Many of us have heard or read that St. Dominic de Guzman received the Rosary from the Blessed Virgin Mary when she appeared to him. St. Louis-Marie de Montfort (1673-1716; a Dominican by virtue of his being a member of the Priestly Fraternities of the Order of Preachers) gives us what is perhaps the earliest written source of this story. In his book, Secret of the Rosary, Louis-Marie de Montfort himself cited Alan de la Roche, OP (1428-1475) who had earlier written a work called 'De Dignitatem Psalterii'. Before Alan de la Roche, the champion of all those who promoted the Rosary, we have no documentation of any link between Dominic and the Rosary. Louis-Marie de Montfort relied a lot on what Alan de la Roche did before him. Some Papal Encyclicals and several 'respectable' documented sources that came later appear to depend on Alan when they say that Dominic received the Rosary from Our Lady. What is referred to as the Rosary is the devotion and not merely the physical material -- the chaplets that we are familiar with and used to pray it.

No one seemed to have really questioned the story that Dominic received the Rosary from the Virgin Mary until the popular use of Historical Criticism in 19th century scholarship. The problem some historians had with the story of Dominic and the Rosary as held for centuries is that it is not backed by any historical evidence.

The question had been, did Dominic indeed receive the Rosary from the Virgin Mary? If he did, how come we have no records of it until about 200 years later? It may be true that Dominic received the rosary from Our Lady but none of the available documents written in the times of St. Dominic mentions this. Some historians have suggested that perhaps the sources available to Blessed Alan de la Roche might have been lost. I tend to accept this latter view. Alan did not publish any work but there are many writings attributed to him, some of which Louis-Marie de Montfort cited. The silence before Alan strikes us even more when we notice from written sources that the process of the canonization of St. Dominic de Guzman was characterized by many stories eagerly told by eyewitnesses or persons who heard directly from eyewitnesses of events in the life of St. Dominic. None of the known sources say anything about the Rosary. The closest thing we could hold on to in terms of documented history are stories told by Dominican friars of the 13th century that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Dominic. But these stories of how Our Lady appeared to St. Dominic do not mention the Rosary at all. Consequently, historians of today tend to consider the story that St. Dominic received the Rosary from Our Lady as unreliable. Could Alan de la Roche make up the stories? He obviously did not manufacture the Rosary devotion. While his stories are difficult to verify, he clearly trusted his sources and sounded very convinced and sincere.

Whatever view we hold about Dominic and the Rosary, no one can tell the story of the Rosary without mentioning Dominicans. Today, the more widely held story is that the Rosary developed gradually from the use of beads by illiterate lay people and monks who could not pray the Psalms and used it as a substitute for the 150 Psalms. We also know that Jane of Aza, the mother of St. Dominic loved the monks of Prémontré and must have taken the young Dominic there.

Of particular interest is the fact that Dominicans had always emphasized the salvific significance of the Incarnation of the Son of God as a narrative to combat any prevailing negative teachings about the flesh. The coming of God in the flesh and his life inspire us to imitate him. This incarnation narrative exposed the error in the Albigensian heresy and provided the central theme of the Holy Rosary making it rooted in sound Christian teaching as promoted by Dominicans. The Rosary was arranged into 15 mysteries. Roses are presented to the Blessed Virgin Mary while simultaneously pondering on the life of Christ (mysteries). In 2003, Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries to the existing Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious.

Besides the spread of Rosary by Dominicans in the 15th century and the establishment of the Confraternity of Most Holy Rosary, it was a Dominican Pope (Pius V) who instituted the feast of the Holy Rosary in 1574. Today most Catholics readily identify with the Rosary. In many parts of the world, a serious catholic is expected to pray a part of the Rosary daily. The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers call the Rosary 'our heritage'.

In 1917, Our Lady appeared to three children at Fatima, Portugal and referred to herself as the Lady of the Rosary. We may not get a heavenly confirmation that St. Dominic received the devotion that the Rosary is from Our Lady, but from and despite scanty historical data, there is a unique connection between St. Dominic de Guzman and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Oluyemi Taiwo, OP


(07 October 2015)