pope Dominic met in Rome. Above all, it is worth recalling that it was in this basilica that Dominic experienced the universality of the Church to which he knew his Order had been sent to illuminate the world with the light of the Gospel.
The image of the saint who supports the Church with is foundation as a pillar supports the building is also known in Franciscan tradition, and tells of the importance of the foundations of the mendicant orders who promoted a new model of religious life that was presented as an alternative to a Church that was running the risk of losing its way in the midst of its own opulence. Many bishops had forgotten their responsibility to guide and safeguard the souls entrusted to them. They lived like lords, neglected the formation of the clergy and, still more, the spiritual life and needs of the ordinary faithful. This is why heretical groups like the Cathars had little difficulty in finding followers among the humble people, among those who were attracted by a truly evangelical life but no longer found it in a Church whose representatives were more interested in the income from their benefices than in the salvation of souls.
For Dominic, a life outside communion with the Church was unthinkable, not least because he realised that the teaching of the Cathars, an extreme dualism that despised the body as it exalted poverty, was far from the message of the Gospel. Being poor, by choice, was for him a way of following Jesus Christ, and not an ascetic means to free oneself from the burden of the flesh. He took on some elements of their form of life in order to be able to preach the Word of God credibly, like St Paul who “[became] all things to all people, that I might by all means save some”  . It is in this approach to preaching, in his compassion for those who were living in error, in his clear-sighted view even of the failings of the Church, in his courageous trust in the power of words, not only in the words of God but in those he addressed to men and women, that we find the foundations of his spirituality, which was to form his Order.
According to a tradition still surviving in the Order of Preachers, it was the experience of a long night in Toulouse, spent in discussion with “the heretic who was hosting them, who, not being able to resist his [Dominic’s] wisdom and convincing words, returned to the faith” . Dominic was convinced of the truth of the Gospel – but he was equally convinced that the truth is revealed in contemplation of the word, in listening and dialogue, in the search for the truth which is not a pamphlet giving examples of correctness but a person, made flesh in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, the life. This is the truth that Dominic was proclaiming. His mission was the very same as that of the apostles, whom the Lord had sent forth commanding them to “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’”  . His contemporaries agree that he continuously contemplated and studied the Word of God and “exhorted the Friars of the Order to study continuously the New and the Old Testament”  . The importance that Dominic gave to the Scriptures is also shown by the fact that he gave up all property, “always taking with him the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of Paul and he studied them so much that he almost knew them by heart” .
It seems banal to say that the preacher himself should practise what he preaches, but sadly it is a truth that many preachers have forgotten. The Church as Innocent III dreamed of it according to the legend “showed that it was causing great ruination”  – and it is obvious that the image of the building of St John Lateran was simply a symbol of the Church, the universal community of the faithful. It was necessary to go back to the profound truth of the Gospel, really to follow Jesus Christ, to get back to the basics that the Scriptures showed. This was St Dominic’s way: walking in the footsteps of the Lord like the apostles – in order to support and renew the Church.
St Peter’s, Vatican City
Constantine of Orvieto recounts an episode on the subject of apostolic-evangelical preaching that links it to the universal mission of the Order: Dominic’s visit to St Peter’s and the vision of the apostles Peter and Paul.
The impressive basilica built by order of the Emperor Constantine from about 318 was the destination of all the pilgrims who came to Rome to pray at the apostle’s tomb. It is more than likely that this was one of the reasons Dominic went to the Vatican to ask Peter’s intercession of the Order he had founded. This is what Constantine of Orvieto tells us:
“Since the servant of God Dominic was then in Rome, and in the church of St Peter the apostle in the sight of God was praying God to grant that he preserve and expand the Order, which the right hand of God was planting for him, lo and behold the hand of God came upon him. And he saw by a vision of an image the glorious apostles St Peter and St Paul coming towards him. One of them first, who was St Peter, seemed to give him a staff, and St Paul a book, saying: ‘Go and preach, for you have been chosen by God for this office’. Shortly after he seemed to see his sons scattered all over the world, going two by two, preaching the word of God to the peoples.” 
The author wanted there to be no doubt: after recounting Honorius’ approval of the Order, he writes of Dominic’s visit to St Peter’s so that the approval of the Pope should be followed by that of the apostles. Dominic himself was called to follow in the steps of the apostles, to set out as an itinerant preacher, recalled by their giving him the staff, useful and indeed necessary for every pilgrim. He was called to proclaim the Word of God, recalled by their giving him the book, symbolising Scripture. The mission of St Dominic and of his Order is a divine, universal mission. In the words “Go and preach” addressed by the apostles to Dominic there resounds the divine mandate to the prophets and to the disciples of Jesus. Like them, the Friars Preachers preach scattered around the world and among the peoples.
Just as in St John Lateran, in St Peter’s there is no “material” recollection of St Dominic’s presence. Only another depiction in San Martino ai Monti can give an impression of the Vatican basilica before its destruction. Dominic can be imagined, like so many other pilgrims, venerating the tomb of the apostle, which could be reached by two staircases leading to a semicircular crypt that corresponded roughly to the present confessio which allows today’s pilgrims to pray at St Peter’s tomb.
In the choir, to the right of the monumental reliquary of the Petrine Chair, is the marble sculpture of St Dominic by Pierre Legros (1706). The impression is that he and St Francis, whose statue is on the opposite side, are together watching over the apostle’s Chair to remind us that to be credible, a Church must live the Gospel in poverty and preach it in truth.
Dominic left Rome in March 1217 to go back to France. After some months in Toulouse and its environs, he set out once again for Rome, which he reached in the first few weeks of 1218. He had a further meeting with the Pope to ask him for spiritual and institutional support to consolidate the young community, after sending the friars to Paris and to Spain. On 11 February 1218 Honorius III delivered a new bull recommending the friars of the Order of Preachers (fratres ordinis praedicatorum) to the bishops and asking them to welcome the friars to their dioceses. This bull is the first document to contain the name of the Order that Dominic had wished for.
Dominic remained in Rome for several months and in Lent 1218 he preached in various churches in the city. It was during this stay that he met Reginald of Orleans, who was to become one of the first friars in Bologna, a city to which Dominic had already sent two friars who joined him in Rome, having come from Spain to meet him in the Eternal City. In May 1218, he set out for Bologna to devote himself to the new foundation of the convent there and to encourage the friars in preaching to the students of the oldest western university.
After spending some time in Bologna, Dominic set out yet again on a long journey that took him first to Spain, then to Paris. It was only in autumn 1219 that he returned to Rome to meet Pope Honorius III, who was in Viterbo at the time. Dominic wanted to tell the pope of the developments of the Order and to talk to him about the difficulties encountered by the friars despite the papal recommendations. It was on this occasion that the pope entrusted to Dominic another project dear to his heart, the reform of the Roman monasteries.
Innocent III had planned a reform of monastic life in Rome, and wanted to gather the nuns of Rome in a single monastery. The existing monasteries, not more than seven for a sum total of perhaps eighty nuns, were in large part managed by the nuns’ families. What was missing in the life of the nuns was the structure of regular life and also a spiritual foundation. Honorius III had taken up this project and wanted Dominic to bring together the nuns of the various communities in a single monastery, giving them not only a new rule but also a new spiritual perspective in order to live their contemplative vocation. This is why, on 17 December 2019, Honorius III gave St Dominic the church and monastery of San Sisto, which was to become the first home of the Friars Preachers in Rome. In April 1220, however, Dominic had to leave for Bologna for the General Chapter of the Order, and he remained in North Italy until the end of the year.
Dominic returned to Rome in December 1220 and took up residence at San Sisto while completing the reform of the monasteries. When the work was finished and the nuns had moved in, in February 1221 the friars moved to Santa Sabina on the Aventine.
To the present day, the convent of San Sisto preserves reminders of the presence of St Dominic, who lived there with his friars for more than a year, the time necessary for the completion of the work on the new monastery to prepare it for a resident community of nuns. We are well informed of Dominic’s presence at San Sisto thank above all to the memories of Sr Cecilia of Rome , who was among the first nuns at the new monastery.
The present church of San Sisto still preserves much of the mediaeval structure , which in its turn was a transformation of the late-antique basilica, the titulus Crescentiana, founded during the pontificate of Pope Anastasius I (399-401). It was Pope Innocent III who had the ancient structure transformed, making it smaller and raising the floor in line with the level of the street. It was in this same period that the monastery was built, completed when Dominic came to live there. Parts of the cloister, the chapter house and the refectory are still visible in the convent.
This refectory of San Sisto is where the “miracle of the loaves” is said to have occurred – the arrival of loaves to feed the friars, thanks to divine providence. Another tradition recalls the miracle of the loaves taking place also in the refectory of the first convent in Bologna, Santa Maria della Mascarella  . Sr Cecilia, who was not present on that occasion, tells truly wonderful story which, if we consider the other sources, is somewhat exaggerated. The heart of all these stories is, however, always the same: the brethren who had been sent to ask for alms had not been able to collect enough bread and other food for the community’s evening meal. On their return they explained the situation to Dominic, who assured them that the Lord would take care of them and invited the friars to go into the refectory. And there, according to Sr Cecilia:
“The blessed Father gave his blessing to the table and, when the friars were seated, Br Henry of Rome began the customary reading. Meanwhile Blessed Dominic had begun to pray with his hands joined. And lo – just as he had promised by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – there suddenly appeared in the middle of the refectory, sent by Divine Providence, two handsome young men, each carrying, before and behind him, two cloths full of bread. Beginning to serve starting from the lowest, one on the right side and one on the left, they gave each Friar a whole loaf of remarkable beauty. When they reached Blessed Dominic and had given him a whole loaf too, bowing their heads to him, they suddenly disappeared and where they had come from no one knows to this day” .
The chapter house
In the chapter house, three of the frescoes by the Dominican painter Jacinthe Besson (1852-1854) recall the Miracles performed by Dominic lined to the monastery, above all the resurrections attributed to him and recounted by Sr Cecilia. The first of these, How the Blessed Dominic brought back to life the son of a widow, notes that Dominic usually preached in the Roman churches, as happened in Lent 1221. The story begins in the church of San Marco, near the Capitoline Hill. A Roman woman
“overcome with the wish to hear the word of God from his mouth, left her little sick son alone and went to that church to listen to the homily. When she went home, at the end of the homily, she found the child dead. The poor mother, stunned by grief but concealing her suffering, trusting in the power of God and in the merits of Blessed Dominic, accompanied by two young women went to him, carrying her dead son with her. Blessed Dominic at that time was living with his Friars near the church of San Sisto, and as the Convent was being modified to receive the Sisters and so the enclosure was open to the workers, other people could also go in. So (that woman) went in and found him standing by the door of the Chapter House as though waiting for something. As soon as she saw him, she laid the little body at his feet and weeping, began to beg him on her knees to restore her son to her. So Blessed Dominic, moved to compassion by that great grief, moved away from her a little concentrating on prayer; then he rose, went to the child making the sign of the cross over him, and finally, taking him by the hand, raised him from the ground alive and gave him back safe and sound to his mother, ordering her however not to speak to anyone about the matter”.
Hagiographical sources also provide documentation of the resurrection of Napoleone, the nephew of Cardinal Stefano di Fossanova. The earliest account is in Jordan of Saxony’s Libellus: Jordan himself was not present, but was told the story by Br Tancredi:
“a young relative of Cardinal Stephen of Fossanova, while he was imprudently racing madly on a horse for fun, had a very serious fall and they were carrying him, weeping. He seemed half dead or, because of his evident state of unconsciousness, even totally dead. The cries of grief were increasing around him, when Master Dominic arrived. With him there was also Br Tancredi, a good, ardent man, who for some time was Prior in Rome, from whom I heard this story. This man said to Dominic: ‘Why are you hiding? Why don’t you pray to the Lord? Where is your love for your neighbour? Where is your trust in God?’ Urged on by these exhortations from the brother and overcome with an ardent sense of compassion, he had the young man carried away from the disturbance, into a closed room, and by virtue of his prayers he gave him the warmth of life and brought him back safe and sound into the open, in front of everyone”.
Only Constantine of Orvieto  tells of the resurrection of a master craftsman, depicted by Besson in the chapter house because of its close link with the convent of San Sisto.
The three remaining frescoes show the appearance of the Apostles Peter and Paul to Dominic, his meeting with St Francis and the Virgin Mary giving the rosary to Dominic. Sr Cecilia also tells of other miracles, such as healings and challenges met by Dominic at San Sisto or in other parts of Rome.
San Marco not only is linked to the resurrection of the widow’s son, but preserves the memory of St Dominic’s preaching. Despite the modifications due to the integration of the church in Palazzo Venezia, it preserves almost intact the mosaic in the apse, which goes back to the ninth century and is precisely as Dominic saw it when he came to preach. A fresco in one of the chapels in the right-hand nave recalls the miracle which, however, took place at San Sisto.
Now a little lower than the present Porta di San Giovanni, the so-called Porta Asinaria goes back to the original Roman gate in the city wall built under the Emperor Aurelian. In the Middle Ages a part of the complex, one of the towers, was used as a cell for a recluse, Sr Bona, who was healed of a serious illness by St Dominic . 
Behind the church near the Circo Massimo was the cell of another recluse , Sr Lucy. She probably suffered from a serious infection of her arm, and was healed by St Dominic after he had seen her arm and blessed her  . A road adjacent to the church – but today only partly discernible – led from here to San Sisto and “the Blessed Dominic, going to San Sisto, often passed along there”  .
Dominic’s contemporaries or those who wrote about him only a few years after his death approached his figure in various ways. Jordan, in the Libellus, seeks to trace the borad outlines of the foundation of the Order, showing the importance f Dominic for his foundation and his virtues, in view of the canonisation process. This is equally the case of the witnesses at the process, who stressed his profound religiosity, his prayer life and his empathy with whomever he met. Sr Cecilia  tells of his miracles. However, those who approach Cecilia’s stories only from a historico-scientific standpoint would not realise the deeper significance of these miracles. Cecilia’s account shows the life of a man whose holiness she had recognised and whose extraordinary closeness to Jesus Christ she had intuited: with his faith and his prayer, Dominic had even brought the dead back to life.
The purpose of the Order, founded for preaching and the salvation of souls, was fulfilled in the life of the founder, whose words and actions actually brought this salvation to people. The miracle is supposed to excite astonishment and wonder in order to attract the readers’ attention: in a sense, the aim is to make “visible” what by its very nature belongs to the sphere of the transcendent.
On the basis of this reflection, it is to be hoped that the miracle would lead us to wonder how those who marvel at it can themselves perform miracles. Following Christ is not a matter of carrying out supernatural actions on the model of his miracles, but of putting his words into practice, bringing salvation and life to all those who need them. The miracle is performed where a sick person is helped, and feels understood. The miracle is performed when a lonely person realises that s/he has a friend at hand who shares her/his anxieties and concerns and finds words of encouragement. It is faith that makes us see the miracles of life and encourages us to perform them in our turn.
Santa Maria in Tempulo
During his last stay in Rome, Dominic was concerned above all with the reform of the Roman monasteries entrusted to him the previous year. He visited these monasteries and tried to persuade the nuns to found a new community. One of these monasteries was only 300 metres from San Sisto – Santa Maria in Tempulo. Today only the remains of a church are visible – a church deconsecrated many years ago – with some adjacent areas.
In the past, as well as being for hundreds of years the home of a community of nuns, Santa Maria in Tempulo was known as preserving one of the most ancient icons n Rome, the first which, according to tradition, was painted by St Luke, and probably originating in Constantinople. The nuns were proud to have the care of this icon, and Sr Cecilia recalls how the abbess linked her own and her nuns’ willingness to change monasteries precisely to the fate of this image. She “had vowed that she and her Sisters would enter, on condition that the image of the Blessed Virgin remained with them in the church of San Sisto … Blessed Dominic had gladly accepted this condition”  and he himself, one day after the nuns had moved into San Sisto , brought the icon, which “was placed with great devoutness in the church of the Sisters, where to this day it remains with them, to the praise of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom honour is due for ever and ever”  .
Santa Sabina on the Aventine
After the nuns had finally moved to San Sisto, the friars, who had been living there, moved in their turn to Santa Sabina. Tradition relates that Dominic had already been negotiating for some time with Honorius III to request a domicile for the friars. As the document endowing Santa Sabina to the Friars Preachers was stipulated only in 1222, this first period of the brethren’s life on the Aventine can only be a matter of hypothesis. On the basis of the entry of the nuns in San Sisto, the friars must have moved into Santa Sabina around the first Sunday of Lent 1221, occupying the rooms that already existed above the narthex of the basilica, where today are the cell of St Dominic and the so-called dormitory.
Entering the basilica by the side door, a fresco can be seen above the old door connecting the convent to the narthex. This fresco depicts one of Sr Cecilia’s stories, which not only shows that Dominic and his followers were accompanied at all times by divine providence, but also shows that the friars had moved to the Aventine. After an evening at San Sisto, it was so late that the nuns were loath to let Dominic set out in the middle of the night. But his response to their pleas was: “The Lord definitely wants me to go: he will send one of his angels to accompany us”  . And when he went outside, waiting for him was
“a handsome young man, who had a staff in his hand as though he were ready for a journey. Then Blessed Dominic put his companions between himself and the young man, walking in third position. On reaching the door of the church [Santa Sabina], they found it closed and carefully barred; but the young man, who had walked ahead of them on the way, approached one side of the door and immediately it opened”  .
The basilica of Santa Sabina has largely preserved its late-antique and high mediaeval appearance, above all in the delightful architecture which reflects the canons of Roman classicism. Here St Dominic prayed and preached, putting himself and his foundation in the hands of God. Those who knew him agree that he was fervent and untiring in prayer, and that he came into the church above all during the night to watch and pray. His prayer is also recalled by the hagiographic and legendary tales. One legend is particularly bound to Santa Sabina. Gerald de Frachet recounts:
“When the holy man was praying one night, prostrate on the ground, the devil, envying his prayer, threw a great stone from the roof of the church to disturb him in the constancy of his prayer. And that stone fell so close to him that it touched the hood of his cowl; and as the holy man persevered motionless I prayer, the demon at once, with a terrible confused cry, left him” .
This stone, the so-called “devil’s stone” , is till preserved in the basilica and can be found today alongside the recess with the icon of our saint. In the centre of the schola cantorum an inscription on the central stone recalls that this was where the holy martyrs Sabina and Serafina are buried, together with other martyrs venerated in the basilica. The sarcophagus with their relics is kept today under the main altar. The cracks in the stone once more stimulated the imagination of the people of ancient times, who regarded them as damage caused by the stone that the devil had hurled.
Above the narthex of the basilica are the rooms where the friars went to live in 1221. The building of the majestic staircase involved the destruction of much of the mediaeval building, except for St Dominic’s cell and the so-called dormitory. This was transformed into a museum in about 2010, but certain elements are still visible: the arches of the five-light mullioned window of the narthex, and the remains of a staircase that led to the lookout post of the friar acting as porter, so that he could see who had rung the convent doorbell. The dormitory is lined to another vision of St Dominic’s, related by Sr Cecilia. One evening when he was in the dormitory, Dominic saw three women: one with a pail, another with the aspersory and the third blessing the friars, making the sign of the cross over them, sprinkling them with holy water from the aspersory held by the second woman. When the blessing was completed, Dominic approached her and asked who she was. She replied: “I am the one you invoke every evening and when you say Eja ergo, advocata nostra, I fall to my knees before my Son for the conservation of this Order”  .
From the beginning Dominic and his brethren had entrusted the Order to the protection of the Mother of God, as emerges from the second part of the story, which will be quoted below.
Although the cell has been transformed into a chapel, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the cell itself recalls the mediaeval cells of the friars and reflects Dominic’s spirit of simplicity and modesty, which was to characterise his Order. According to tradition, it is here that the meeting took place of Dominic, Francis and the Carmelite Angelo, recalled by the fresco of the vault. The kernel of truth about this matter is to be sought in the various sources that speak of a meeting between Dominic and Francis: according to Francis’s biographer, Thomas of Celano, the meeting took place at the Roman home of Cardinal Ugolino of Ostia, who was in touch with the two founders of their Orders . It is probable that from Thomas’s account, tradition transferred the meeting from Ugolino’s home to the convent of Santa Sabina, since the two were in the same city.
Above the window hangs a small bas-relief which is not part of the original furnishings of the cell/chapel, but which once again evokes the veneration of Mary in the Order of Preachers and the special relationship with her, which the Order has preserved throughout the centuries.
“Blessed Dominic was ravished in spirit before God and saw the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, sitting on his right, dressed – as it seemed to him – in a sapphire-coloured cloak. Looking around hew saw before God representatives of all the Religious Orders, but glimpsed no one of his own; for this he began to weep bitterly and, stopping at a distance, dared not approach the Lord and his Mother. It was the Madonna who beckoned to him to approach her; but he dared not move until the Lord too had called him. So he approached weeping and knelt before them. The Lord invited him to rise and, when he had risen, asked him the reason for this sorrowful weeping. ‘I am weeping like this’, he answered, ‘because I see representatives of all the Orders here, but I see no one of my own.’ So the Lord said: ‘Do you want to see your Order?’ And he, trembling, said: ‘”Yes, Lord’. So the Lord, laying a hand on the shoulder of the Blessed Virgin, spoke again to Blessed Dominic: ‘I have entrusted your Order to my Mother’. Then he added: ‘But do you really want to see it?’ The Blessed Father answered: ‘Certainly, Lord’. The Blessed Virgin opened wide the cloak she seemed to be wearing and laid it down in front of Blessed Dominic, to whom it seemed large enough to cover the whole heavenly homeland, and under it he saw an immense multitude of his friars. Falling on his knees Blessed Dominic then thanked God and the Blessed Virgin his Mother. And the vision disappeared.”
As a highly symbolic place, the cell invites the visitor to a prayer at the end of the Roman itinerary of the places of St Dominic, asking for the blessing of the Father and the intercession of Mary and of St Dominic.
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.
Sub tuum praesídium confúgimus,
sancta Dei Génetrix;
nostras deprecatiónes ne despícias
sed a perículis cunctis
líbera nos semper,
Virgo gloriósa et benedícta.
Under thy protection we seek refuge, O Holy Mother of God;
In our needs, despise not our petitions,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.
O lumen Ecclesiae,
nos junge beatis.
O light of the church, teacher of truth,
rose of patience, ivory of chastity,
You freely poured forth the waters of wisdom,
preacher of grace unite us with the blessed.
(Fr. Philipp Johannes Wagner OP, Rome)
 Libellus 40-41 (Jordan of Saxony)
 Lateran Council IV, Canon 1 (sourcebooks.fordham.edu)
 Ibid., Canon 10
 Ibid., Canon 13
 Leggenda 39 (Constantine of Orvieto)
 Libellus 42
 That Cencio belonged to the Savelli family
is today considered highly debatable. Cf. Carpcci, Sandro / Vendittelli, Marco, Onorio III,
in: Enciclopedia dei Papi, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/onorio-iii_(Enciclopedia-
deiPapi)/ (25.5.2020). For this reason the donation of Santa Sabina to the Friars Preachers cannot be explained as a gift of part of the Poe’s family property (it is still possible to see the wall of the Savelli fortress round the present-day orange garden).
 Libellus 45
 Cf. Lippini, p. 66, n. 86
 Bologna Process 12
 Cf. Thomas of Celano, Second Life of St
Francis of Assisi, Chapter CIX
 I Cor 9:22
 Libellus 15
 Matt 10:7
 Bologna Process 29
 Leggenda 39
 Leggenda 43-44
 Sr Cecilia was seventeen years old when she met Dominic, and dictated her memories to a certain Sr Angelica when she was old, probably shortly before 1288 (cf. Lippini, p. 170-172). “The Miracles of the Blessed Dominic” to some degree reflect the devotion of the time, and probably include exaggerations and some uncertainties, but are nonetheless an important source for Dominic’s visits to Rome in 1220 and 1221
 There are various versions of the miracle of the loaves. Cf. Lippini, p. 193, n. 14
 Miracles 3
 Miracles 1
 Libellus 100
 Cf. Leggenda 56
 Cf. Miracles 12
 Cf. Miracles 13
 Nor is she alone: cf. Jordan in the Libellus, Constantine in the Leggenda and Gerard de Frachet in the Vitae fratrum
 Miracles 14
 They moved on the first Sunday of Lent, 28 February1221
 Miracles 14. The icon is no longer at San Sisto but is still kept by the Dominican nuns, who took it with them when they moved to the convent of Ss Domenico e Sisto in 1575, and from there to the convent of Santa Maria del Rosario on Monte Mario in 1931
 Miracles 6
 Vitae Fratrum 77
 It is actually an old Roman weight which was probably found in the neighbourhood of the Forum Boarium which was below the Aventine
 The cracks were caused when the architect Domenico Fontana moved the stone in the 16th century
 Reciting or singing the antiphon Salve Regina
 Miracles 7
 Cf. Thomas of Celano CIX
 Miracles 7
The horizon is always more vast and more complete if we view it from a height. The same is true of life, if we look at it from the standpoint of its fulfilment. In Rieti Dominic was canonised. At the start of our journey in his footsteps, the fulfilment of a dream, of a plan, of vaguely perceived yet longed-for nuances, draws nearer. For it is easier to face the trials and tribulations of life if you have your destination clearly in mind. But… what destination? For Dominic it was the answer to his search for a deep meaning: the encounter with Truth. Not in the abstract sense, though. The Word of God was made “child” in Christ: perhaps what I am looking for is hidden in the cries of small intuitions, smothered at times by fears, defeats, wounds, pride. Perhaps I’ll find what I am looking for if I open the Book and listen to the Word. Dominic fell in love with that Word: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts”.(Jer. 15:16)
At the start of the journey, in this first stage, I look at Dominic’s life starting from its fulfilment, from his holiness. I try to look more deeply into my own life. It’s true, for now I don’t understand the meaning of everything. But one day, seen from “up above”, all the happenings, the encounters, the joys and the sorrows will find a more complete meaning. Meanwhile, Providence walks at my side. Dominic trusted in God, even when everything seemed to be piling up against the pathway he felt he must take, even when the destination he glimpsed seemed too far off – an illusion! -the illusion of a young man too prone to dream, a young man who believed in human beings: in their intelligence, their hearts. In silence, listening to life and history, Dominic rediscovered himself and the road he had to take.
One of Dominic’s daughters can be found here in Rieti. Columba was in love with life. She loved people, nature, art, dance. She was a brave woman, who used all her strengths to bring peace to Perugia, where she had founded a monastery. When she smiled at life it was not just out of mere skin-deep cheerfulness: it was nourished by a silent penance, an intense love for the Lord and for all His sons and daughters. “And think”, wrote her spiritual father Sebastiano Angeli OP, deeply moved, “that it was she who had brought us, miserable sinners, back to the right path.” Blessed Columba is an invitation to us to rediscover that meekness that – in her – concealed an extraordinary spiritual strength, but also her care for the least significant and her constant, patient peacemaking work, which never yielded to favouritism. Today this is a message that is even more eloquent, in a world torn by wars, struggles for power, selfishness and hatred. Columba became a fruitful instrument of peace and a privileged channel of communion regarding the recognition of the value of those typically feminine gifts of sensitivity, balance, concreteness, strength, loving creativity – and also of courage, far-sightedness, the ability to take heed and to care. Perhaps, in point of fact, woman is that “high point” that links the beginning to the end, intuitions to the fulfilment of dreams, life to death – reconciling the extremes, and making us see our existence from a new, more creative standpoint, full of light and hope. This is why God the Father said to Catherine of Siena that Dominic “was a light that I put in the world by means of Mary” (St Catherine of Siena, Dialogue of Divine Providence CLVIII, 478-479). Who was more fitting than the Mother of Jesus to unite heaven and earth, and bring all men and women back into the Heart of God?
(Dominican Nuns, Pratovecchio)
Church of St Dominic
The church of St Dominic, annexed to the convent of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) in Rieti, was for centuries the richest and most interesting Basilica in the city. The formal declaration of its erection, by the Roman Province, dates to 1268. Over the years the church was abandoned, resulting in the loss of almost all the decorations, to the point that in 1779 the prior, Fr Scalmazzi, lamenting the state to which it had sunk, proposed that it be demolished and subsequently rebuilt in more modern form and in baroque style. After the French Revolution the Dominicans’ church was closed (18 June 1810). With the unity of Italy the Dominican friars were banished from Rieti and the convent became a military barracks. Specifically, the church was assigned to hold trains: desecrated in this way, it was closed to worship in 1890.
From the 14th to the 18th century the church was a huge building site, scanning the stages of artistic development in accordance with tradition, from the Romanesque to the Gothic, from the age of the Counter-Reformation to the baroque period. Today, after the work of rebuilding, the external structure is simple, the façades being formed of travertine blocks. On the main façade is the principal entrance in wood, surmounted by a round arch and a tympanum on either side of which are two small windows. Until the end of the 18th century there was a rose window above this portal; today, in its place, there is a large window. Inside, the church has a single broad nave.
Dominic of Guzman was canonised in Rieti in 1234. There is virtual unanimity of the sources as regards the date and city of this event. It was in July of that year, in fact, that Gregory IX proclaimed the sanctity of the Holy Founder of the Order of Preachers, adding him to the catalogue of the saints and fixing his liturgical feast on 5 August, eve of the anniversary of his death.
Vicaire: pp. 667-668
Bull of canonisation Fons Sapientiae
B. Astur, Colomba da Rieti, Edizioni Cateriniane, Rome 1967]
In Viterbo, Honorius III gave Dominic San Sisto, so that he could found a women’s monastery there: a community of women who, by means of the itinerancy of the heart, would accompany their brothers with their prayers as they travelled the world to bring the light of the Word to the heart of every individual.
Dominic was a great walker. When he set out with his bishop for Denmark, merely to arrange a marriage between the daughter of the king of Castille and a young Danish nobleman, he did not know that they would fail to reach their objective. Yet it was on that road, as he walked, that his life was to be changed – for ever.
Journeys change lives. We make plans, and then something different happens, something unexpected – often, something wonderful. Sometimes we take the wrong road, and perhaps meet someone or something that we would not have found on the right road. Something unexpected surprises us, making us hear an internal call that we had never noticed before.
Travelling transforms life, above all if you choose to walk within your soul, to visit the most unfamiliar internal places, which may sometimes seem frightening or threatening, and yet may be a place of grace and salvation. Visiting our hearts means being ready to see what is wrong, but also what is marvellous. But we need to look anew, differently.Dominic was able to let himself be questioned by outside events, by chance meetings in life, and to let his plans, his dreams be turned upside down, setting him on completely new paths. It was in Viterbo that Fr Henri Dominique Lacordaire OP spent his novitiate – this great author, in the 19th century, of the renaissance of the Order, about which he said: “Nothing is more new, nothing more suited to our times”. For an Order that listens to history – following the example of its founder – can never end. An Order on the road will always experience the delight of being surprised, accompanied, sent forth and watched over by the tenderness and providence of God.
Other saints or important figures of the Order in Viterbo: Lacordaire, Danzas, Cormier.
(Dominican nuns – Pratovecchio)
Santa Maria della Quercia (St Mary of the Oak)
In July and August 1467 all Alto Lazio was struck by a plague, and many devout people rushed under the oak tree to ask for mercy. Some 30,000 people joined together in prayer and in less than a week, inexplicably, the plague ceased. Following these events, on 20 September 1467 almost 40,000 inhabitants of Alto Lazio, led by the Bishop of Viterbo Pietro Gennari, returned to thank the Virgin Mary and decided, with the numerous offerings of the various communities, to build a church. Pope Paul II authorised the construction of a small church entrusted to the Gesuati Fathers of Blessed Columba, but only two years later, in 1469, conservation of the sacred image passed to the Dominican friars and, thanks to the enormous amount of offerings made by the faithful, it was decided to build a large church, probably designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, on which work was begun by the municipal authorities in 1470.
Not least thanks to the Dominican friars who considered her their protector, the cult of the Virgin of the Oak grew constantly and spread throughout Italy and across Europe: we need only recall that Fr Henri Lacordaire, who was a lawyer in Paris during the French Revolution and subsequently became a Dominican friar, entrusted the re-founded French Dominican Order to her and took with him to Nancy, in the first convent reopened in France in 1843, a copy made by his friend the painter Br G. Bessòn. In 1867 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the church of the Oak a Basilica and in 1873 the Italian State took possession of the complex, which was then immediately declared a national monument.
H. Vicaire, Storia di S. Domenico, Edizioni Paoline, Rome 1983, pp.496ff.]
Dominic had the gift of tears: most especially, he wept while celebrating the Eucharist. Intensely he experienced the encounter with God and intercession for all the brethren, whom he kept in his heart. What do tears mean? Sometimes they are a place of healing, a mark of liberation; in themselves, in most cases, they are not pleasant. Yet God is so great that he can transform them into an instrument of purification and of life. They are like water that washes the soul and makes the body lovelier, because it also gives greater interior unification.
This unity was something Dominic felt intensely when he was at the altar and, with outstretched arms, brought before God people’s worries, their pathways, their dreams. He gave God everyone’s tears, so that He might make them instruments of liberation, transformation, conversion and a new beauty. Sometimes tears flow abundantly – for example, when we recognise the mistakes we have made in our lives; when progress is hard going; when we feel rejected; when our feet hurt as we make our way through life. Yet these tears are blessed if, like Dominic, we unite them to Christ’s sacrifice, which is daily renewed on the altar. And in this renewal it makes our tears precious too.
It is time to set out again, to start again, to take our time, to meet others, to stand up and walk. On the road, opening our eyes, bending our ears, smelling aromas, touching the road and gazing at the horizon, perhaps we will have new, important encounters – above all, with ourselves. And with God, hidden in the depths of our hearts, always, and really present in the Most Holy Eucharist.
Let us call on him with the words of this marvellous hymn by St Thomas Aquinas:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than truth’s own word there is no truer token.
God only on the cross lay hid from view;
But here lies hid at once the manhood too;
And I, in both professing my belief,
Make the same prayer as the repentant thief.
Thy wounds, as Thomas saw, I do not see;
Yet Thee confess my Lord and God to be;
Make me believe Thee ever more and more;
In Thee my hope, in Thee my love to store.
O Thou memorial of our Lord’s own dying!
O living bread, to mortals life supplying!
Make Thou my soul henceforth on Thee to live,
Ever a taste of heavenly sweetness give
O loving Pelican! O Jesus Lord!
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood!
Of which a single drop, for sinners split,
Can purge the entire world from all its guilt.
Jesus, whom, for the present, veil’d I see,
What I so thirst for, oh! vouchsafe to me;
That I may see Thy contenance unfolding,
And may be blest Thy glory in beholding.
(Dominican nuns – Pratovecchio)
On an unknown date in 1263 (or 1264), perhaps in late summer, a Teutonic priest arrived in Bolsena; later he was to be known traditionally by the name of Peter, and is believed to have come from Prague. According to tradition, Peter had undertaken the long, difficult pilgrimage to fortify himself in the truths of faith, which at that time had deeply disturbed his priestly identity – above all, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In Peter’s soul the memory of the martyr Cristina, whose strength had not wavered in the face of martyrdom, opened a window. After devoutly venerating the saint’s tomb, he celebrated the Eucharist there. Again his doubts began to disturb his mind and heart; he prayed fervently to the saint that she might intercede with God to give him the strength, the certainty in faith that had distinguished her in the last trial. At the moment of consecration, as he was holding the host above the chalice, having pronounced the words of the rite, the host became visibly red with blood, which flowed copiously, soaking the corporal. The priest did not have the strength to continue the rite; in turmoil and joy, he wrapped the Eucharistic species in the corporal and took it into the sacristy. On the way, some drops of blood fell on the marble floor and on the steps of the altar.
A very important role was played in the event of the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena by Thomas Aquinas. Both he and Pope Urban IV were able immediately to verify the wonder in person. Thomas’s Eucharistic hymns attest to the profound union with Christ that he had so often experienced, and which came to light especially in an episode that goes back to his time in Naples. One day, as he was praying before the Crucified Christ, Thomas asked the Lord to make known to him His “opinion” of what Thomas had written on the Christian faith. And the Crucifix answered simply: “You have written well about me, Thomas, what reward do you wish for?” So Thomas replied: “Nothing except You, Lord.”
The relics that to this day witness to the miraculous happening are:
[Sources: catholic.org/prayers http://www.basilicasantacristina.it/index.php/it/il-miracolo; https://www.parrocchia-sanmichele-neviano.it/corpus-domini-i-cinque-inni-eucaristici-di-san-tommaso-daquino/]
On Dominic’s pathway, after the experience of his tears, we come upon a different kind of water in which the woman who, more than anyone else, personified and transmitted the founder’s charism: Catherine of Siena. Her experience in Bagno Vignoni leads us to reflect on the meaning of these waters that can profoundly cleanse our souls and our lives, on the true wellbeing of man or woman, which cannot be limited to the body but is extended to the entire person. In fact there is nothing that can give a human being health, vigour, true and lasting joy without reconciliation with Him who is alone able to restore to us that authentic beauty that we received with the gift of baptism. Only communion with God and returning to live our lives in His fatherly embrace can give us back that spiritual health that will be reflected in the body too. So being immersed in these waters becomes an experience of trust, of returning; an opportunity to rediscover our vocation as sons and daughters. After those tears, we need a bath of regeneration and rebirth. In fact, we are created in the image and likeness of that God who is relationship: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us plunge, then, into His immense love.
With Catherine of Siena, our path takes on a new name: the “way of tears” becomes here the “way of light” (Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, CLIV, 95). The sacraments give us a new perspective on life, on ourselves and on God. Suddenly everything is illuminated, and we are made capable of seeing “beyond”. Specifically, being reconciled with God means accepting His embrace as our Father and Mother. On Dominic’s pathway, a new light is ready to illuminate our lives. Let us follow it.
(Dominican nuns – Pratovecchio)
One of the loveliest views in the Province of Siena is Mount Amiata seen from the pool of Bagno Vigoni. The hot water that flows here is yet another of the many gifts of the venerable mountain.
Bagno Vignoni is a mediaeval village, although it is likely that the hot springs, like those of Bagni San Filippo, are of Etruscan origin; the presence of the Romans is attested by a commemorative plaque inside the present spa establishment (mentioned in the inscription). The main space consists of a huge basin of hot, steaming waters, which – especially in winter – create a magical atmosphere, immersed in the Leonardo-style landscape that surrounds the village. Water here takes the place of the paving typical of Italian piazzas. Around the pool, a Renaissance palace attributed to Bernardo Rossellini, the creator of Pienza, soars from the waters like a vision, while the mediaeval arcade and the chapel within it are dedicated to St Catherine of Siena, who used to frequent these places. We read in Raymond of Capua’s Legenda Maior and in Tommaso Caffarini’s Legenda Minor that Monna Lapa, Catherine’s mother, wanted to distract her daughter from her wish to give herself entirely to God by means of the hot, sensual waters of the volcano. But, instead of relishing the wellbeing and relaxation that we seek today in Bagno Vignoni, Catherine used the boiling waters as an instrument of penance. Catherine was at the baths from 1362 to 1367 and probably returned there in 1377, the year in which she stayed at the Rocca at Tentenano. The “Great Pool” that bears her name can no longer be used and the water is redirected to the pool, and to the steep slopes around the village, where it creates little waterfalls that give the hill its typical off-white colouring.
This place was chosen for the most appealing scenes in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Nostàlghia, where it becomes a setting of metaphysical desolation for the lost characters of the film. Bagno Vignoni is, in fact, ideal for solitary walks in the narrow mediaeval streets, enlivened today by excellent restaurants and wine bars.
Bagno Vignoni has an atmosphere that you can find nowhere else in the world. Set like a jewel in the heart of the Val d’Orcia, it offers a breathtaking view of the most typical Tuscan countryside, which can be seen here as though from a natural terrace.
Dominic did not go through Montepulciano, but it is here that St Agnes lived, and she can help us to understand a fundamental aspect of Dominic: he was a profoundly contemplative man. No one was more sociable and joyful than he. Yet he loved to take his distance from his travelling companions as they walked along the roads that led from one city to another. He would say to his confreres: “Let us think about our Saviour”. This is the prayer of the heart. This is how to walk with that Name on our lips so that, reaching our hearts, it will fill them with peace.
Agnes represents the contemplative aspect of Dominic. In her monastery, giving her life so that every man and woman might welcome the Word of Christ, she became the womb of that Word. A Dominican nun is called to give birth to Love in the world, above all by means of prayer of intercession and communion of life. She is called to shine with joy for God, to glow with His light, reflected on the faces of those who seek him: “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Before being a nun, Agnes was a woman – an authentic woman, with that natural maternal instinct that was translated into attention for her neighbour, care for others, for her sisters in religion. A true daughter of St Dominic, she was filled with mercy and compassion. One of her many special characteristics was her intercession for mothers. Today she still intercedes for them, especially for those who seek an abortion, for those who would love a pregnancy that does not appear, for those who have a difficult pregnancy. Agnes still cares for many women, as though she were still exercising her motherhood. To this friend of ours we can entrust our concerns, our troubles, and those we love. At times, the miracle we long for will not happen. But perhaps the fact is that, if it will not happen as we would like, still it will come to pass. For praying, beyond all doubt, first and foremost changes our hearts.
The Shrine of St Agnes
The Shrine of St Agnes is in an open space, facing the 16th-century ramparts of Porta del Prato which opens on the lower part of the old centre of the town. It is set on a knoll outside the city walls and was founded by St Agnes Segni (1268-1317), a Dominican nun, in 1306. The hill she chose for the building of her church, after she had a vision of a stairway that rose from the top of the hill and united heaven and earth, was occupied by brothels, and St Agnes bought it back for 1200 liras. Thus the hill was transformed from a place of sin to a place of prayer. The church, the majestic cloister and its convent, today totally transformed, harbour the uncorrupted body of St Agnes and many relics of her. Agnes was a mystic and God blessed her with many heavenly favours: visions of Paradise, ecstasies and marvels were among the many spiritual graces that were granted to her.
The original church was enlarged in 1311 and took the name of Santa Maria Novella, but immediately after the death of St Agnes the devout began to call it by her name. Towards the end of the 17th century, the building underwent radical restructuring because, as the hagiography of St Agnes’ life recounts, it had been built of earth and mere bars of wood. The façade of the church, overlaid in the 20th century with horizontal bands of white and ochre travertine, still has its 14th-century portal. Inside, there is a single nave with barrel vaults, and here is the urn of exquisite marble, containing the body of the saint. The cenotaph is adorned with stucco statues showing St Agnes surrounded by angels. The shrine is rich in paintings and frescoes by the school of Simone Martini, by Raffaello Vanni, Ulisse Giocchi, Giovanni da San Giovanni, Salvi Castellucci and Nicola Nasini. The glass of the central rose window, showing St Agnes, is attributed to Bano di Michelangelo da Cortona. The 12th-century wooden crucifix, before which, in prayer, St Agnes customarily levitated from the ground, is the work of the German Rhineland school. Adjoining the shrine is the convent; the majestic cloister was built and frescoed with scenes from St Agnes’ life between 1603 and 1756.
The liturgical celebration of St Agnes falls on 20 April, but her popular celebration is on 1 May.
[Source: Lucia Tremiti in http://www.montepulcianoblog.com/montepulciano-il-santuario-di-santagnese/]
Dominic walked on and on, exhausted, and reached Siena. Here he did not need to ask hospitality of strangers because there were his own sons ready to welcome him. They wanted to set up home in the hospice of St Mary Magdalene, and it was there that he was put up. One day, this city was to become the birthplace of the woman who, more than any other, would embody and transmit the charism of the founder: Catherine of Siena (1347-80). This woman was mother of countless spiritual offspring from all walks of life, spiritualities and social positions; this “illiterate” young girl wrote to popes, cardinals, bishops, kings and queens, artists and doctors, laypersons, priests and religious; this daughter of Dominic lovingly accompanied those condemned to death, and succeeded in converting many of them – it is she, Catherine, who imparts to us a passionate love for fragile, sick, wounded humanity. She is close to those who make mistakes, loving and accompanying all of them to the healing of their hearts. In the course of life, every one of us is looking for the right path. For Catherine, this pathway is a “Bridge” that joins all extremes: good and bad, believers and non-believers, young and old, men and women. This pathway, this route, this “Bridge” is Jesus, who said “I am the way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6) and showed us the way of love. All human beings thirst for love. But how can we love, how can we trust love? Everything in the world seems to speak of division, faithlessness, conflict. We have the marks of wounds and frustration in us, together with fear of trusting others.
But Christ is faithful to his Church. He loves it in much the same way as a man loves a woman. It is impossible to separate Christ from the Church! She is a bride who is gravely flawed; but Christ wants to wash her, purify her and then clothe her. He wants to make her lovely. That is what he did with Catherine’s life, and with many of those condemned to death whom Catherine had befriended so that she could bring them to God. That is what he wants to do with me.
Catherine believed in that communion that goes beyond the various beliefs, social status, personal histories, origins and cultures of different people, and when it is present, generates light and life, and spreads peace. She built a cell within her heart, and learned to live there, and not to be afraid to look at herself truthfully, with the same loving, merciful gaze as God’s. She learned that in this cell, she could meet Him, even in the midst of other people. The cell of the heart is a place of prayer, meditation and liberty. To her surprise, she found the whole world there too. In that cell, Catherine learned to love herself and others, because she discovered that she herself, first of all, was the object of the “ineffable love” of that God who is “Fire of love”. How important it is to build this cell in my own heart! – this space of liberty and life; of contemplation, where the creativity of God can at last be expressed in me; this space where I can find myself again, and find others, and find Him, in the truth; this space where I can know myself and know God in me. It is true: every great work is born in the silence of contemplation!
(Dominican nuns – Pratovecchio)
Basilica of St Dominic
In the Basilica of St Dominic, in a chapel on the opposite side from the altar, there is a fresco of St Catherine with a believer, painted around 1375 by the Sienese painter Andrea Vanni. Catherine was still alive at the time, so this is considered to be the only “portrait” that probably looks like her. On the right of the nave is another chapel devoted to the cult of St Catherine, and here, in a glass container, is preserved the most important relic: her head. The people of Siena were so fond of their saint, in fact, that they wanted to have a part of her body in her native town. The rest of her body was buried in Rome, where she died.
There are also many works of art in the Basilica by important Sienese painters, such as the very lovely Adoration of the Shepherds, by the Renaissance master Francesco di Giorgio.
Shrine of the House of St Catherine
Inside there is a fine ceramic floor, in the Oratory of the Kitchen, and many frescoes with scenes from the saint’s life. Downstairs is a small room, the “cell” where Catherine lived for three years in solitude and prayer and where she received most of her mystical gifts. Here there are a stone pillow on which she habitually laid her head, and a number of objects that belonged to her. In the small Church of the Crucifix a crucifix made in Pisa in the 12th century is preserved: Catherine was absorbed in prayer in front of this crucifix when she received the stigmata, on 1 April 1375.
It is a simple matter to descend from the house to Fontebranda, which is nearby. Catherine was born near this important spring and her father, who was a dyer, drew water from the spring for his work. From here you can walk up the scenic Via del Costone: here, when very young, Catherine saw Christ the Pontiff appear to her, in the act of blessing.
H. Vicaire, Storia di S. Domenico, Edizioni Paoline, Rome 1983, p.619]
In Florence, Dominic was hosted by his brethren in the hospice of San Pancrazio, which was intended for the poor. Here he tried to understand what challenges and possibilities there were for preaching. Here too he had a very special encounter: he helped a young prostitute, Benedetta, to rediscover the way of life, true love and grace, which is genuine, pristine beauty for soul and body. After her conversion, she chose to follow Dominic in his mission and became a nun. Every time he passed through Florence, Dominic found time to meet with this spiritual daughter, who had passed from death to life, from darkness to light.
In the convent of San Marco, light emanates from the wonderful paintings of Fra Angelico, like a caress for the soul that can calm the heart. This light, product of a brush that was not only expert but contemplative, seems to embrace and illuminate those who draw near it. In Fra Angelico’s paintings we find scenes immersed in calm and gentleness: even the harshest, most painful scenes seem to be clad in a golden glow of peace where everything is drenched in the divine light. This artist friar was looking to the future: he already saw the Kingdom we yearn for, here and now. We cannot differentiate the man from the artist, the painter from the consecrated man. The artist bears within him the whole man and the whole consecrated brother, and shows us reality transfigured, through his eyes. Fra Angelico painted what he saw: his heart, oriented towards God, gave him the ability to look as God does. We begin to look up too, perhaps we meet a glance we were not expecting. We look upwards with the eyes of the heart, towards the Light. And we know now that the Light is a Person.
Other saints or important figures of the Order in Florence: Remigio de’ Girolami; Jacopo Passavanti; Villana delle Botti (S. Maria Novella); St Antonino, Girolamo Savonarola, Domenica da Paradiso, Mayor Giorgio la Pira (San Marco).
(Dominican nuns – Pratovecchio)
Museum of San Marco
The convent of San Marco in Florence was originally founded by Sylvestrine Benedictine monks in 1299.
On 21 January 1436, with Pope Eugene IV’s bull, it became Dominican after various comings and goings recounted by St Antonino himself.
Declared a museum of national importance in 1869, the Museum of San Marco in Florence is an architectural masterpiece by Michelozzo, commissioned by Cosimo dei Medici. The splendid rooms occupied by the museum live side by side with the church and the adjacent parts of the cloister, still used as a convent.
A visit to San Marco takes in the splendid architectural areas of the convent and the cells, the cloister of Sant’Antonino, Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper, the Refectory and the Chapter House. In particular, the Hospice Room is dedicated to Fra Angelico, whose Deposition, Triptych of St Peter Martyr, the Altarpiece, the Last Judgment (1431), the Altarpiece of St Mark, the Madonna with Child and the Linaiolis’ Tabernacle.
The frescoes on the second floor, in the part of the building that held the friars’ cells, are important Renaissance works and absolute masterpieces by Fra Angelico. Painted between 1438 and 1446, they bear witness to the most mature stage of Fra Angelico’s art and are an instance of absolute modernity and refinement, unique until that time in the history of monasteries.
The Museum also houses a notable number of works of inestimable historical and artistic value, above all the Last Supper by Ghirlandaio, the Madonna with Ridolfo’s belt by Ghirlandaio, Paolo Uccello’s Madonna with Child, and minor works such as the famous portrait of Girolamo Savonarola and Della Robbia’s terracotta glass windows. The rich collection is completed by the fabulous Library (1437-44) which houses very valuable manuscripts that belonged to the Medici and to well-known figures such as Pico della Mirandola and Agnolo Poliziano.
It is certainly worth visiting the church of San Marco, where you will also find the remains of St Antonino and of Giorgio La Pira.
H. Vicaire, Storia di S. Domenico, Edizioni Paoline, Rome 1983, pp. 497; 530]
Light breaks in the early morning, although it is at noon that the sun reaches its highest point. And we are well aware of the marvels that nature offers us in the first hours of the day. On Dominic’s pathway, we discover how much our saint trusted young people. At times a glance was enough to create a bond. Immediately they wanted to follow him, on the uncertain, venturesome, inspiring paths of preaching the Gospel. Living in voluntary poverty, with great trust in human reason and with a heart overflowing with compassion, Dominic attracted everyone. His adventurous life – the life lived by the apostles of Jesus – attracted those who were in search of a deep meaning of existence. He often sent his friars out to preach when they were still novices. A premature step? Weren’t they still unprepared? Yet his trust, together with their youthful enthusiasm, made them capable of such a mission.
Still today, Dominic trusts the young, and believes in communion as a source of light and life that is, in itself, preaching. In Fiesole we remember a young lay Dominican woman who lived her life of faith and sickness in profound communion with a Dominican friar: she was Tilde Manzotti (1915-39) and he was Br Antonio Lupi (1918-76). Their friendship lasted only a few years, for Tilde died young of a devastating illness. But Br Antonio’s priestly vocation and his life devoted to preaching were born in the “womb” of Tilde’s spiritual experience, and were cherished there all his life. The young friar wrote to her: “The Lord wanted you to be the mother of this priesthood. We shall be priests together, for ever.”
Tilde was the “mother” of Br Antonio’s priesthood, although she did not live to see him a priest. But Br Antonio’s ministry, and the people he was to meet during his long life, had already been welcomed and kept safe in this woman’s womb. Indeed, he arrived at profound understanding of his calling precisely through the experience of God that she brought to completion as she lay on her bed of suffering and love.
We might say that it is on the level of grace that what we see at the level of nature, where man receives physical life from woman, finds completion. So this Dominican woman is the channel by means of which the Dominican man’s vocation grew and was completed. And through her mediation, he became an instrument of grace for all men and women. At the same time, we note that, at the level of nature, the children of the man are also children of the woman. And so, consecrated man and woman experience together that spiritual motherhood and fatherhood that make them complementary subjects of the preaching of the Gospel: “If I suffer with you and with all the souls the Lord gives me, with them all because, yes, as you want and as the Lord wants, I will love them all infinitely.”
In the course of the centuries, many Dominican vocations have arisen or flourished within a relationship of communion, both in consecrated, religious and priestly life and in married life: Jordan of Saxony and Diana d’Andalò, Jordan and Henry, Catherine of Siena and Raymond of Capua, and others: more recently, Giorgio La Pira (lay Dominican) and Fioretta Mazzei (Franciscan tertiary), and the married couple Elisabetta and Felice Leseur (united in faith, mysteriously, only after the death of Elisabetta, when Felice, finding and reading his wife’s diary, was converted to Catholicism and became a Dominican friar and priest).
Friendship makes us more like God, who is relationship. A friendship lived in God becomes communion, and goes beyond the limits of space and time. What we are talking about here is not any sharing of interests between men and women. We are talking about something deeper. We are talking about a communion of souls that is born, grows and is completed in total detachment and yet in the most profound of unions, which God grants if and when He pleases, to whom he pleases, and which is the fruit only of a life in His grace. This is the pathway of Dominic: the pathway of light,
In Fiesole we also remember St Antonino and Fra Angelico.
(Dominican nuns – Pratovecchio)
Convent of St Dominic
The Convent of St Dominic, halfway between Florence and Fiesole, began in 1405-06 as a coenobium of reform at the initiative of Giovanni Dominici and the Bishop from Fiesole Jacopo Altoviti, both friars at Santa Maria Novella. In the “little convent”, inhabited from the last few months of 1406, among those who received formation for Dominican religious life were the future Archbishop of Florence St Antonino Pierozzi and the great painter Br John of Fiesole, known as Fra Angelico. The 15th-century part of the convent was completed around 1418 thanks to the generous bequest of Barnaba degli Agli, and in 1520 Fra Angelico began to paint the Madonna, in the act of blessing, on the small archway at the entrance to the little church. This Madonna was restored in 1960, allowing us to recover the dark red sinopite. In the chapter house he painted the fresco of the great Crucified Christ, witnessing to his art and to his devotion in his beloved convent. The suppression of the religious orders under Napoleon led to the expropriation of the convent, which was recovered in 1879, yielding a number of works by Fra Angelico. In 1491 work was begun on extension on the side of the cloister parallel to the church in the direction of Florence. In addition to Dominici, St Antonino and Fra Angelico, a number of famous friars of the Fiesole convent are remembered with honour.
The external portico and the elegant bell tower of the church are the work of Matteo Nigetti (1569-1649). The interior of the church, transformed at the beginning of the 17th century, was decorated by the painters M. Bonechi, R. Botti and L. Del Moro.
In the vault of the nave: St Dominic borne into heaven by the angels; above the presbytery: the Virgin giving the Rosary to St Dominic and, through him, to the peoples of the four continents.
The Presbytery, by the architect M. Nigetti, accommodates a large 17th-century choir with 62 stalls, partly in walnut. A number of important works of art are kept in the side chapels.
A. Lupi e T. Manzotti, Amare infinitamente – Epistolario, Feeria, 2014]
Dominic, that great walker, travelled no fewer than five times to Bologna. It was here that he founded the first convents; here the first two important General Chapters were held. Here he died, leaving his last testament: “Have charity for one another, guard humility, and make a treasure of voluntary poverty”. Here he spoke his last words: “I shall be more useful to you in heaven than on earth” and “Do not weep”, making manifest to the last his most characteristic aspect: compassion. In fact, Lacordaire said of him: “He was tender as a mother, strong as a diamond”. In Bologna Dominic asked to be buried under the feet of his brethren; and indeed, over the centuries, they walked in the footsteps of the Founder, on the solid rock of that first insight; on the legacy of an Order created to continue the work of the apostles in the world: preaching the Gospel.
Dominic was a man of silence and of dialogue, a man who listened. He was invested with a profound thirst: thirst for people’s joy; thirst for truth; thirst for giving the water of wisdom to men and women who, like him, were thirsty.
Following his tracks, we feel that this thirst, even today, still inhabits the hearts of those who are walking on the uncertain, twisting, arduous pathways of our time: thirst for the discovery of meaning in life, in events, in history; thirst for justice, liberty, truth. The hearts of men and women, the hearts of the young, are today filled with a deep thirst. Reaching Bologna means being open to the encounter with an unexpected friend on your own path of seeking – a man who sought and then copiously gave a cool, thirst-slaking water: the water of wisdom.
Well, at last, in Bologna, we are invited to sit down. Dominic invites us to share a meal with him. Sitting round the Mascarella Table, we’ll find it easier to listen to the experience of Dominic and his first brethren. Among them there is one woman, marking the important place women had from the beginning in Dominic’s dream. In this city, they had the thrilling experience of the foundation of the Order. There are not many objects on the Table: it is the people who matter, all looking in front of them, together, in the same direction. They are looking with their hearts at the people, the world to which they have been sent – and at God, who reveals himself precisely “at table”, the table of the altar, the table of the Word, of communion, of life. It is the table of longing and seeking for His Face. As Catherine of Siena said, our hearts are made for love and it is our longing that makes us like God, because it is infinite! So the thirst for life, meaning, love and liberty that lives in the human being speaks to us still of that divine seed that is hidden in the heart of every one and waits only to be watered so that it can germinate and grow. The soil in which it can flower and bear much fruit is love; the water that it can be watered with is wisdom. All this comes about by means of the preaching of grace.
Dominic and his first companions are together. Communion of life is where it is possible to experience Him who said: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). It is exactly here that God responds to the “thirst” of the heart and manifests himself, lets us meet him.
Many saints of the Order – some of whom we have encountered along this Way of Dominic’s – have experienced communion, and their experiences have silently and fruitfully nourished the life of the Church. It is possible, then, to demolish the barriers of hatred with the provocation of communion. Wars and divisions can be defeated with an authentic “conscientious objection”: life together, in the profound sharing of personal gifts and the riches of grace among people of various cultures, ages and origins.
From here, we can set out again, in the company of Dominic, a man of light and tenderness, to emanate in the world Christ, the true Light, “Sun that never sets”. This is the real challenge for the true, courageous, intrepid walkers along the paths of our times!
(Dominican nuns – Pratovecchio)
Other saints or important figures of the Order in Bologna:
Blessed Reginald of Orleans (1180-1220); Blessed Jordan of Saxony (1176-1237); Blessed Diana d’Andalò (1201 – 10 June 1236); Blessed Cecilia Cesarini (Rome, c.1200 – Bologna, 1290)
And still more:
St Peter of Verona, martyr (c.1200-1252)
University student in Bologna, where he entered the Order); Blessed Isnardo da Chiampo (c.1280-1244); Blessed Imelda Lambertini, nun (1320-1333); Blessed Antonio della Chiesa (1394-1459); Blessed Costanzo da Fabriano (c.1400 -1481); St Pius V, pope (1504-1572); Blessed Benedict XI, pope (1240-1304)
Niccolò Boccasini, from Treviso, of humble origins, was twice Provincial of Lombardy, with his headquarters in Bologna.
Blessed John of Salerno (1190-1242)
Student of Law at the University of Bologna, where he entered the Order in 1219. Sent by St Dominic with a number of companions to Florence to found a convent there, in 1221 he established the Dominican community of Santa Maria Novella.
St Hyacinth (1183-1257)
Born into an old aristocratic Polish family, he came to Bologna to study. Here he met St Dominic: he enthusiastically embraced his ideal and entered the Order; on his return to his native land, he brought the Order there.
Blessed Guala of Bergamo (1180-1244)
He entered the Order in Bologna in 1219. Prior of the Convent of Brescia, in a dream he saw a vision of the glory of St Dominic, welcomed at his death directly into Heaven by the Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Blessed Raymond of Capua (1330-1399)
Student of Law at the University of Bologna, where he entered the Order. He lectured on theology there. He was the spiritual director of St Catherine of Siena. In a vision he was called by St Dominic himself to promote and guide the reform of the Order.
Blessed James of Ulm (1407-1491)
Arriving in Italy from Germany on a pilgrimage to Rome, he became a soldier, first in the ranks of the Neapolitan army and subsequently in the forces of the Duke of Milan. When he came to St Dominic’s church in Bologna, he was drawn to Dominican life, and entered the Order as a co-operator brother, devoting himself to prayer, mortification, humility, tireless warm-heated service of his neighbour, and also to the art of glassmaking, in which he was a master. His relics are preserved in our Basilica.
Blessed Pietro Geremia (1399-1452)
Student of Law in Bologna, where he entered the Order.
Blessed Benvenuta Boiani (1255-1291).
A lay Dominican, affected by serious illness, she was healed by the intercession of St Dominic, to whose tomb she had gone on pilgrimage.
Blessed John of Vercelli (1200 circa-1283)
Prior in Bologna, Provincial of Lombardy, 6th Master of the Order (1264).
Blessed Sebastian Maggi (1414-1496)
Prior in Bologna.
 [Source: Br Roberto Viglino in https://sandomenicobologna.it/ordine-dei-predicatori/i-nostri-santi/]
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