Saint Dominic of Silos and His Chanting Monks

Ferdinand welcomes Domingo de Silos by Martín Bernat and Bartolomé Bermejo, 1477-79 wikipedia/public domain

Saint Dominic of Silos died on this December 20th, in 1073, at the monastery he had founded in the southern part of northern Spain.  His early life was spent as a shepherd, which seems a theme for saints, from mediaeval to modern times – witness the seers of Fatima tending their sheep. It is a contemplative life, leaving much room – primarily in the soul – for God, Who speaks in the silence of our hearts.

Dominic entered the Benedictine abbey of San Milan, was ordained a priest, and chosen master of novices and then prior. The monks went into exile, however, after the king, Garcia Sanchez III of Navarre, tried to seize some of their property. Dominic led a hardy band of six monks to the monastery of San Sebastian at Silos, which was in a sorry state, but they had the protection of King Ferdinand I of Leon.

As a testimony to his willpower and charisma, elevated by the grace of God, Dominic led his brethren in transforming the monastery and community into a thriving centre – spiritually and economically – of Mozarabic liturgy, chanting and praying the Divine Office, and supporting themselves and the surrounding poor by their work and craftsmanship, in copying manuscripts in beautiful Visigothic script.

They also fashioned objects in gold and silver, using the funds to ransom captives from the Moors – hence, Dominic’s patronage of those imprisoned and held in bondage.

Abbot Dominic was also known as a healer, and people flocked to him from all around for their spiritual and physical maladies. A century after his death, Dominic of Silos – as he came to be known – appeared in a vision to Blessed Joan of Aza, as she prayed at his shrine that she might conceive a child. Her request was granted, and she named her boy after the saint. This second Dominic Guzman would go on to found the Dominican Order, which led to the panoply of their own saints, including Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, and the Summa – and so it goes in the glorious interconnectedness of God’s marvelous providence.

There was a custom that the staff of Dominic of Silos was brought to the queens of Spain during labour, to intercede for a safe and healthy birth. This was, sadly, discontinued in 1931, the year, of course, the God-less communists came to power, leading to the bloody civil war, and the murder and violation of monks, nuns and priests, and the pillage and destruction of churches, convents and monasteries across the land.

The monastery at Silos survived, and still flourishes a millennium on, and the monks have garnered some fame for their recordings of Gregorian Chant, which they have sung for these past thousand years. One can only wonder at the graces flowing therefrom, which is likely part of the reason the world is still standing. Here is a sample, in honour of Saint Dominic of Silos, and may he pray for us all in these latter days of Advent, as we prepare for the birth of our Saviour: