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Sep 15 Dominic and the miraculous painting

Today in 1530 a supposed 'miraculous' portrait of Saint Dominic appeared in Calabria, in the South of Italy. The image has garnered intense local devotion with many miracles attached to it. It has itself been painted many times and today we look at the story of Dominic and his life, and the mysterious circumstances of the arrival of the painting


Dominic Guzman had born in old Castile, Spain, in the 12th century and became a canon of the cathedral at Osma, where there was an attempt to revive the apostolic common life described in Acts of the Apostles. A canon originally was a priest living with others in a clergy house or, later, in one of the houses within the precinct of or close to a cathedral or other major church and conducting his life according to the customary discipline or rules of the church. This way of life grew common (and is first documented) in the eighth century. In the eleventh century, some churches required clergy thus living together to adopt the rule first proposed by Saint Augustine that they renounce private wealth. Those who embraced this change were known as Augustinians or Canons Regular, whilst those who did not were known as secular canons.

On a journey through France with his bishop, Dominic came face to face with the then popular Albigensian heresy at Languedoc. The Albigensians which meant “the pure ones”—had a simple and dualistic view of the world which they split into good and evil. All matter was evil—hence they denied that Jesus had become a human being, and refuted the sacraments. On the same principle, they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink. Their soon evolved an inner circle led what some people regarded as a heroic life of purity and asceticism not shared by ordinary followers. Dominic was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching crusade was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the ascetical heroes of the Albigenses. Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers, the famous ones travelled with horse and retinues, stayed at the best inns and had servants. Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching according to the gospel ideal. He continued this work for 10 years and with his fellow preachers gradually formed a community, and in 1215 founded a religious house at Toulouse, the beginning of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans. Dominic's ideal was in preaching “to pass on the fruits of contemplation” or “to speak only of God or with God.”

Two hundred years later, members of the Dominican Order founded a friary at Soriano Calabro, in Italy’s deep south, on the arch of the foot of the boot of Italy;. There seems to be no record that Dominic himself ventured further south in Italy than Rome however soon a town grew up around it and in 1530, the friars began to display for public veneration a portrait of the founder of their Order. The origin of the painting was shrouded in mystery but the locals developed a strong devotion to the image and miracles were associated with it. In the early 17th century, Silvestro Frangipane, a Dominican, investigated the painting and wrote a book about it. Several senior members of his Order gave it their imprimaturs, and it was published in 1634. The contained an explanation of its unusual origin.

It happened that, during the night before the octave of the Nativity of the Madonna, in the Year of Our Lord 1530, the sacristan of Soriano had risen, as was his custom, at 3 o'clock in the morning to light the church lamps. Three ladies of wonderful appearance, the first of whom seemed much afflicted by grief, finding the door unlocked, entered. Their leader, her grief turning into joy, asked, “What church might this be?” The sacristan replied, “This church is dedicated to Saint Dominic. We have no paintings on the walls, except for that crude depiction of him behind the altar.” The venerable matron said, “So that your church may have another icon, take this and give it to your superior. Then, tell him to place it above the altar.” With great reverence, the sacristan accepted the gift and brought it to his superior. When the superior and two other brothers came to the church, the ladies were nowhere to be seen. One of them later said, “While I knelt in prayer, Saint Catherine the Virgin appeared to me and said: I, together with the Virgin Mother of God and the Magdalene, have conferred this favour upon you.

After it was hung in a place other than the one specified by the Virgin Mary, the following morning it would be back in its proper place and no fewer than 1,600 miracles were reliably attributed to its presence within a space of 78 years. 1644, Pope Innocent XII ordained a feast day on 15 September to commemorate its origin and properties. but Pope Pius X Our Lady of Sorrows to the fixed date of 15 September, perhaps in a move to discourage superstition.


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