The translation of a saint’s body refers to the ceremony surrounding its being moved from one place to another, usually to a higher-status location. The following is from the Dominican Office of Readings, and is from the letters of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, second Master General of the Order of Preachers, and patron of Dominican vocations. The translation occurred on May 24, 1233, and its feast is celebrated the same day. Read also our post on the translation “ ’Aroma of Christ’ Noted at the Moving of St. Dominic.”
[To all the brothers of the Order of Preachers whom he loves in the beloved Son of God, Brother Jordan, humble Master and Servant of the same Order, wishes health and eternal joy.]
In its unsearchable wisdom the divine goodness is often accustomed to delay the manifestation of virtue, not that it might slip into oblivion, but rather that after having been hidden, it may be revealed more abundantly at an opportune moment. Whether God wished to so provide greater benefits for the Church or whether for some other reason, certain brothers whose simplicity outweighed their prudence decided that it would be quite sufficient if the glory of Saint Dominic, the servant of the Most High and the founder of the Order of Preachers, were known to God alone. They decided it was not worth the effort to bring that glory to the attention of others.
However, some thought otherwise, but offered no opposition since they were fainthearted. So it was that for nearly twelve years the glory of our blessed Father Dominic remained hidden, with little regard for his holiness. The treasure was hidden and of no use to anyone. Dominic’s virtue had been demonstrated many times, but it had been covered over by the negligence of his sons.
Feared Opening the Coffin
But then the wonderful day dawned to celebrate the transfer of the remains of this illustrious doctor. The venerable archbishop of Ravenna and a large number of bishops and prelates were present, as well as a vast multitude of people from different regions who were giving remarkable witness by their devotion. Present also was the militia of Bologna, who would not allow this most holy body to be removed from their care. The anxious brothers stood about; the timid grew pale and prayed and, although they had nothing to fear, they were seized with misgivings. They feared that the body of Saint Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to the elements, would be found eaten by worms and giving off a foul order, a circumstance that would diminish the devotion of such important persons. The bishops approached devoutly, the workers applied their tools, and the stone that had been firmly cemented to the sepulcher was removed. Inside the tomb was the wooden coffin, just as it had been place there by the venerable Pope Gregory when he was bishop of Ostia. A small opening was visible in the coffin.
As soon as the stone was taken away a wonderful odor poured out from the opening and its fragrance caused astonishment among those present. They were amazed and overcome with wonder at this strange event. Everyone shed tears and feelings of joy, of fear and of hope rose in all hearts. These extraordinary occurrences moved all who smelt the sweetness of this wonderful scent. We ourselves have also smelt the sweetness of this perfume and we bear witness to what we have seen and smelt. Although we eagerly remained for a long time near the body of Dominic, we were unable to sate ourselves with such a great sweetness. If one’s hand, or a belt, or some other object touched the body, the scent emanated from it for some time.
The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it was to rest and the perfume encompassed it. This marvelous aroma, which the holy body breathed forth, was evidence to everyone how much the saint had truly been the aroma of Christ.
The archbishop celebrated the solemn Mass. It was Pentecost Tuesday, and the choir intoned the introit of the day: “Receive the joy of your glory, giving thanks to God who has called you to the heavenly kingdom.” The trumpets reverberated, the faithful lit countless candles, the procession went forward solemnly, and on all sides the acclamation sounded: “Blessed be Jesus Christ!”
[All this was done in the city of Bologna, on the 24th day of May, in the year 1233, while Gregory IX occupied the Roman See and Frederick II was emperor. May it redound to the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ and of blessed Dominic his most faithful servant.]