Dominic Guzman was born in 1170 in Calaroga, Castile (Spain) in an age of change. The sons of Mohammed had swept across the Mediterranean, turning Christian temples into Moorish mosques, leaving many regions of Spain under the Moorish yoke. At the age of 14, Dominic went to the University of Palencia and graduated with a degree in liberal arts and sacred sciences. He was known for his devotion to study and reverence for learning. He was generous, compassionate, gentle, and strong. At the age of 24, he was ordained a priest by the bishop of Osma, Spain.
At the age 33, Dominic exercised his priestly ministry in the southern region of France called Languedoc. It was in this region that St. Dominic came in contact with the Albigensian heresy. This heresy was an offshoot of Manicheanism. Manes was a preacher who lived in the plains between the Tigris and Euphrates during the third century. Manes taught that all matter is evil and that man is a combination of two opposing principles; a spiritual being created by God, thrust into a material body created by an evil being. The Albigensians believed that adultery, fornication, and suicide were praiseworthy; there is no heaven, no hell, no moral code. St. Dominic traveled from village to village teaching the truths of the Faith. The Albigensians jeered, insulted, and pelted him with stones as he traveled along their roads. He prayed to God in churches at night and hardly ever slept. His contemporaries described him as a “strong athlete,” capable of great physical endurance. He was always good to talk to when you were in trouble, always affectionate, and quickly made you feel at home.
It was during this time that the tradition of the Rosary comes to us. The form in which it has come down to us will best be stated in the words of P. Corneluis de Snecka, a disciple of the French Dominican Alan de la Roche:
We read that at the time when he was preaching to the Albigenses, St. Dominic at first obtained but scanty success: and that one day, complaining of this in pious prayer to our Blessed Lady, she deigned to reply to him, saying:’Wonder not that you have obtained so little fruit by your labors, you have spent them on barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of Divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it the fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation. Therefore preach my Psalter composed of 150 Angelic Salutations and 15 Our Fathers, and you will obtain an abundant harvest.’
The place of the revelation was the church of Prouille and the time was 1208. The claim of place and time are most strongly supported by the tradition of the Dominican Order. Pope Leo XIII affirmed over and over the Dominican origin of the Rosary and in a letter to the Bishop of Carcassone (1889), he accepts the tradition of Prouille as the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic, revealing this devotion. The tradition that Mary first revealed the Rosary devotion to St. Dominic is supported by 13 popes.
St. Dominic went into the villages of the heretics, gathered the people, and preached to them the mysteries of salvation – the Incarnation, the Redemption, Eternal Life. As the Holy Virgin had taught him to do, he distinguished the different kinds of mysteries and after each short instruction he had ten Hail Marys recited. St. Dominic found great success in this new devotion, bringing about the conversion of the Albigensians. The late Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who was a teacher of Pope John Paul II when he was a student at the Angelicum in Rome, stated: “Our Blessed Lady made known to St. Dominic a kind of preaching till then unknown; which she said would be one of the most powerful weapons against future errors and in future difficulties.”
The battle of Muret was fought in 1213 between the Catholic forces, led by Simon de Montfort and the Albigenses forces, led by Raymond of Toulouse. The Catholic forces were in the habit of praying the Rosary, at the suggestion of St. Dominic. The Catholic force won the battle of Muret, looked upon the victory as miraculous, and counted it as the fruit of prayer. The English Dominican historian, Nicholas Trivet wrote, “St. Dominic warred by prayer, De Montfort by arms. The first chapel in honor of the Rosary was built, out of gratitude, by Simon de Montfort in the town of Muret.”
The Confraternity of the Rosary was first started by St. Dominic in Palencia in 1218. It’s members pray the 15 decades of the Rosary during the coarse of each week. Mary has confirmed the value of the Confraternity in her well-known Rosary promises: “I have obtained from my Son that all the members of the Confraternity have in life and in death all the Blessed as their associates.” Pope Clement VIII declared that St. Dominic established the Confraternity of the Rosary in the Church of St. Sixtus in Rome. Pope Alexander VI in 1495, addressed St. Dominic as “the renowned preacher long ago of the Confraternity of the Rosary, and through his merits, the whole world was preserved from universal ruin.” The Confraternity retained its first fervor for 100 years after it was instituted by St. Dominic. After this, it was forgotten. Divine Providence assigned the restoration of it to the eminent French Dominican theologian and preacher, Alan de la Roche. During the 15th century, this son of St. Dominic restored the Rosary to its former vitality.
On October 7, 1571, members of the Confraternity of the Rosary in Rome, processed praying the Rosary for a blessing on the Christian fleet fighting the Turks at Lepanto. Pope St. Pius V, a Dominican, joined them, and God revealed to him that Mary had at that hour obtained a glorious victory for the Christian fleet. This great victory saved Europe from the Mohammedan peril.
Pope Pius XI stated that the Rosary of Mary is, as it were, the principle and foundation on which the very Order of St. Dominic rests for making perfect the life of its members and obtaining the salvation of others. The Catholic Church looks to the Dominicans as official promoters of both the Rosary and the Rosary Confraternity.