Saint Dominic de Guzman died on August 6 in 1221, after arriving at the convent of San Niccolò nelle Vigne, sick with a fever. After making his confession and being made to rest, Dominic exhorted the friars with his final words, to “have charity for one another, to guard humility, and to make a treasure of voluntary poverty.”
At the time of Dominic’s death, Blessed Guala Romanoni, O.P., was said to have beheld a beautiful vision:
“He saw an opening, in heaven, by which two bright ladders descended. The top of one was held by Christ, the other by His Mother; on either one, angels ascended and descended. At the bottom of the two ladders, in the middle, was placed a seat, and on it sat one who seemed to be a brother of the Order, with his face covered by his hood, as we are wont to bury our dead. Christ the Lord and His Mother pulled the ladders up little by little, until the one who was sitting at the bottom reached the top. He was then received into heaven, in a cloud of light, with angels singing,” writes Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P., in the Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum.
Only 13 years later, Pope Gregory IX canonized Dominic, and declared that his feast be celebrated on August 5, and that August 6 should continue to be observed as the feast of Pope Saint Sixtus II, who was martyred in Rome in 258.*
This remained the case until 1558, when Pope Paul IV announced that August 5 would be celebrated as the feast of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Saint Dominic’s feast was thus transferred to August 4.
Then in 1859, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, died on August 4. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and his feast was added to the calendar in 1928, to be observed on August 9. Eventually his feast was transferred to August 8, until the liturgical calendar was revised after the Second Vatican Council. At that point, the feasts of Saint Dominic and Saint Jean-Marie were swapped.
Although numerous communities still celebrate Saint Dominic on August 8, some have begun to organize special celebrations on the Sunday closest to his feast. So if you are interested in joining us to honor the founder of the Order of Preachers, click here to find a location near you.
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*The Transfiguration was not universally celebrated on August 6 until 1456, when Pope Callixtus III elevated the feast for the sake of the entire Roman Catholic Church.