One enduring prayer of the last thousand years of the Catholic Church used in countless situations is the prayer of the holy rosary. As its name implies, rosary is taken from the word rosarius meaning a garland of roses. Saint Dominic was thought to be the first person to promulgate the prayer of the rosary, but history shows that a form of the rosary was in existence before Saint Dominic (1171-1221) was born. The first part of the Hail Mary was being said as early as 1072. The Hail Mary, was known in early times as the Ave or Angelic Psalter, from two scripture passages regarding the Incarnation of Christ. The Angel Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) combined with Elizabeth’s response to Mary visiting her and carrying within her the Son of God, “Blessed are you among women and blessed in the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). As was noted in the last chapter, Our Lady expressed to an English noblewoman the desire for people to establish devotion to the Incarnation of Jesus in the year 1061. Devotion to the great mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus was spreading in the world during this age in Europe due in part to apparitions and messages from the Virgin Mary to chosen souls.
We also know that in the monasteries of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, it was commonplace for the monks to offer a mass and pray the 150 psalms for the repose of the soul of the dead. Then it became habit for the monks to say the 150 psalms every day. Due to widespread illiteracy, it became even more commonplace to pray 150 Our Fathers instead because, as Jesus said, that is the perfect prayer. A tallying device was used to keep track of the prayers that were said. Stones were tied to cords or knots were made in the cord to help the faithful finger along the cord as they completed each prayer. Eventually, the angelic psalter (Hail Mary) was prayed on the tallying cords, too. Stories were in circulation during the thirteenth century that described an apparition of the Virgin Mary during recitation of the angelic psalter. The Blessed Mother was seen to have taken a rosebud from the lips of a young monk each time he prayed a Hail Mary. She then wove the roses into a garland, which she placed upon her head, and returned to Heaven. The monk rejoiced that Our Lady accepted his prayers and instructed other good people to do the same. Word was spreading about the sweet consolations and graces received from the recitation of the rosary.
About that time in history Dominic Guzman was born in Spain in 1171. He received an education and studied to become a priest in Spain. He had compassion for the poor and enslaved and had a holy zeal to do what he could to help bring Christ to people. Dominic was ordained a priest in Spain. The bishop sent Dominic on a mission to northern Europe. On the way, Father Dominic encountered Albigesians in Southern France. Albigensianism was a heresy where people believed that the body and the earth was evil. Its adherents practiced asceticism like fasting, they abstained from meat, traveled on foot and were not materialistic and favored suicide.
Pope Innocent III summoned Dominic and other missionaries to southern France to defend and preserve the Catholic faith against the errors of Albigensianism. First the missionaries had to reform their own worldly ways to start to gain the consideration of the Albigensians. They started by shedding all their unnecessary possessions and they began to walk instead of ride. Dominic was threatened with assassination and typically at his sermons, he was mocked. The priests would go to a village for debating events and converse with the locals for days, a week or a month at a time. At the conclusion of one debate it was decided that Dominic’s papers and the heretic’s papers would both be thrown into the fire to determine who was speaking the truth in the eyes of God. Fire consumed the Albigensianist’s papers while Dominic’s volume was supernaturally thrust out of the fire. Not content with that conclusion, the mob threw Dominic’s papers a second and even a third time into the flames, but his material was not damaged. This miracle strengthened Dominic’s resolve but did little to dismantle the opinions of the heretics.
Then there was a breakthrough. At the conclusion of one open-air sermon, several Albigensian women approached Dominic and asked to be converted into “the faith in which we may live, may die, and may be saved.” Dominic was overjoyed. He knew the women would have to separate themselves from their Albigensian families to nurture their fledgling Catholic faith. That was on his mind on the evening of July 22, 1206, the Feast of Mary Magdalene, when resting on a high plain he implored the intercession of the Virgin Mary for help in finding a dwelling for the new converts. Suddenly a meteor shot through the sky and completed its trajectory over the forsaken church of Our Lady of Prouille. Dominic took that as a sign and petitioned the Bishop of Toulouse for the property. Within months, a deed was presented to “Dominic of Osma the church of Saint Mary of Prouille and the adjacent land, to the extent of thirty feet.” A convent was built for nine women where they worked, prayed, and contemplated religious matters according to the rule of Saint Augustine. Despite that small conversion victory, Dominic had to wait several more fruitless years with little progress in making more converts. Tradition tells us that at one point Dominic cried out in discouragement at the progress of his mission. He then received a vision of Our Blessed Mother handing him a rosary garland. Our Lady said, “Dominic, wonder not that until now you have obtained so little fruit by your labors; you have spent them on barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of Divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it the fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation (Hail Mary, full of grace the LORD is with thee….. Therefore preach my Psalter (rosary), and you will obtain an abundant harvest.”
By 1214, a few men wanted to join Dominic in preaching against heresy. In July 1215, the Bishop of Toulouse granted permission for Dominic to form an “Order of Preachers” which sought to unite poverty with the office of preaching the Gospel. More men started to show interest in joining the friars. As a religious community leader, Dominic traveled to Rome in November 1215 for the fourth Lateran Council. All the bishops and abbots of the church as well as priors and heads of religious orders were convened. Pope Innocent III called the meeting in an effort to reform the Universal Church, improve morals, make heresy extinct and strengthen faith. Interestingly, it was at this meeting that Dominic met Francis of Assisi and struck up a friendship. The link between the founders of these two Catholic orders powerhouses has been described, “Friendship still unites the Dominicans to the Franciscans…they have gone to God by the same paths, as two precious perfumes gently reaching the same spot in the heavens.”
In a span of four years, the preachers founded more than 60 convents to include 500 men religious and 100 nuns. Father Dominic spent the last few years of his life revisiting newly established Dominican convents and monasteries to settle anxieties, organize duties, and make sure the rule was carefully followed. It is said that when he traveled, he sang hymns like Ave Maris Stella to Our Lady and Veni Creator to the Holy Spirit.
Dominic started to experience fatigue and fevers in mid-July 1221 that led to his death on August 6, 1221 in Italy. Almost two years after his death, some Friars decided to transfer Dominic’s remains to a more distinguished tomb. Many friars traveled long distances for the transferal ceremony. Jordon of Saxony described the event: “Now so long exposed to the rain and heat in wretched grave, would not the body of Dominic emerge worm-eaten and exhaling an atmosphere of decay? When the stone laid over the tomb was raised, a sweet and delectable fragrance spread from it, a fragrance that might have proceeded from a perfume box rather than a sepulcher. The archbishop, the bishops, and all those present, filled with joy and wonder, fell on their knees weeping and praising God who had glorified His elect in so striking a manner.” Upon hearing the reports, Pope Gregory IX decided to begin the process of canonization and declared Dominic a saint on July 13, 1234.
In accordance with the traditional belief that Our Lady appeared to Dominic and handed him a rosary, Saint Dominic is depicted in some works of art receiving a rosary from the Virgin Mary. One early work was the “Madonna of the Rose Garlands,”a painting by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), a German Renaissance Painter and Engraver which celebrated Saint Dominic receiving the rosary from Our Lady.