charismst dominicSt. Dominic in Art

Every time we open our eyes we are called to prayer. (Mother Ann Marie)

Walking the grounds and corridors of St. Cecilia Motherhouse, a sister finds herself surrounded by images of Christ and the saints, particularly our Holy Father St. Dominic. These images not only invite us to prayer and recollection, but they teach us the riches of our Dominican heritage. From the stained glass windows in the upper nave of the chapel recounting St. Dominic’s life, to the seven foot bronze statue of Dominic as itinerant preacher on the front grounds, countless images of St. Dominic become for us mirrors into which we prayerfully gaze for a deeper understanding of our Dominican charism.

Clothed in the white and black habit of his Order, St. Dominic is represented in devotional art as the light of the Church. An original wood carving completed by one of our sisters for the refectory reader’s stand captures this traditional iconography. With an eight-pointed star on his brow and a lighted torch in hand, St. Dominic carries to a darkened world the light of truth. A statue in the De Profundis Hall presents another characteristic symbol of Dominic. A watchdog sits at St. Dominic’s feet with the lighted torch of Truth in his mouth. Tradition recounts that Dominic’s mother had a dream of a dog illumining the world with a burning torch. She understood this dog to be St. Dominic, guardian and preacher of Truth.

The stained glass windows in both the oratory and chapel at the Motherhouse present St. Dominic as a man of prayer. He sits at the foot of the Blessed Mother and receives from her the gift of the Rosary. While these traditional art pieces capture beautifully some facets of Dominic’s spirit, they offer only a glimpse of this contemplative and apostolic saint.

Throughout the corridors the sisters are surrounded by images of St. Dominic at study, at prayer, and as preacher. These images become for us sacramentals communicating Dominic’s charism. Looking at one of Fra Angelico’s many frescoes of St. Dominic at study we learn that we must first contemplate the truths of the faith if we wish to share them. Meditating on images of Dominic at the foot of the Cross, we are shown that we, too, must embrace the Cross upon which our Beloved died. And as Dominic’s eyes are so frequently portrayed locked heavenward, we must likewise be women of prayer with our eyes fixed always on heaven.

In our chapel, to the left of the altar is a side chapel with a statue of St. Dominic, the Preacher of Grace. With the Scriptures in hand and clutching the Rosary, he lifts his right hand and points us to God. St. Dominic is still preaching to us. He teaches us the spirituality of his Dominican family and, by pointing us to Christ, guides us on the path of holiness.

The sisters should foster in themselves a genuine devotion to St. Dominic, as mirror of their lives…We look, then, to St. Dominic, great light of the Church and Doctor of Truth that we may be of use to the souls of others. (Constitutions of the Congregation)

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