Page 2, 2nd November 1951

2nd November 1951
Page 2
Page 2, 2nd November 1951 — DOMINI CAN IS

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Locations: Bristol


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SIR.-In her article on the frescoes in the chapter-house of the Dominican convent of St. Maria Novella, Iris Conley mentions the symbol of the dog, the domini can/a, which is supposed to derive from a play on the word Dominicanus. A dog, often black and white, the 'colour of the Dominican habit, is frequently found in medieval art and literature, obviously representing the Dominican order. Nevertheless, the present popular belief that the symbolism is derived from a pun on the name " Dominican " or " Dorninicanus" appears to be quite unfounded.

The symbol of a dog representing the preacher was in common use many centuries • before the foundation of the Dominican order. To give only one example: Gregory the Great's commentary on ch. 2, v. 15. of the Canticle of Canticles reads like a description of one of the symbolic details of the S. Maria Novella fresco (painted eight centuries later) which shows dogs barking and driving off the wolves (heretics) which are attacking some sheep (the faithful).

It is not surprising that there was quickly applied to the Friars Preachers the symbolism which was already associated with the special task of preaching for which they had been organised.

Moreover, throughout the middle ages the order was known, almost invariahly, as the order of Friars Preachers. It is unlikely that the symbolism could have anything to do with the name " Dominicanus," which, at that time. was almost unknown. and was certainly not the common usage. Occasional popular variants took such forms as at Park. where the Friars Preachers were called the Friars of St. Jacques. after their convent, or at Bristol. where they were known as the "Castel Friars " because their priory stood in the shadow of the great Castle of Bristol.

It seems quite conclusive that the symbolism came first. applied to preachers in general. and was later applied to the Friars Preachers in particular.

Charles Browne.

" Elm Croft," 35 Rayleigh Road, Hutton. Essex.

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