Father Tancred Tancredi belonged to the illustrious Siennese family of Tancredi. He was born in that beautifully artistic old city in the year of our Lord 1185, and for this reason is often called Tancred of Sienna. It was fortunate for him that his parents were wealthy, as well as splendid Catholics. They took good care to train their son in his religious duties, while they did not neglect his education. As soon as he was far enough advanced, they sent him to the University of Bologna. Later they gave him the further advantage of studying at the University of Paris, whence he returned to Sienna with the degree of doctor.(1)
Young, strong, vigorous, talented, highly educated, and belonging to one of Sienna's wealthiest and most influential families, Tancredi had before him every prospect of a life of honor and distinction. Indeed, he had already gained no little reputation, when he heard Saint Dominic preach in the cathedral of Sienna. Pio and Marchese tell us that, while he was absorbed in admiration of the missioner's sermon, Tancred saw the Blessed Virgin at the preacher's side. When Dominic left the pulpit, she approached Tancred himself, and said to him: "Tancred, follow that man; and do not depart from him." He obeyed, with the result that the saint gave him the habit in the Hospital of Saint Mary Magdalen. This was at the beginning of Dominic's labors in Italy. It was a beautiful beginning of an extraordinary vocation.(2)
From that time, Tancred was one of the most trusted friends of the founder of the Friars Preacher. The two saintly men lived on terms of great familiarity. Indeed, Tancred soon held a conspicuous place among the men of the Order. He was with Dominic at San Sisto's, Rome, when the news was brought that Napoleon, the nephew of Cardinal Stephen Orsini, bad been killed by a fall from his horse. Tancred had seen more than one miracle performed by the man of God, and was well aware of the favors the cardinal had shown the new Order.(3) When, therefore, he saw his eminence, who had fainted on receiving word of his nephew's death, in the arms of Dominic, he said to his superior:
Father, where is your tenderness and your charity towards the afflicted? Where is your confidence in God, and your gratitude towards your best friends? Will you thus suffer one who is so dear to you to die of sorrow? Why do you not, for his consolation, make use of the influence which you enjoy with the divine power?(4)
These earnest words of the beloved disciple aroused the patriarch from his stupor. As we know from his life, Dominic at once had recourse to God in prayer, and to the joy of Cardinal Orsini his young kinsman was not only returned to him alive, but even without an injury. Blessed Jordan of Saxony, in his life of Saint Dominic, declares that he received the account of this miracle from Father Tancred himself.(5)
Tancred seems certainly to have been prior of the community at San Sisto, Rome, when this place was turned over to some sisters in the Eternal City, who had become affiliated with the Order. From there, it seems equally certain, he was transferred, in the same position, to Santa Sabina's, on the Aventine Hill.(6) There were two Fathers Tancred in the Order at this time, about both of whom some beautiful things are told. But, because of the indefiniteness of the records, it is often hard to determine to which one of them some of these incidents should be attributed. For this reason, it is perhaps better to pass over such facts as these, so as not to rob either of his due.
It can be asserted without fear of contradiction, however, that Father Tancred Tancredi was a most holy man, as well as an intimate and trusted friend of Saint Dominic. So was he most zealous. Many conversions, and apparently miracles, were attributed to him. He ever showed a striking devotion to our Blessed Lady. Until the founder's death, the two men were often together. The holy patriarch went to his eternal reward in 1221. The year after, 1222, Tancred left Italy for the Holy Land with several of his confrères to take up missionary work there.
As Jordan of Saxony, lately elected Master General, appointed him the leader of these harvesters of souls, on Tancred devolved the duty of guiding and directing the labors of the little apostolic band. Tirelessly did he preach and toil himself, at the same time satisfying his devotion in prayer at the various places our Lord specially sanctified by His presence. Withal the holy man continued the severe rule of penance and mortification which he had followed from the time he entered the Order. He is said to have brought many unbelievers into the Church, as well as to have reformed the lives of many who had not practiced their religion. A number of his converts became Friars Preacher. Partly with these he started several houses of the Order in those parts of the near east where the Latin rite was in use.
Some nineteen years, though not always in the capacity of superior, the zealous man spent on the eastern missions. There, indeed, he ended his useful life, which was consecrated to the cause of souls. September 9, 1241, is thought to have been the time of his death.(7) By a few authors he is styled "blessed." In a short life of the early Friar Preacher, Father Gregory Lombardelli ascribes to him some works on the Scriptures, a commentary on Peter Lombard's Book of Sentences, and several other writings. None of these have ever been printed; and they must have been mostly the fruit of his pen during his leisure hours between the time he returned to Sienna from the University of Paris and his entrance into the Order of Preachers. After this latter date, a well educated man though he was, he was too busily engaged in the harvest of souls to steal the hours required for such compositions.(8)
Tancred has ever been looked upon as another worthy model for those spending their lives on the oriental missions. Although our brave athlete of the faith did not win the crown of martyrdom, he was of the kind of whom martyrs are made. He was the first superior of his Order in the Holy Land.
1. LOMBARDELLI, Gregory, O. P., Vita de Tancredo Tancredi (?); LONGINUS (so Latinized from Dlugosz), John, Historia Polonica, Anno 1218; MARCHESE, Dominic, O. P., Sagro Diario Domenicano, V, 58; PIO, Michael, O. P., Vite Degli Huomini Illustri del Ordine di S. Domenico, col. 27.
2. MARCHESE, op. cit., V, 58; PIO, op. cit., col. 27. Some of the things taken here from these two authors are not given in Touron. (Ed. note),
3. Father James Echard (QUETIF-ECHARD, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum, 1, 90-91) attributes this fact to Tancred of Germany, of whom we speak in the next sketch; but Father Touron maintains that this is an error. (Ed. note).
4. See Blessed Jordan's works (Berthier ed.), p. 31.
5. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (first vol. for August), 575, and passim; FLEURY, Claud, Histoire Ecclisiastique, XVI, 496 ff.
6. Here also Touron corrects Echard. See note 3. (Ed. note).
7. Father Echard, op. cit. (see note 3), I, 91, seems to distrust some of the statements made in this paragraph. (Ed. note).
8. Father Echard, op. cit., I, 91, doubts Lombardelli's statement about these works. (Ed. note).