Saint Dominic was born in Caleruega, in the Kingdom of Castile (present-day Spain) in 1170 to Felix Guzman and Bl. Joan of Aza. His parents were of noble birth and relatives of the Royal Family of Castile. Dominic’s dad, Felix, was the Royal Warden of their village.
According to legend, Dominic’s mom, Joan, made pilgrimage to a Benedictine abbey (in the town of Santo Domingo de Silos) where she received many signs of the great child she would bear. According to the popular legend, Joan dreamed of a dog leaping from her womb with a torch in its mouth. The animal "seemed to set the earth on fire." Legend has it that Dominic’s parents named him such as a play on the words Domini canis (meaning the Lord's dog in Latin). Alternatively, he was simply named after the 11th-century monk St. Dominic of Silos, whom the abbey and town Joan visited are named after.
Educated in Palencia with concentrations in Theology and the Arts, Dominic was known as a brilliant student. In 1191, famine struck leaving many in Palencia desolate and homeless. Dominic sold everything he had, including his furniture and clothes, to buy food for the poor. When he sold his manuscripts, required for study, he replied, "Would you have me study from these dead skins when people are dying of hunger?" Then, on two occasions, Dominic attempted to sell himself as a slave to the Moors to obtain the freedom of others.
In 1194, Dominic joined the Benedictine Order and became Superior, or Prior, of the chapter in 1201. During a 1203 journey to Denmark with his Bishop, Diego de Acebo, Dominic attempted but failed to secure a bride for Crown Prince Ferdinand due to the suitress’ untimely death. Now freed from obligations, Bsp. Acebo pressed Dominic to join him in Rome for an audience with Pope Innocent III. Pope Innocent was greatly troubled by the Cistercians’ failed mission to crush the Albigensian heresy, which falsely taught that all material things, including the human body itself, were fundamentally evil. So, during this audience, Pope Innocent III tasked Dominic with the mission to southern France to squash the Albigensian heresy.
Accompanied by Bsp. Diego, the pair traveled to Southern France, where they lived an austere life in comparison to worldly Cistercian monks. Their austerity and personal self-discipline appealed to many of the heretics who were more willing to engage in debate and dialogue with them over the Cistercian monks. Many of the Albigensians were enraged that they could not out-debate Dominic, and many times they threatened his life. Despite this though, Dominic traveled throughout the region, preaching and converting many back to the Catholic faith and practice. In Recognizing the need for a physical institution in Southern France to preserve the gains he made, the need of the nobility for a place to educate their children, and the need for Catholic women to have a safe place away from hostile, suicidal heretics, Dominic established in 1206 the first Dominican house: the Convent of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille in Prouille, France. It was at this Convent that Dominic and Diego established their headquarters. In January 1208, French nobles took up arms against the heretics after they murdered a papal legate. During the crusade, Dominic appealed for mercy for the heretics (who were often the victims of atrocities) and followed the crusaders to spend his time reconciling survivors to the Church.
According to another legend, in 1214 Dominic received the Rosary during an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the abbey in Prouille. This legend is disputed among historians because while similar Rosary devotions existed before this time, there is no record of the Marian rosary in this form before Dominic. However, it is indisputable that the Marian Rosary became a hugely popular devotion following this event, suggesting the legend may be true. Dominic became famous as a result of his mercy and work to establish an Order dedicated to promoting morality and the expulsion of heresy. After escaping at least three attempts at promotion to Bishop, in July, 1215 Dominic was granted permission to form his own religious order. He was joined by six followers. The group followed a Rule of Life which included a strict routine of discipline, prayer, and penance. They established a system of education and traveled the countryside to preach. In 1217, Pope Honorius III dubbed Dominic and his followers "The Order of Preachers." In the summer of 1217, Dominic decided it was time to send his followers out to grow the order. The men were ordered to go out across Europe to spread the order. Their efforts were incredibly successful as new members began to appear in great numbers across the European continent.
As the Order of Preachers began to spread among men and women all over Europe, Dominic spent several years traveling between his religious houses throughout Europe. During his travels, he would complete special missions given by the Pope, dedicate time to his studies, preach from town-to-town, and work to formalize the Rule of Life of the Order of Preachers. During his travels, in July 1221, Dominic took ill with a fever. After several weeks of illness, he made a last Confession and will. On August 6, 1221 he passed in the presence of his brother Dominicans. Dominic was 51 years old.
Pope Gregory IX canonized St. Dominic on July 13, 1234. His feast day is August 8, and St. Dominic is the patron saint of astronomers, the Natural Sciences, the Dominican Republic, the innocent who are falsely accused, and St. Dominic Catholic Church in Panama City, FL. He is commonly depicted in icons with a dog, or lilies while holding a book.