01 – Portrait Of San Domenico

(From a short biography of the saint by Don Adolfo Angelucci, former parish priest of Cocullo)

In the year 951, in the town of Foligno, a son was born to Giovanni, a doctor of laws, and to Apa (or Ampa, according to some authors). The pope at the time was Agapito II, and the reigning emperor was Otto I. The boy, who was given the name Domenico, was raised in a very devout household. To ensure that he would continue to grow in piety, his parents entrusted his education to the Benedictine monks of the Holy Trinity Monastery, which was located just outside Foligno and where the rules of the order were strictly observed. The boy adapted well to life in the monastery, and thrived under the tutelage of the monks who taught him. Keen to learn and determined to prove himself worthy of the life to which he felt God was calling him, he soon distinguished himself from the other students for his diligence, discipline and piety, and for his virtuous and chaste character.

ancient medal depicting the Saint

Domenico prayed for guidance in choosing a path in life that would lead him to God, and that path soon became apparent to him. He decided to leave his family and his home in order to seek out a life conducive to spiritual perfection and holiness; he never returned to the place of his birth, even though he lived to be over 80 years old. He initially entered a Benedictine monastery in the Sabine region, at a place known as ‘Sant’Ammone’ or ‘La Pietra del Demonio’ (the devil’s stone). In 974, when he was 23, he began his novitiate, receiving the monastic habit from the venerable Abbot Dionisio. One year later, at the end of the novitiate, he took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and was admitted to holy orders. Around the year 980, his superiors sent him to the monastery at Monte Cassino, where he continued to practice the monastic life under the tutelage of the other brothers and in strict obedience to the superior, Abbot Aligerno. San Domenico was very happy with his move to Monte Cassino; the monastery housed the remains of the patriarch and founder of the order, Saint Benedict, and these were the object of great veneration among the monks.

postcard from 1940

At the monastery, auspiciously located on a mountaintop, San Domenico felt himself growing closer to God and stronger in his determination to lead a saintly life. Despite the strictness of the Rule, the demands of the work, and the constant fasting that took a heavy toll on his body, he was always pleasant and affable, and was admired by all for the exemplary virtuousness of his conduct, which he encouraged the others to emulate. In due time, desirous of even greater solitude and penance, the young monk sought and obtained permission from Abbot Aligerno to leave the monastery and move to the top of a mountain in the Sabine region, near Scandriglia. There, however, people began flocking to him in increasing numbers as they learned of his extraordinary saintliness and, to their wonderment, of his power to perform miracles. This period marked the beginning of the miraculous works attributed to him, for which people came to see him as an intermediary between God and man and which sealed his reputation as a prodigious thaumaturge.

devotion to San Domenico (Paolo di Menna)

At the insistence of the Marquis Umberto, who owned much of the land in the Sabine region, and with the permission of his superiors and Pope John XV, San Domenico founded a monastery near Scandriglia. There he welcomed many young monks into the order, and left them under the direction of the Benedictine brother Costanzo while he himself departed from the area and went to live on Mount Pizzi. He brought with him brother Giovanni, another Benedictine monk. In his new home he built a church dedicated to the Most Holy Purity, and two small hermitages for those who wished to live a life of religious seclusion. The inhabitants of the area asked San Domenico to build two more monasteries at their expense, one near Mount Pizzi and one close to the Aventino River. This he did, but afterwards he again left the monks under the guidance of others and went in search of a place where no one had heard of him and where he could live in solitude away from worldly acclaim.

bas-relief depicting the wolf giving back the child – main altar of the church

His travels took him to the territory of Valva, which at the time was a province of Abruzzo, in the diocese of Sulmona. After exploring the area in search of a location where he could live in solitude and contemplation, he halted at Prato Cardoso, an area near Castel di Sangro, where he founded a church and the monastery of San Pietro Avellana. From there he travelled to another area, near Villalago, and founded the church of San Pietro del Lago.  At that point San Domenico retreated to a cave not far from the church; there he lived as a hermit, and experienced many visions that he revealed to a confidant on condition that they not be disclosed until after his death. After living in the cave for six years, San Domenico was targeted for persecution by some of the locals, people inimical to the Christian faith, reportedly out of envy and jealousy for the numerous miracles he performed. Consequently, he uprooted himself again and, taking a mule with him, set out in the direction of Cocullo pursued by his enemies, who were intent on killing him. It is during this episode that some of the miracles for which he is best known in the Cocullo area were said to have been performed. They are related below. As he was fleeing his persecutors, he commanded a bear to block their path, and this allowed him to put some distance between himself and his pursuers. Later he came across a farmer sowing some beans, and instructed him that, if some armed men came looking for him, he should say that the monk had passed that way when the farmer was sowing the beans; he then hid in the farmer’s hut. When the pursuers arrived on the scene, the beans had miraculously grown and were already in bloom; upon learning that the monk had passed that way when they were being sown, the men abandoned the chase. Half-way between Cocullo and Anversa degli Abruzzi, San Domenico ran into a poor woman who was taking a small bag of wheat to the mill for grinding.  He asked her if she would give him a bit of the grain as feed for his mule, and she did so without hesitation. To her great astonishment, when the wheat was ground at the mill, her small bag of wheat yielded two enormous bags of flour.

bell used in the ritual to ward off toothaches (Paolo di Menna)

San Domenico then arrived in Cocullo, which was then ruled by the city of Celano. (Strabo and Filippo Cruerio both placed the town on the Lazio border at the time.) At the edge of town, the saint saw a crowd of peasants screaming and running after a wolf that was carrying in its mouth a baby it had snatched from its mother. Moved by the desperate woman’s cries, San Domenico ordered the wolf to release the child, and the wolf immediately obeyed, returning the baby unhurt to its mother. In those days, the local inhabitants slept in primitive huts or out in the open, and it was not unusual for them to be bitten by snakes and vipers, which were very common in the area, just as they are now. San Domenico performed many miracles, healing those who had had the misfortune of being bitten by poisonous reptiles or rabid dogs. He also healed women who, while sleeping in the fields, had had their breast milk sucked by snakes or, incredibly, had had snakes crawl into their stomachs. During his stay in Cocullo, San Domenico asked the local blacksmith to shoe his mule. The blacksmith, seeing that he was a stranger, decided to overcharge him. When the time came to pay, San Domenico, hearing the exorbitant price, ordered his mule to return the shoe. The mule shook her leg and the shoe fell out, the nails having miraculously come loose. The townspeople kept the shoe, and the piece of metal can still be seen in the church dedicated to the saint.

The shoe of the mule (the metal was straightened to facilitate use)

However, San Domenico did not stay long in Cocullo, because he had other works to accomplish. The townspeople strenuously opposed his departure, but when they saw that he was determined, begged him to leave them something that would protect them against rabid or poisonous animals and other dangers. Moved by their entreaties, San Domenico extracted a molar from his mouth and gave it to them. This tooth is kept in a reliquary in his church, and continues to be treasured and venerated to this day.

reliquary containing a molar of the Saint

The inhabitants of Cocullo accompanied San Domenico until he crossed into territory under the control of Rome, where he stayed for three years, living in a cave near the castle of Trisulti. His nourishment, it is said, was brought to him by an angel. In that area, the saint again founded numerous churches and monasteries, including the one in Sora, which houses his remains.

San Domenico died on January 22, 1031, at the age of 80. His church in Cocullo was consecrated and dedicated to him on September 11, 1746, by Monsignor Pietrantonio Corsignani, Bishop of Valva and Sulmona. In addition to his tooth and the shoe of his mule, it houses another relic, a small bone from his body. “In this church,” writes Don Adolfo, “God glorifies His servant by granting numerous miracles to the faithful, who make their way here in large numbers and petition to be protected or healed from rabies, poisons or toothaches. All who come to the church of San Domenico, whether now or in the past, have had their prayers answered. All of them bring objects—laces, rosaries, bread, feed for their animals—to be touched by the tooth of the saint.” Don Adolfo goes on to cite the following chronicle from an earlier century: “Not only in the Kingdom of Naples, but also in the papal state, in Lombardy, and in many other distant countries and kingdoms, anyone is deemed fortunate who has some sort of devotional link to the sacred tooth. Nor should it go unsaid, for the greater glory of God and the saint, that although poisonous animals (snakes, vipers, asps, and other species) abound in the territory of Cocullo, the local inhabitants do not fear them, and in fact handle them with ease, play with them, and even place them in their mouths, without coming to any harm; this behaviour can be observed every first Thursday in May.”

San Domenico chapel

Don Adolfo relates the following, more recent, miracles performed by the saint:

“Years ago, in the town of Giuliano di Roma, people consumed milk produced by a cow that had been bitten by a rabid dog. This occurred in the middle of winter, and Cocullo was in the grip of a severe snowstorm. Nevertheless, the people of Giuliano made their way to the town in trains and cars. Almost the entire population came, including children, the elderly, and even the infirm, to whom the holy sacraments of confession and communion were administered inside their cars or in the waiting room of the railway station, because they were unable to get to the church. By the grace of God and the intercession of San Domenico, and because of the great faith of those people, no one fell ill from drinking the tainted milk.

devotion to San Domenico (Franz Gustincich)

A few years ago, some hunters from Sora brought six dogs to Cocullo to be touched by the shoe of San Domenico’s mule; the animals, while hunting, had been in a fight with some rabid dogs. The hunters left Sora by car, and had to turn back more than once because the dogs made such a clamour in the vehicle during the trip. But as soon as the car came within view of Cocullo, the wretched animals calmed down and became quiet, to the astonishment of their owners, who arrived at the church without further incident.

ritual pulling of the bell (Franz Gustincich)

About four years ago, while doing some work in the woods near Cocullo, a local young man by the name of Delfino Caiazzo was bitten in the foot by an asp. Medication was administered, but it was his great faith in San Domenico that can be chiefly credited with saving him from certain death.

devotion to San Domenico

During the many years that I have been the priest of this parish, I have seen thousands of people bitten by vipers and snakes, by rabid dogs, by cats, and by donkeys. Thousands of times I have passed the saint’s relic over these marks of human suffering. I have always been struck by the great devotion, the profound trust, and the deep faith of these human beings, who have always taken home with them the experience of being touched not only by the holy relic, but also by Christ in the Eucharist.”

Don Adolfo Angelucci
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