Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saint Dominic in Rome

Salus Populi Romani
Many houses of religious women that existed before the founding of the Dominican Order were affiliated with the Order later.  Pope Innocent III appropriated the church of Saint Sixtus for a number of religious women who were then living in Rome without the protection of a convent.  Mother Francis Raphael wrote, “The design of collecting them together under regular discipline had been found fraught with difficulty and had failed even the papal authority, aided by the power and genius of such a man as Innocent, had been unable to overcome the wilfulness and prejudice which opposed so wise a project. Honorius who no less than his predecessor ardently desired to see it carried out resolved to commit the management of the whole affair to Dominic.”   

At that time there was in Rome an image of Our Lady revered as the Salus Populi Romani believed to have been painted by Saint Luke.  According to tradition this image had been brought to Rome many centuries before from Constantinople.  Saint Dominic's plan was to move this image and so move all the women who were devoted to it under one roof.  For this purpose he proposed giving up his own convent of Saint Sixtus in exchange for Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill.  Mother Francis Raphel Drane writes, “He used all the skill and address of manner with which God had endowed him and on his second visit; he found means to win over the abbess and, after her, all the community with one solitary exception to the wishes of the Pope. There were, however, conditions proposed, and accepted. These were that they must be suffered to carry their picture with them to Saint Sixtus, and should it come back . . . as in the days of Pope Sergius, that they should be held free to come back after it. Dominic consented but . . . induced them to profess obedience in all else to himself; and they having done so, he gave them, as their first trial, a prohibition to leave their convent in order to visit any of their friends or relatives... 

Dominic waited until night fall before he ventured to remove the picture so often named; he feared lest some excitement and disturbance might be caused by this being done in broad day, for the people of the city felt a jealous unwillingness to suffer it to depart. However, at midnight accompanied by the two cardinals, Nicholas and Stephen, and many other persons all barefoot and carrying torches, he conducted it in solemn procession to Saint Sixtus, where the nuns awaited its approach with similar marks of respect.  It did not return, and its quiet domestication in the new house completed the settlement of the nuns.  They were soon after joined by twenty one others from various other houses and thus was formed the second house of religious women living under the rule of Saint Dominic.”   

Paul V arranged that a magnificent Chapel be built for the veneration of this image in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.  On January 27, 1613, it was removed from the high altar and placed in the new chapel where it remains to this day.  Saint Sixtus remains a convent of Dominican women and Santa Sabina is central headquarters of the Master of the Order in Rome.

Drane, Augusta Theodosia (Mother Francis Raphael), The Life of St. Dominic and a Sketch of the Dominican Order with an Introduction to the America edition by Rev Joseph Sadoc Alemany, D.D., P. O’Shea Publisher, New York, New York, 1867, (p. 102-106).