St. Dominic Sells His Books

Stained glass window from St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C. Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Stained glass window from St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

The following reflection is part of an ongoing series about the life of St. Dominic & the Order of Friars Preachers.

Throughout his life Dominic preached charity and acted accordingly. In 1190, while he was studying in Palencia, a famine devastated all of Spain. Palencia suffered with the rest of the country, and people died of starvation in the streets. Moved with pity at the sight of the dying poor, Dominic resolved to put into practice Christ’s counsel and do all he could to resolve their needs. He determined to sell all his belongings, even his priceless books, which he needed for his studies.

Before the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century, books were laboriously copied by hand. Much of this copying was done by monks; the manuscripts, preserved in monasteries, constituted the essentials of Western learning. Books in the twelfth century were extremely rare and valuable; thus, Dominic’s sacrifice was immense. Establishing a center for alms giving, Dominic sold his goods and distributed the money to the poor. Dominic’s act astonished and deeply moved his fellow students and masters in theology. Ashamed of how meager their own assistance had been, they were inspired to give alms in abundance, the citizens of the town opened their granaries, and their united efforts relieved the most urgent needs of the poor.

Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (a member of the English Province) was invited by the Dominican Foundation to take pictures of some of the locations where our friars serve throughout the Northeast. During his time in Washington, D.C., Fr. Lew photographed the interior of the Church of St. Dominic. St. Dominic’s has been the church where our friars are ordained to the priesthood each May. Surrounding the church, is a collection of beautiful stained glass windows that chronicle the life of St. Dominic & the foundation of the Order of Preachers. Fr. Lew accomplished a great work by capturing the splendor of these windows, and in the process, the life of a towering saint.