Saturday, August 2, 2014

Blessed Jane of Aza

Blessed Jane and her son Saint Dominic
Blessed Jane was born in the Castle of Aza at Peñafiel in Spain sometime around 1135.  She is believed to have died sometime between 1185 and 1194 when Saint Dominic was studying at Palencia, but the hagiographical tradition places her death at August 2, 1205. She was buried in the parish church of Caleruega, but her remains were subsequently translated, first to the Guzmán family burial-place at Gumiel d'Izan, and later to her own birthplace in Peñafiel.  She was beatified by Leo XII in 1828.

She is generally thought to have belonged to a noble Spanish family related by blood to Saint Lewis of France and Saint Ferdinand of Spain.  Of her youth we have no particulars; as soon as she was of an age to marry, she contracted an alliance with Don Felix de Guzmán of Caleruega in Old Castile, whose lineage was as noble and as saintly as her own. His personal character, as well as his rank, rendered him in every way worthy to become her husband; and the household over which they ruled was so remarkable for its piety and good order, that it was commonly said rather to resemble that of a monastery than of a knightly castle.

To singular beauty of person and the charms of a cultivated mind, Blessed Jane added solid piety and great energy in the practice of good works. The world had never had any attractions for her; she applied herself diligently to the requirements of her state, and devoted all the time which remained after the discharge of her domestic duties to prayer and works of charity. She was ever distinguished for humility, and, high-born lady as she was, the simplicity and modesty of her bearing excelled that of all her attendants. She frequently spent the whole night in devotional exercises, made pilgrimages to the neighboring sanctuaries, and visited the sick and poor in their humble dwellings.

Of the three sons born of this truly Christian marriage, Antonio, the eldest, became a secular priest, and, enamored of holy poverty, distributed his patrimony to the poor and retired to a hospital, where he spent the remainder of his days humbly ministering to the sick. Mannes, the second son, also embraced the ecclesiastical state, in due course became one of the first Friar Preachers, and has received the honors of beatification. By the dedication of both their sons to the service of the sanctuary, Don Felix and his wife were left without an heir to carry on the succession of their family, and desiring greatly to obtain from Heaven the gift of yet another son, Doña Jane resolved to present her petition to God through the intercession of Saint Dominic of Silos, a Saint at that time renowned throughout Spain for the fame of his miracles, especially in the releasing of captives.
The Monastery of Silos, which stands in the near vicinity of Caleruega, was the resort of pilgrims from every part of the country; and there, with the approbation of the Abbot, she began a novena, spending, not her days only, but her nights also in the church, the hard pavement of which was her only bed. On the seventh day of the novena the Saint appeared to her, and declared that her prayers were heard, and that she would become the mother of a son who should be the light of the Church and the terror of heretics. In gratitude, she offered to the Saint the child who was to be given her through his intercession, and promised that, in memory of this favor, he should bear the name of Dominic. Before his birth she beheld her son in a dream or vision, represented under the figure of a black and white dog, holding in its mouth a torch which kindled and illuminated the entire world. 

About this time also Jane had, with her accustomed liberality, distributed to the poor the entire contents of a cask of excellent wine. Fearing that this might cause some annoyance to her husband, she knelt down in the cellar and offered the following touching prayer: – "O Lord Jesus, though I do not deserve to be heard, I beseech Thee, nevertheless, to take pity upon me in the name of Thy servant, the dear little child whom I bear in my womb and whom I have consecrated to Thee." The prayer was scarcely ended when the cask was found to be miraculously refilled.
Doña Jane would entrust to no one the nurturing of this child of benediction, the future father and founder of the Order of Preachers; she brought him up herself with the utmost care, and, when he was but a few weeks old, she and Don Felix bore him to the Abbey of Silos and offered him to God before the altar of Saint Dominic. The Abbot celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving, and when turning round to say the Dominus vobiscum, his eyes chanced to rest upon the infant, and he uttered instead the words, "Ecce reparator Ecclesia" – "Behold the reformer of the Church." Perceiving his mistake, he endeavored to correct it, but three times the same words involuntarily escaped his lips, and they were taken as a presage of the child's future destiny.

Blessed Jane also carried the infant to the tomb of his great-uncle, Blessed Peter of Ucles, the founder of the military religious Order of the Knights of Saint James of the Sword. She seems frequently to have visited this spot, where a hermitage still bears her name, whilst a fountain and garden in the neighborhood are called the fountain and garden of Saint Dominic. When he had reached the age of seven, she entrusted her child to the care of her brother, the arch-priest of the neighboring town of Gumiel d'Izan; and another of her brothers, the Abbot of La Vid, seems also to have had his share in the education of the young Saint.

Don Felix and Blessed Jane must have had other children besides the three here mentioned, as it is certain that Saint Dominic and Blessed Mannes had two nephews who entered the Order of Preachers; and the name of Guzman has been perpetuated in Spain even to our own days and has been allied by marriage to many of the royal families of Europe.

From “Short Lives of the Dominican Saints” (London, Kegan Paul, Trench, and Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1901)