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"Appendix V: St. Dominic as Author of the Rosary"


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The problem: Is St. Dominic in any sense to be considered as the author of the Rosary, and, did he receive the Rosary from Our Lady herself in a vision at Prouille in A.D. 1206, as reported by Alan de la Roche (died 1475)?

The opposition. The Bollandists1 and Herbert Thurston, S.J., have attacked the reliability of Alan, both in the case of this vision, and in general. They have been joined by many other writers, such as G. Roschini, O.S.M.,2 who flatly states that the account of Alan lacks all historical foundation. Even some Dominicans discard the testimony of Alan. The position of the opposition is rather well summed up by Fr. Thurston in an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia,3 in which he says:

Alan was a very earnest and devout man, but, as the highest authorities admit, he was full of delusions, and based his revelations on the imaginary testimony of writers that never existed....4

The writers referred to by Thurston are Joannes de Monte and Thomas de Templo. In an article published in The Month, Thurston adds:

Never once, so far as I am aware, in Alan's numerous references to St. Dominic and the Rosary, does he profess to have acquired his knowledge from any tradition of the Order.5

Instead, according to Thurston, Alan bases his claim on the above-mentioned "imaginary" writers and on private revelations.

Thurston distinguishes three chief stages in the development of the Rosary: 1. Early in the 12th century, the Aves began to be popular, especially in multiples of 50. 2. Clauses of meditation were inserted by Dominic of Prussia (a 14th century Carthusian). 3. Establishment of Rosary Confraternities by Alan. Alan had delusions, in Thurston's belief, and, to help promote the work, Alan attributed the Rosary to St. Dominic.

Other evidence cited by the opponents of the Prouille apparition: counting devices of beads were in existence long before St. Dominic; the custom of reciting many Hail Marys is earlier than St. Dominic; eight or nine early lives of St. Dominic make no mention of the apparition; the witnesses at the canonization of St. Dominic did not mention the apparition;6 the early constitutions of Dominican provinces likewise are silent. Even some Dominican writers today are diffident. Thus Bede Jarrett, O.P., in his Life of St. Dominic, does not even mention the alleged apparition.7 Having admitted that a practice of saying Paters and Aves on beads is not due to St. Dominic, Pr. Jarrett continues:8

St. Dominic did not invent these things, though it would seem that he popularized them. To him, however, a papal tradition points as the originator of the division into decades or groups of ten, separated by larger beads called Paternosters.

Defense of the claims of St. Dominic:

1. Papal support:

For many centuries there has been a strong papal tradition that not only speaks of St. Dominic as the author of the Rosary but also suggests, in very guarded language, that there was heavenly influence on this authorship. The tradition can be traced to Pope Alexander VI, who, on June 13, 1495, wrote:

Through the merits of the Virgin Mary herself and the intercession of Saint Dominic, [who was] once the excellent preacher of this confraternity of the Rosary, this entire world was preserved.9

Pope Leo X, on October 4, 1520, wrote of the Confraternity of the Rosary as being established by St. Dominic, "as we read in the histories.''10 St. Pius V (himself a Dominican) stated that "the blessed Dominic, inspired by the Holy Spirit ... contrived ... the Rosary."11 Many other Popes throughout the centuries, up to our own times, have made similar statements;12 Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Clement VIII, Alexander m, Clement IX, Clement X, Innocent XI, Benedict XIII, Benedict XIV, Clement XIV, Pius VII, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Benedict XV, and Pius XI. Benedict XIII is especially notable because of the fact that he, by a decree of March 26, 1726, extended to the whole Church the new historical lessons for Matins on the Feast of the Rosary. In them we read, among other things, that St. Dominic had begged the help of the Blessed Virgin against the Albigensian heresy, and then:

When he had been advised by her (as the tradition says) that he should preach the Rosary to the people as a singular protection against heresies and vices, he carried out the task enjoined on him with wonderful fervor and success.13

Benedict XIV, himself a good scholar, whose work On the Beatification and Canonization of Servants of God still enjoys high esteem, wrote in favor of the papal tradition before his election as Pope;14 and after his elevation, he wrote to the Bollandists:15

You ask us if St. Dominic is really the author of the Rosary. You say that you are perplexed and full of doubt on this point. But what do you make of so many utterances of the Sovereign Pontiffs of Leo X, Pius V, Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Clement VIII, Alexander VII, Innocent XI, Clement XI, Innocent XIII, Benedict XIII, and still others, all unanimous in attributing the institution of the Rosary to St. Dominic?

Pope Benedict XV claimed that the Queen of Heaven, "used his [St. Dominic's] services to teach the Church ... the most Holy Rosary ...";16 and Pius XI wrote: "... St. Dominic wonderfully promoted it, not without inspiration from the Virgin Mother of God and heavenly admonition...."17

There is, then, strong support from the Popes since Alexander VI for the view that St. Dominic was the author of the Rosary. Since this could be true even without the need of any apparition, we cannot safely infer that these statements of themselves endorse the Prouille apparition: references to the apparition are, as we can see, in carefully guarded language. Probably the strongest text on the apparition is that of the historical lessons approved by Benedict XIII. Even there, however, we note that the lessons do not explicitly mention an apparition, but merely say that St. Dominic was "advised" (monitus) by Mary. This could refer to a mere interior prompting of grace. On the other hand, the context in which the passage occurs is such as to recall the story of the apparition, and hence contains a suggestion that there was an apparition.

Regarding the force of the papal support, we must distinguish two questions. As to the Prouille apparition, the general principles on private relations apply: even when approval is given, the Church does not give any positive assurance of the reality of such apparitions (see chapter XXI). In the case of Prouille, the Popes have not provided any absolutely clear endorsement. As to the question of St. Dominic's authorship of the Rosary, independently of such an apparition, this is an historical point, outside the domain of public revelation. Many Popes have spoken clearly in favor of this claim of St. Dominic, but, on such matters, it is not considered that the Popes have the intention of binding the consciences of Catholics.18 Their statements are primarily commemorative. Even so, the texts are deserving of great respect, in view of the position and the scholarship of the Popes.

2. The testimony of Alan.

According to Thurston's charge, Alan based his statements solely on the testimony of nonexistent writers and on private revelations. Whatever may be said for the disputed writers and for the revelations of Alan, Thurston has missed an important text, in which Alan states that his information comes not only from private revelations, but that he has the same facts "... both from tradition, and from the testimony of writers...."19 Therefore, Alan claims to rely not only on the two questionable writers and on revelations, but also on the tradition of the Order. It is strange that Thurston overlooked this text, which appears in Alan's Apology, the only work of his in which we are practically certain that we possess his authentic thought.20 Many criticisms advanced by Thurston and others against Alan's revelations and his reliability in general are based on works that are known to have undergone considerable alteration at the hands of others. How can one be confident of conclusions based on works that have been tampered with?

In addition, it is difficult to write off completely all value from the account of a man who was, as even Thurston admits, a very devout person. And we must also keep in mind that, even though we might reject the account of the apparition, we are not forced thereby to reject also the view that St. Dominic in some way, such as the preaching-praying method suggested, could really deserve the tide of "author of the Rosary," as so many Popes seem to insist.

3. Evidence before Alan.

The opponents charge that there is silence on the role of St. Dominic before the time of Alan. But silence is the weakest of all arguments, particularly when there is a plausible explanation for the silence. If, as we have suggested, St. Dominic introduced the Rosary by the preaching-praying method, then, since this method would easily fuse with already existing devotional elements, contemporaries might easily fail to realize what he had done, and hence, think it unnecessary to mention it.

But there is not complete silence before the time of Alan. First of all, it seems probable that the mysteries of the Rosary were well established in Spain before the time of Dominic the Prussian, whom Thurston credits with first inserting clauses of meditation in the Rosary.21

The most impressive evidence prior to the time of Alan has appeared since Thurston wrote. In his work on the Rosary and its historical antecedents,22 M. Gorce, a French Dominican, has made a careful analysis of a set of verses by a French Dominican which seem to be from the early fourteenth century-that is, about a century after the time of St. Dominic. These verses (to sum up the conclusions of Gorce) seem to represent St. Dominic as having a mission from heaven to save the world in preaching a devotion to the Ave Maria, which is associated with meditation on some mysteries of our faith. Of course, the mysteries are not precisely the present set of fifteen-they are chiefly the joys of Mary, who is pictured as the Rose. The document is entitled Rosarius.

The analysis of Gorce shows that the document Rosarius probably reflects the view that the preaching-praying method is due to St. Dominic, with divine support, although whether this support was in the form of an apparition, is not sufficiently clear in the Rosarius. As to the name of this document we must note that the term at that age (early 14th century) was not restricted to meaning a set of prayers and meditations, such as our Rosary, but could also refer to a set of sermons.23 This would fit admirably well with the view that St. Dominic employed a preaching-praying method.

Gorce, in the same book, also brings forth a few other pieces of evidence tending in the same direction. Chief among them are these: 1. A Dominican nun, Bl. Clare Gambacorta (1362-1419), is described in a contemporary biography as being accustomed "to say the rosary or other prayers on bended knee";24 2. a set of Latin verses, which were probably written in 1213, after the battle of Muret.25 These verses represent St. Dominic as bringing roses, and as moving heaven and earth with his preaching. Victory is attributed to Mary:

Jam exultans Gallia dicit

Augusta Maria vicit....

Dominicus rosas afferre

dum incipit tam humilis

Dominus coronas conferre

statim apparat agilis....

Veritas surgit triumphans

Quia Dominicus praedicans

coelum et terram commovit....

Dominicus ab oratione

finem malorum obtinet

et dum pugnat praedicatione

sortem justorum sustinet.

Now exulting France says

the August Mary has conquered....

While Dominic so humbly begins

to bring roses

the Lord at once prepares

to confer crowns quickly....

Truth rises triumphant

because Dominic by his preaching

has moved heaven and earth....

Dominic by prayer

obtains the end of evils

and when he fights by his preaching

he upholds the lot of the just.


The evidence in favor of a Prouille apparition is somewhat poor. No papal text openly supports such an apparition, even though some may hint at it. But the papal texts do often and clearly refer to St. Dominic as the author of the Rosary. For this latter claim, although not all writers accept it, we do have really respectable evidence. Hence it is preferable to support the traditional view on at least this second point, particularly out of regard for both the authority and the scholarship of the many occupants of the See of Peter who have favored and do favor it.

A note on indulgences

The chief groups of indulgences for the Rosary are:

1. Rosary indulgences: They include (among others) especially these: five years for each five decades; plenary for reciting five decades before the Blessed Sacrament (which need not be exposed; but Confession and Communion are required).

2. Apostolic indulgences: A different list is issued by each Pope early in his pontificate. The present list includes many plenary indulgences on certain feasts.

3. Brigittine indulgences: These include chiefly: 100 days for each Pater, Ave, or Credo (but one must add the Creed at the end of each decade for the Brigittine indulgences).

4. Crosier indulgences: 500 days for each Pater or Ave (it is not necessary to recite the entire Rosary to gain these indulgences: even single Paters and Aves are indulgenced).

5. Dominican indulgences: They include (among others): 100 days for each Pater and Ave (if at least 5 decades are recited). There are many additional indulgences for members of the Rosary Confraternity.

The Rosary indulgences do not require the use of a blessed Rosary, or of any beads at all. But for the other groups of indulgences, the Rosary must have been blessed by a priest having the various faculties. Meditation on the mysteries is required for the Rosary and Dominican indulgences, but not for the Brigittine or Crosier indulgences. It is possible to gain simultaneously the Apostolic, Crosier, and Dominican indulgences for one recitation, if the Rosary has been blessed for each of these indulgences.

The Rosary must be made of solid material. Cord Rosaries,26 and Rosaries with plastic beads are sufficient for the indulgences, but the so-called Rosary rings and bracelets are useful only for the Rosary and the Apostolic indulgences. The Rosary indulgences require no beads at all to be used, and the Apostolic indulgences may, if the priest has a sufficiently broad faculty, be applied to any religious object. The rings and bracelets may qualify as religious objects, but not as Rosaries.27 In view of these principles, it is clear that one should be cautious, and slow to accept any modification whatsoever in the traditional form of the Rosary, lest he thereby endanger the gaining of so many valuable indulgences.


1 In Acta Sanctorum 35, Augusti Tomus Primus, Die Quarta Augusti (esp. pp. 365ff.), Victor Palme, Parisiis et Romae, 1867. The Bollandists are a very scholarly group, founded in the 17th century by John van Bolland, S.J. They carefully sift the facts in the lives of the saints, to separate truth from legend, and give their results in the Acta Sanctorum.
2 G. Roschini, O.SM., Mariologia (2nd ed., Rome, 1948), IV, 107, n. 1.
3 The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1912), XIII, 184-87.
4 Ibid., p. 186.
5 The Month, XCVII (1901), p. 298.
6 It is sometimes said that three hundred witnesses at the canonization were silent on the Rosary. This is true in a sense, but these three hundred did not all give separate testimony: most of them merely signed as approving the testimony already given. See P. Denys Mézard, O.P., Etude sur les origines du Rosaire (Rhône, 1912), pp. 467-70.
7 Bede Jarrett, O.P., Life of St. Dominic (New York, 1924), pp. 110-12.
8 Ibid., p. 110.
9 Cited in Mézard, op. cit., p. 405, quoting from Acta Sanctae Sedis pro Societate SS. Rosarii (Lyon, 1888), IV, 1179.
10 Mézard, op. cit., pp. 405-06, citing Act. S. Sedis pro Soc. SS. Ros, IV, p. 1117. It is true that Pope Leo X is quoting from a Dominican petition but he seems to make the thought his own; such, at any rate, is the view of Pope Benedict XIV (see below, note 14).
11 September 17, 1569. Mézard, p. 410: "Spiritu Sancto, ut pie creditur, afflatus ... Rosarium ... excogitavit."
12 See Mézard, op. cit., pp. 411-12, 414-17 for these Popes up to Leo XIII (inclusive). See also Pope Leo XIII in ASS 16:114: "[St. Dominic] set out to fight for the Catholic Church ... relying especially on that prayer which he himself first established under the name of the secret Rosary ..." (precatione confisus, quam sacri Rosarii nomine ipse primus instituit ..."). Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI are cited below in the text.
13 The Latin text in the Roman Breviary reads: A qua (ut memoriae proditum est) cum monitus esset ut Rosarium populis praedicaret, velut singulare adversus haereses ac vitia praesidium, mirum est quanto mentis fervore et quam felici successu injunctum sibi munus sit exsecutus.
14 Pope Benedict XIV, De Festis Domini Nostri Jesu Christi et Beatae Mariae Virginis, II, 12 (Pratt in typographia Aldina, 1843), IX, 294-98.
15 Cited in Mézard, op. cit., pp. 414-15.
16 June 29, 1921; AAS 13:334.
17 September 29, 1937; AAS 29:376: "... quem S. Dominicus mirabiliter provexit, non sine Deiparae Virginis instinctu supernoque admonitu...."
18 See AER 123 (July, 1950), p. 64.
19 "Idem tum ex traditione accepimus, tum ex relictis scriptorum monumentis, ut legi"—from the Apology of Alan, cited in Mézard, op. cit., p. 296.
20 See Mézard, pp. 303-14.
21 See Enciclopedia Universal Illustrada (Madrid, 1926), LII, 348-52.
22 M. Gorce, O.P., Le Rosaire et ses antécédents historiques d'après le manuscrit 12483 fonds français de la Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris, 1931). For those who might wish to examine the argument of Gorce in detail, the following list of pages and items found in the verses is to be noted: p. 51—the Dominican order is especially the order of Mary, p. 53—Mary obtains from Jesus that Dominic shall have great success in his preaching, p. 61—the five principal joys of Mary on which one should meditate: Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption-Coronation; pp. 63-64—in meditating on the five wounds of Our Lord, one should say five Paters and many Aves; p. 65—comparison to the Psalter, which contains 150 psalms.
23 Gorce, op. cit., pp. 42-43.
24 Ibid., p. 100.
25 At the battle of Muret, Simon de Montfort defeated the Albigensians—with the aid of the Rosary, according to tradition. On pp. 104-6 Gorce gives the Latin verses as part of an excerpt from a work by Benoist, Suite de l'Histoire des Albigeois (Toulouse, 1693), p. 85. Benoist says that this set of verses appeared in October, 1213, and that he found them in an old register of a well-known notary who had many ancient documents.
26 This is the opinion of Seraphinus de Angelis, Substitutus pro Indulgentiis, in his De Indulgentiis (2nd ed.; Vatican, 1950), p. 163. He points out that cord Rosaries (unless, of course, made of thin string) are more solid than most Rosaries of the usual type.
27 De Indulgentiis, pp. 163-65.