The Miracle of San Sisto
The basilica of San Sisto on the Via Appia is today's Station and it dates to the 4th century and is recorded as the Titulus Crescentianae, thus relating the site to some Crescentia, possibly a Roman woman whose home was a place of Christian worship on this site. According to tradition, the church was established by Pope Anastasius I (399-401)and in the 5th century it was a parish church of Rome. According to some authorities it was in this very place, in the area of the Porta Capena that the deacon St Lawrence asked Pope St Sixtus II (ob. 258) if he could accompany him in martyrdom. The relics of this martyred pope and other martyrs are housed in this church. In 1218 Pope Honorius III assigned the church of St Sixtus to St Dominic who gathered there his first disciples. As such, San Sisto is the first Dominican church in Rome. Later he transferred the friars to Santa Sabina, also given by Pope Honorius III, and he began building a convent for Dominican nuns in San Sisto. This convent was solemnly inaugurated on 26 February 1221 and Dominican sisters still live there.
One of the most famous miracles involving St Dominic happened in the Refectory of San Sisto, which still exists, and the story is recounted in the Vitae Fratrum of the Order of Preachers and a painting of the event often adorns Dominican refectories:
"When the brethren were still living at the Church of San Sisto and formed a community of about one hundred, Blessed Dominic one day sent Brother John of Calabria and Brother Albert of Rome into the city to beg. From morning to noon, they went from house to house, but all in vain. As they were returning home without anything, they passed by the church of St. Anastasia where they met a woman who had a great love for the Order. Seeing that they had received no alms, she gave them one loaf of bread, saying, "I would hate to see you return empty-handed." They thanked her for the bread and continued on their journey home. Soon they were met by a handsome youth, who earnestly begged an alms of them. But they explained that having almost nothing for themselves, they could hardly give anything to him. As he continued to press them, they said to one another, "How far would a loaf of bread go with us? Let's give it to him for the love of God." No sooner had they given him the bread than he disappeared so quickly that they did not even know in what direction. When they reached the priory, the first one they met was Blessed Dominic who already knew, by a special revelation, all that had happened. He smiled and said, "I see you have nothing, my children," and they answered, "No, father." Then they hold him what they had received and of the beggar to whom they gave the bread. But he said to them, "It was an angel of the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord will feed His servants. Let us go and pray." After they said a brief prayer in the church, he told them to summon the community for their meal. But they reminded him, "Holy Father, how can you tell them to come, when we have nothing to serve them?", and he answered, "The Lord will feed His servants." But when they continued to dilly-dally, he called Brother Roger, the procurator, and ordered him to call the brethren to the refectory, because the Lord would provide for His servants. So they set the tables and, when the signal was given, the community entered the refectory. After the blessing of the meal by Blessed Dominic, the brethren sat down and Brother Henry of Rome began to read. At his table Blessed Dominic joined his hands in prayer. Then the promise he had made through the Holy Spirit began to be fulfilled, for, in the middle of the refectory, there suddenly appeared two handsome youths from whose shoulders hung, in front and in back, two beautiful baskets filled with bread. Serving the youngest first, they began, one on the right and the other on the left, to distribute to each of the brethren one whole loaf of bread of marvelous appearance. When they reached Blessed Dominic and gave him a loaf, they bowed and disappeared. No one to this day knows whence they came or where they went. Then Blessed Dominic said to the brethren, "Come, brethren, eat the bread which the Lord has sent you."On another occasion, St Dominic had been visiting the sisters in San Sisto and had stayed quite late; it was almost midnight. The sisters, fearing for his safety, asked him not to return to Santa Sabina alone but Holy Father Dominic said the Lord would send an angel to guide him and indeed, one appeared to lead the saint to Santa Sabina and let him into the locked convent.
Then he told the brethren who were serving to get some wine for the brethren. But they answered, "Holy father, there is no wine." Then filled with a prophetic spirit, Blessed Dominic told them to go to the wine-cask and draw off the wine the Lord has put there. They went and found the cask filled to the top with wine. Drawing some off, they served it to the brethren. And Blessed Dominic said, "Come, brethren, drink the wine which the Lord has sent." Thus they ate and drank as much as they needed that day and the next and the day after. When the meal was over, he ordered that all the unused bread and wine be given to the poor, because he did not want anything to remain in the house. But for those three days he sent no one out to beg, because the Lord was supplying them with bread and wine from heaven in abundance. Later the blessed father gave the brethren a beautiful sermon exhorting them never to lose their trust in God's providence, even in the direst need.
Later on, Brother Tancred, prior of the brethren, Brothers Odo and Henry of Rome, Brother Lawrence of England, Brother Gaudio, Brother John of Rome, and many others described this famous miracle to Sister Cecilia, who was living in the convent of St. Mary in Tempulo, and to other nuns. To them they gave some of the bread and wine, which they kept for many years as relics."
The stories above speak amply of St Dominic's trust in God's loving providence, which we are called to emulate. The Lenten practice of fasting reminds us that God alone provides and He feeds us with food (and abundant wine!) as well as His Living Bread.
May St Dominic and St Sixtus pray for us and guide us to the eternal Banquet where we will feast together in the company of all the saints and angels!