Saint Dominic in Soriano

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Saint Dominic in Soriano (Italian : San Domenico in Soriano; Spanish : Santo Domingo en Soriano) was a portrait of Saint Dominic (1170–1221) painted in 1530. It is an important artefact in the Dominican friary at Soriano Calabro in southern Italy. It was believed to be of miraculous origin, and to inspire miracles. It was the subject of a Roman Catholic feast day celebrated on 15 September from 1644 to 1913. Its miraculous origin was the subject of several 17th-century paintings. Several ecclesiastical buildings have been named after it.[ which? ][ citation needed ]


Saint Domingo in Soriano by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1626 SantoDomingoenSoriano.jpg
Saint Domingo in Soriano by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1626


There seems to be no record that Dominic himself ventured further south in Italy than Rome.[ citation needed ] In 1510, members of the Dominican Order founded a friary at Soriano Calabro, [1] :53–56 Calabria, in the arch of the foot of the boot of Italy. A town grew up around it.[ citation needed ] In 1530, the friars began to display for public veneration a portrait of the founder of their Order.[ citation needed ]

In the early 17th century, Silvestro Frangipane, a Dominican, investigated the painting and wrote a book about it. Several senior members of his Order gave it their imprimaturs , and it was published in 1634. [1] :Title page and four unnumbered pages

Fra Frangipane wrote (in an English translation):

It happened that, during the night before the octave of the Nativity of the Madonna, [Note 1] in the Year of Our Lord 1530, the sacristan of Soriano had risen, as was his custom, at 3 o'clock in the morning to light the church lamps. Three ladies of wonderful appearance, the first of whom seemed much afflicted by grief, finding the door unlocked, entered. Their leader, her grief turning into joy, asked, “What church might this be?” The sacristan replied, “This church is dedicated to Saint Dominic. We have no paintings on the walls, except for that crude depiction of him behind the altar.” The venerable matron said, “So that your church may have another icon, take this and give it to your superior. Then, tell him to place it above the altar.” With great reverence, the sacristan accepted the gift and brought it to his superior. When the superior and two other brothers came to the church, the ladies were nowhere to be seen. One of them later said, “While I knelt in prayer, Saint Catherine the Virgin appeared to me and said: I, together with the Virgin Mother of God and the Magdalene, have conferred this favour upon you.” [1] :58–60

That narrative is largely the one accepted by the Dominican Order today. [2]

The portrait soon acquired a reputation for having marvellous properties. According to Fra Frangipane, if it was ever hung in a place other than the one specified by the Virgin Mary, the following morning it would be back in its proper place. [1] :63–65 He described numerous other miracles attributed to its presence. [1] :65–235 No fewer than 1,600 miracles were reliably attributed to its presence within a space of 78 years.[ citation needed ] In 1644, Pope Innocent XII ordained a feast day on 15 September to commemorate its origin and properties. [2] [Note 2] The feast may have been suppressed in 1913, when Pope Pius X moved what had until then been the movable feast of Our Lady of Sorrows to the fixed date of 15 September. [3] [Note 3]

The more recent history of the portrait seems to be unknown.[ citation needed ] Soriano Friary was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1659  [ it ] of 6.6 magnitude. [4] It was rebuilt; but in 1783, Calabria was struck by a series of five earthquakes within two months. The first, on 5 February, was of 7.0 magnitude, and levelled Soriano to the ground. [5] The third, on 7 February, was of 6.6 magnitude, and its epicentre was 3 km from Soriano. [6] [7] In Soriano itself, 171 people had died, and damage estimated at 80,000 ducats had been caused. [8] The friary was rebuilt for a second time, but seems never to have regained its earlier reputation; it seems to disappear from the records.[ citation needed ] The portrait may have failed to survive one of those events. [Note 4] [ original research? ]

A description of the painting

In 1634, Fra Frangipane wrote:

E il corpo di quell'Imagine di cinque palmi, & un quarto di lunghezza, nella desto mano ha un libro, e nella sinistra un giglio, doue egli si dimostra di mediocre slatura, di bell aspetto, ma venerando, e mortificato, co'l uolio alquanto affilato; il naso aquilino; i capelli la maggior parte son canuti; e gli altri così della barba, come della testa vanno alquante al rosso; la faccia è molto bianca, & hà co'l cadere congiunta la palidezza: gli occhi sono serenissinimi, e da ogni parte, ch'essi si guardino, rimirano con un piaciuolissimo terrore: le vesti, e l'habito non passano il tallone, restando tutto il piede di scarpe nere coperto: e finalmente tutta l'Imagine altro non rassembra se non artificio celeste, e diuino. [1] :62–63

An English translation:

And the figure in that Picture, which is five palms high and four broad, [Note 5] in his right hand holds a book, and in his left a lily, is of medium stature, of handsome aspect, but venerable, and mortified, with somewhat sharply defined features; his nose is aquiline; his hair is mostly white; and the rest, like that of his beard, reddish; his face is very white, as if he was at one with pallidity: his eyes are most serene, and follow you everywhere you go, inducing a mild feeling of terror: his garments and habit do not extend down to his heels, thus displaying his feet clad in black shoes: and, in conclusion, the whole Picture exhibits nothing but celestial, and divine, workmanship.

Artistic representations

The miraculous origin of the portrait seems to have been a significant topic for religious art in 17th-century Italy and Spain, as evidenced by the number of paintings described later in this section. It is uncertain which, if any, of the painters had seen the original. Those paintings are consistent in showing Dominic slightly less than life-size, full length, wearing his habit, with book and lily, thus generally conforming to Fra Frangipane's 1634 description; [1] but differ in detail. They are also consistent in another way: all show the three saints exhibiting the open painting to one or more friars.

Examples (with provenance, where known) include (arranged approximately by date):

Ecclesiastical buildings

Ecclesiastical buildings named after, and so perhaps dedicated to,[ original research? ]Saint Dominic in Soriano include (arranged by date):


  1. 8 September.
  2. The years from when the portrait began to gain its reputation until its official recognition fall squarely within the Counter-Reformation, which is dated 1545–1648.
  3. Saint Dominic has always been held in the highest regard. The feast may have been removed from the church calendar simply because its subject, the portrait, no longer existed. If there is any mention of either the portrait or the feast in Catholic Encyclopedia (1907–1912), it is not easy to find.
  4. Most of the paintings by notable artists were made before 1659. The friary continued to be a destination for pilgrimage until 1783 (see Soriano Calabro in Italian Wikipedia for a narrative). Arguments for loss of the portrait on either, or any other, date are inconclusive.
  5. If the measurements are in Neapolitan 'palmi' (which seems likely for a book published in the Kingdom of Naples), then the picture was about 52 inches (130 cm) x 41.5 inches (105 cm).

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