Born in the rugged mountain range of Caleruga, Spain around 1170, Dominic de Guzman was marked for a life of service to God, even before he was born, as we know from the often told story of his mother’s dream of giving birth to a dog with a burning torch in his mouth. In her dream, the dog leaped from her womb seeming to set the whole earth on fire signifying that her child would become a eminent preacher. Gifted intellectually, Dominic’s love of study began in 1184 at Palencia University where he studied theology and was ordained to the priesthood. Dominic’s life can be divided into two parts: his ecclesiastical career (1194-1215), and his years dedicated to shaping the fledgling group that would become the Order of Preachers (1215-1221).
As a young priest, the problems of the Christian world charted Dominic’s future for had the Church not been plagued with groups of heretics, including the Albigensians, Dominic’s life would surely have taken a different direction. While accompanying Bishop Diego of Osma on trip to Denmark, they stopped in Toulouse and Dominic had a encounter with the Albigensian innkeeper at his lodge. Dominic argued with the man all night, and by morning had persuaded him to return to the church. His burning desire for the salvation of souls through the preaching of the Word of God, manifest in that experience, continued throughout his life. For the next twelve years, Dominic traveled throughout France, Italy and Spain, preaching the Gospel, converting heretics, hearing confessions, and providing pastoral care to God’s people. He lived a monk’s life, dedicated to prayer and extreme asceticism. Eventually a few men joined Dominic in his wanderings and it was during this time that the idea of a new religious order was born. It is fair to say that Dominic did not set out to become a founder of a religious order, but rather to respond to the urgent need for a new type of evangelization within the existing Church and culture. His response was radical, in that it called for a new model of religious life that moved from monastic enclosure to the urban world that was developing in medieval Europe.
Dominic lived only six years after Pope Honorius granted a bull of appropriation for the founding of the Friar Preachers in 1216. During this last period of his life, he did, indeed, take on the role of founder, albeit, a humble one, satisfied to be a peer to his brothers. He taught the brothers how to live by the Rule, started and supported the development of women’s congregations, sought vocations, all the while making quick decisions that were radical and creative, as he sent young men to universities around Europe to study in preparation for ministry, and out in pairs to preach the Word of God. His personal resources included one patched tunic, his virtue, strong organizational skills, and a kind of confidence that can only be understood in the context of his deep, abiding, zealous love of God, the Church and humanity.
During these six years, he was so effective that when he died on August 6, 1222 at the age of 51, he had organized a religious order that already had men and women thinking and living as Dominicans, although the term “Dominicans” would not come into use until about two hundred years later. He was buried in Bologna in a humble underground crypt where he remained until the transference of his body to new tomb in 1223. His was canonized by Gregory IX on July 3, 1234, the first of many hundreds of members of the Order of Preachers to be canonized in the eight hundred centuries that would follow his death.
Acrylic by: Cristobal Torres Iglesias, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory and Novitiate
FROM THE ARTIST:
Starting with Jesus in the center and moving counter-clockwise to each guest, the diners are:
- Mary Magdalene
- Bartolome de las Casas, OP
- Luis de Cancer, OP
- Louis Beltran, OP
- St. Martin de Porres, OP
- St. Catherine of Siena, OP
- Blessed Fra Angelico, OP
- St. Rose of Lima, OP
- Teresa Chicaba, OP
- Blessed Margaret of Castello, OP
- St. Lorenzo Ruiz, OP
- Catherine of Alexandra
Please visit the “Featured Art” section for a detailed description of each of the guests.
Acrylic and goldleaf by Cristóbal Torres Iglesias, O.P.
From the private collection of Richard C. Colton, Jr.
New Orleans, Louisiana
FROM THE ARTIST:
In the Martin de Porres piece I tried to explore the idea of hagiography, both through image and through narrative. I had discovered this remarkably simple and very real looking portrait of Martin purportedly painted not long after his death that is now hanging in a Dominican women’s monastery in Perú. In it Martin looks older than he is usually depicted, with a receding hairline, his face gaunt and serene, his posture dignified, and his clothing rather plain. It struck me that this was a real human being with extensive experience of life in all of its complexity, beauty, and injustice, and that he must have had a considerable amount of wisdom, compassion, and wit.
It seemed to me that this contrasted greatly with our traditional hagiographical images of Martin, whether they depicted him looking puerile, holding a broom, and with mice at his feet; or perhaps clad in an elaborately gilded habit as in traditional Peruvian art. So I decided to experiment with the process of creating hagiography; to explore how the memory of an ordinary person who strove to live the Gospel is transfigured by the People of God, both visually through images or in the stories we tell about them. It struck me that hagiography is really more about the spiritual needs of a local Christian community than it is about the person it references. So I painted Martin, inspired by the portrait hanging in the Peruvian monastery; but I then added layers of gilding and visual hagiography in homage to the Cuzco school of religious art, as a way of tracing the centuries-long process of hagiographically re-imagining a historical person.
Since in addition to sacred art, narrative text is such a vital part of this process, I decided to incorporate a written hagiography into the piece as well. As with the portrait, I referenced a rather mundane, modern-day biography of Martin from Wikipedia and altered the text’s modern grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and syntax to bring it closer to 17th century Spanish. I then exaggerated the style of the narrative, making it more flowery and overwrought. The result is a piece of visual and narrative text that includes the historical person who is its reference point, plus generations of hagiographical overlay. The idea is to ensure that both Martins- the real human being who lived an intense relationship with God and with the people of his day, and the one we have made him into- are both present and visible. And in the process, yet another Martin emerges…
Friar Martin de Porras y Velázquez (in many sources it’s actually spelled “Porras”), son of the nobleman and Knight of Calatrava Sir Ivan de Porras native of Burgos, and of the most pious Ana Velázquez, freed woman of color from Panama, was baptized on the 9th of December of 1579 in the Church of St. Sebastian in the city of Lima in the Viceroyalty of Peru. In 1594 and by invitation of Friar Iván de Lorenzana and by the grace of God and of His Most Holy Mother, in said city he entered the Order of Preachers of St. Dominic de Guzmán as a simple donado. Having much medicinal knowledge and distinguished in piety and virtue, Martin cured the poorest and most needy of the ailing when, because of his great pity the poor and the afflicted of all Lima had recourse to him, in this manner benefiting from the holy charity, knowledge and skill of so humble and pious a friar. It is known through the testimony of his brothers and of many other people that the helpless did await him at the en-” (at this point the narrative is intentionally cut off, as if this were a book and one had to turn the page to continue reading.)
Pen and Ink Drawing by Cristóbal Torres Iglesias, O.P.
Watercolor by Deborah Griffin
From a series of eight windows at the St. Rose of Lima Chapel at the Zanmi Beni Children’s Center, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
FROM THE ARTIST:
The Silence of Contemplation
Rosa, the Peruvian saint from Lima here called “Rose” so the children of Zanmi Beni can befriend her in their own language, prays under a starry dark blue sky that fades as it falls over the mountains. This nocturnal peace, silence, and mystery help Rose teach the children of Zanmi Beni the centrality of prayer, the heart’s silent communion with God.
Rose’s hands are open in expectation: She waits in silence to receive, so she might have something to give. This is the mystery that she comes to teach not only the children, but also those who love and care for them. Rose invites us into the empty silence, so that like her, we might meet the eternal Word that births every word and work of justice. Rose teaches by example, the silence of contemplation.
Oil on wood by Martin Erspamer, OSB, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey
Dominican House of Studies
St. Louis, Missouri
FROM THE ARTIST:
The composition of the cross is based on input from the friars and Fr. Bouchard and a bit of art history thrown into the mix. I was told that the Dominicans have a special devotion to the living Jesus on the cross so there is no wound in his side and his eyes are open. The position of the figure of Christ is the Christus Patiens, the patient, enduring Christ. Above Jesus’ head and hands are the sun, moon and stars – the cosmic witnesses to his death. The sun and moon are looking away in sorrow and shame. At Jesus’s feet is a half circle of vegetation representing the earth. The cross is the axis mundi, the pole of the earth, uniting earth to heaven. The cross is also the tree of life and so from the lower part of the cross, leaves and vines spring forth. These vines also make reference to the mosaic in the apse of St. Clemente in Rome. The theme is similar but the mosaic was made under the patronage of the Dominicans in the 13th century and there are many images of Dominicans interwoven into the tendrils of the mosaic. Standing beneath the arms of the cross are Albert the Great and Martin de Porres, the patrons of the Central and Southern provinces. Beneath the arms of the cross is a scroll also with a text in praise of the cross by Venantius.
There are two smaller figures in the composition. One is wearing the mantle and beret of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. He is the donor and a benefactor and friend of the Dominicans. He holds in his hand a scroll inscribed with a line from an ancient hymn in praise of the cross by Venantius Fortunatus. The other small figure is dressed as a Benedictine monk and holding paint brushes. I painted myself among the tendrils as a sort of signature. In very tiny letters on the vine near the figure are the words, “martinus me fecit.” Martin made me.
Watercolor by Peggy Williams
GUARDIAN, PROTECTOR, LIGHT BEARER
Saint Dominic died in Bologna on August 6, 1221. He was buried in altar in the church of San Nicolò delle Vigne in humble circumstances, “under the feet of the brothers,” as was his final request. Between 1228 and 1240, the church of San Nicolò was expanded into the Basilica of San Domencio and in 1233, Dominic’s remains were moved into a simple marble sarcophagus situated on the floor in the right aisle of the church to make his tomb for accessible to the many pilgrims, who came in great numbers to pray at his tomb as the cult of Dominic grew. However, it soon became clear that the current space could not accommodate all of the faithful, and in 1264, the brothers commissioned a new tomb for their founder.
This Shrine to St. Dominic would be an ambitious and elaborate masterpiece that would develop in separate stages and end up taking over 500 years to complete. Throughout the entire project, the Shrine was worked on by the best artists and sculptors of their time including a young Michelangelo, who as a student of Niccolò da Bari, contributed at three statues to the monument; San Petronio, the patron of Bologna, San Procolo (who is said to closely resemble the statue of David, made ten years later), and one of the two angels kneeling on either side of the foot of the tomb. Michelangelo was paid thirty ducats by his patron, Francesco Aldovrandi for creating the statue of the handsome angel that artist Peggy Williams has so beautifully interpreted for us.
Illuminated Manuscript by Cristóbal Torres Iglesias, OP
Dominican House of Studies
Priory of the Immaculate Conception
FROM THE ARTIST:
The illuminated text is the “O Lumen,” a traditional Dominican chant to St. Dominic that we all sing together at Compline (Night Prayer). Inside the illuminated “O” is Dominic, who silently ponders the Good News of the Resurrection that Mary Magdalene is preaching to him while both stand in front of the empty tomb. I wanted to visually evoke a fourteenth-century Western European illumination and hagiography while incorporating subtle elements that a fourteenth-century illuminator might not have thought of or had access to, therefore Mary’s depiction here draws significantly from both Western and Eastern Christian traditions about her, as well as her traditional connection to the Dominican Order.
Mary Magdalene is one of the patron saints of the Order of Preachers and has been recognized as such almost since the order’s inception in the 13th century, owing in part to her role as the first witness and preacher of the resurrected Christ. The Magdalene’s patronage of our Order and her role as the first preacher are reflected in her anachronistic donning of the Dominican habit. Her flowing red hair, a feature likely inconsistent with the actual appearance of the Palestinian Jewish disciple of the gospels, is a “tip of the hat” to classical depictions of her in the history of Western Christian art. She holds a jar of ointment, a symbol drawn from the gospels and present in both Eastern and Western images of her. The red egg Mary holds refers to a hagiographical legend from the Christian East, according to which Mary proclaimed the Resurrection to the Emperor Tiberius while dining with him in Rome. The emperor mockingly told Mary that it was more likely that the egg on her plate should turn red than that her Lord rose from the dead. Eastern icons of Mary Magdalene often depict her holding up the miraculously reddened egg in response to Tiberius’ mockery.
Mary’s place as the first to preach the Good News earned her the ancient titles of “Apostle to the Apostles” and “Equal to the Apostles,” titles by which she is still revered today in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. I therefore thought it fitting to depict her sharing the Gospel with our spiritual father and founder Dominic, who in turn charges his family of preachers to continue the task of sharing it with others.