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  • The Medieval Cult of Saint Dominic of Silos
  • Joseph F. O’Callaghan
The Medieval Cult of Saint Dominic of Silos. By Anthony Lappin. [Modern Humanities Research Association Texts and Dissertations, Volume 56.] (Leeds: Maney Publishing for the Modern Humanities Research Association. 2002. Pp. xiii, 445. Paperback.)

St. Dominic of Silos (d. 1073) began his monastic career in the Castilian abbey of San Millán de la Cogolla. His outspoken opposition to the monetary demands of King García of Navarre reflected the concern of eleventh-century reformers to defend [End Page 524] church property, but it resulted in his ouster from the monastery. Nevertheless, encouraged by Fernando I of León-Castile, he set about restoring the abbey of Silos, rebuilding dilapidated structures and introducing the Cluniac reform. After his death he was heralded as a saint. Some thirty years later the monk Grimaldus wrote his life. In addition to typical instances of Dominic's piety, Grimaldus also described miracles wrought through his intercession. Not only was Dominic revered as an exorcist capable of expelling demons, but also as one who facilitated the escape of Christians taken prisoner by the Muslims and reduced to slavery.

Lappin divides his book into two parts. The first, a detailed study of the Vita, displays a wide acquaintance with ancient and medieval hagiographical literature. After summarizing the exorcisms attributed to Dominic, he assesses modern efforts at psychological explanation. As Dominic was perceived as a liberator of captives his cult became popular in frontier communities exposed to warfare with the Muslims. Reflecting contemporary ecclesiastical attitudes, Grimaldus tended to think of soldiers as being motivated solely by a desire for booty, but he was pleased to record their devotion to Dominic. While he regarded Islam as pernicious and Muhammad as a false prophet, Grimaldus was evenhanded in his treatment of Muslims. The spread of Dominic's cult southward ultimately had the effect of discouraging pilgrimages to Silos itself.

Part two concerns popular devotion to St. Dominic later in the thirteenth century. The romance life of the saint composed by the Castilian poet, Gonzalo de Berceo (d. c. 1260), disseminated stories of the saint's wonder-working among an audience unfamiliar with Latin.Above all Gonzalo emphasized Dominic's role as liberator of captives and protector of the kingdom of Castile. Lappin argues convincingly that Gonzalo wrote this life for the benefit of King Fernando III at Burgos in 1233. Rather than a slavish repetition of the Latin text, Gonzalo moved beyond it and mirrored the interests of the thirteenth-century church.

The Miraculos romançados, a collection of stories of escapes from Muslim captivity, highlights St. Dominic's role in freeing prisoners. Most of these miracles date from the period 1277 to 1287 when warfare along the Andalusian frontier was especially intense due to invasions by the Marinids of Morocco. The monks of Silos, after questioning escaped prisoners, wrote down the details of their captivity and their miraculous escapes. The miracles offer interesting information about the capture, sale, and harsh treatment meted out to the prisoners. Most reported that they saw a bright light and heard Dominic's voice encouraging them to flee. As the walls of their prisons were flattened and doors opened, they made their way to the safety of Christian lands. Many brought their chains to Silos in thanksgiving.

Lappin's study is thorough and well annotated with an extensive bibliography and an excellent index. Numerous figures illustrate a broad range of issues including the geographical area from which the supplicants came, churches dedicated to St. Dominic, the distribution and frequency of cures, attendance of captives at the shrine, the prices of slaves, and the like. A major step toward overcoming the dearth of serious studies of saints' lives in Spain, this book is a [End Page 525] most useful contribution to our knowledge of a remarkable personage and of significant elements of popular religion in medieval Spain.

Joseph F. O’Callaghan
Fordham University


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