The Venerable Louis of Granada, one of the most thorough, exquisite, and prolific of our spiritual writers, left a brief manuscript life of his spiritual protégé, Blessed Bartholomew of the Martyrs, archbishop of Braga. Father Louis Cacegas, through tireless industry, not only discovered other data for the completion of this work, but also gathered an immense amount of material for the history of the Province of Portugal. Possibly because of the lack of broad vision and interest in such literature on the part of his superiors, Cacegas did not leave posterity the result of his researches in the shape of any book. However, his labor was not wasted, nor the memory of it suffered to be lost. Father Louis de Sousa made magnificent use of the information thus collected, as well as gave his confrère full credit for his painstaking toil. All these men, as they lived to good, ages, and belonged to the same affiliation of the Order, were more or less contemporaries, and certainly, knew one another. De Sousa's excellent Life of Blessed Bartholomew of the Martyrs and his History of the Province of Portugal leave no doubt as to the scrupulous care, ability, and good judgment of both himself and Father Cacegas. Thanks to their fine work, the necessity of research for the present sketch was greatly lessened.(1)
Unfortunately their history does not (perhaps could not) give the date of Father Sueiro Gomes' birth. Of its place and his parentage it says only that he was a Portuguese and belonged to a noble family. Evidently, in his youth, he received the advantages of a splendid education. There are indications, in fact, that he was trained for the priesthood. As a young man he held a distinguished position at the court of Santius (or Sancho) I, whose esteem he won more by his ability and virtue than by his high standing in society.
To his other fine qualities our youthful cavalier added a great zeal for the good of the Church, which he ever placed before personal glory. For this reason, in 1208, he left the court of Lisbon and went to Languedoc, where he enlisted in the crusade against the Albigenses. There he came in contact with Saint Dominic, by whose sermons, virtue, personality, and labors he was captivated. It was God's way of leading the pure-minded Portuguese to his vocation. The two men soon became trustful friends. Sueiro saw that as a missionary he could gain more merit for himself than as a soldier; and that the sword of the Gospel not only involved less personal danger, but also produced greater spiritual benefits for those whom he had come to combat. Besides, such a life was more in accord with his natural disposition. Possibly it recalled the priestly career which he seems to have had in mind in his earlier days.
However this may be, Gomes allied himself with Dominic. Then he asked the saint to take him into his company and train him for the apostolic ministry. The request was readily granted; for the holy man from Caleruega desired nothing more than recruits with the zeal, energy, and trained mind of his young Portuguese friend. The precise date of neither this nor of Sueiro's ordination is known. Probably he prepared for orders in Toulouse, and received them from Bishop Fulk. The authors place him among the first sixteen Friars Preacher. Thus there can be little or no doubt that the former soldier was present for all the preparatory steps for laying the foundation of the Order which have been described in previous sketches of others who belonged to the same band.
In the dispersion at Prouille, August 15, 1217, the subject of this paper was associated with Peter of Madrid, Michael de Uzero, and Dominic of Segovia (often called "Dominic the Little," because of his small stature), and sent to Spain. We are not told which of the four acted as head of the little company. Father Gomes, although we find no record of it, must have received instructions from Saint Dominic to proceed on to his native land, for we discover him in Portugal before the close of 1217. Alfonso II, surnamed "the Corpulent") son of Sanctius I, Suciro's former friend and benefactor, then occupied the Portuguese throne.
It was an unpropitious moment for the establishment of a new religious order in Portugal. Because of the preparations to drive the Moors from the country, our Friar Preacher found the entire kingdom in a state of arms. The cities, Lisbon especially, were like military camps. To these disturbances was added that of a plague which raged in many places. Thus the people were in a poor mood to aid Sueiro's project. For these reasons, disappointed, but not discouraged, he retired to Alemquer, a small city about twenty-five miles northeast of Lisbon, and not far from Santarem. Here, for he was within her domain, Princess Sanctia (or Sancha), a sister of King Alfonso and a lady zealous for the cause of religion as well as of eminent piety, gave the missionary a most cordial reception(2)
Blessed Sanctia, for she has since been raised to the honors of the altar, had doubtless known our Friar Preacher as a courtier at the capital in the days of her father. Now she took a keen delight in hearing the spiritual chevalier speak of the things of heaven, and seeing how completely he was weaned from those of the earth. She gave him an ancient chapel, "Our Lady of the Snow," in the Montejunto Mountains, a few miles from Alemquer, together with land for the construction. of a priory for his Order. The location was not altogether suited to his purpose. Yet he accepted the offer with gratitude, for he judged it the best he could expect in Portugal at the time. Besides it pleased him that the new religious institute should begin in his native land at a place which had been specially consecrated to devotion to the Mother of God for centuries. It reminded him of Notre Dame de Prouille, in southern France, where Dominic had commenced the foundations of the Order.
In this retired locality Father Gomes really began his great work in Portugal. The report of his sanctity and eloquent sermons -- he preached constantly -- brought pilgrims to Our Lady of the Snow in ever increasing numbers. God so blessed his efforts that he had scarcely finished the new convent before it was filled with excellent subjects. Among these were the chanter of the cathedral in Lisbon, the ordinary's confessor, and a number of others among the clergy of the city. Nor must we omit the Most Rev. Suciro Viegas, Lisbon's archbishop, who was so won by the zeal and virtue of the subject of this sketch that, with the permission of the Holy See, he laid aside his dignity in order to lead the life of a Friar Preacher. None showed themselves more humble or ready to obey than he. As these new preachers appeared in the garb of Saint Dominic, quickened with his zeal, and full of his eloquence, the crowds of pilgrims to Our Lady of the Snow assumed enormous proportions.(3)
When the danger of war subsided and Portugal resumed its ways of peace, the hierarchy of the country, won by the reputation of the new religious for zeal, virtue, and eloquence, urged them not only to preach the word of God but also to establish houses in their several dioceses. The Right Rev. Peter Soeiro, bishop of Coimbra, was one of the first to secure their services. Father Louis de Sousa has reproduced the letters of this distinguished divine on the subject, which set in clear light the high esteem in which Gomes and his disciples were held throughout Portugal. The following extract from one of them will suffice to show the trend of all.Peter, the humble, though unworthy, Servant of the Church of Coimbra, to all the faithful of the same Diocese, who may either receive these presents or hear them read, health and benediction.Through the zeal of the same prelate and the pious liberality of Princess Theresa, the second sister of King Alfonso, Gomes built a convent in Coimbra. Then came those of Braga and Guimaraens in quick succession. Indeed, despite his wishes, the holy superior was not able to comply with all the requests from the bishops; for he would have his men, before all things else, steeped with the principles and spirit of Saint Dominic, which he himself followed to the letter. When he had placed superiors over the priories which he had already founded, he left Portugal for the first general chapter of the Order at Bologna. This meeting, as has been seen, was held in May, 1220. From Italy he hurried back to his field of labor, where he again visited his various convents. Then he turned his steps towards Castile. Here he now started houses in Toledo, Palencia, Zamora, and other cities. These arose with marvellous rapidity.
We wish to make known to each and everyone of you that We have granted, and do still grant, Dom Sueiro, Prior of the Order of Preachers, and all his Fathers permission to preach throughout the Diocese of Coimbra. We also give them the right and authority to correct and suppress all excesses, in order that, with the grace of God and through their active ministry, they may the more easily and readily lead you to the knowledge and practice of the true Catholic life. Furthermore, We empower them to bestow on you an indulgence of forty days for the remission of the penalties due to your sins, provided you attend their sermons and listen to them with proper devotion.(4)
We have no record which shows it; yet it seems certain that Father Sueiro also attended the second general chapter held at Bologna in May, 1221. At this time he was appointed provincial of the Province of Spain, being the first to hold the position in that part of the Order. From this fact the Année Dominicaine draws the rather irrelevant inference that Saint Dominic considered Gomes the greatest member of his Order in the Iberian Peninsula.(5) It is a case of non sequitur. Being in authority is not necessarily a proof that the one so placed is greater than those under his charge. Perhaps Dominic did not wish to appear in the guise of favoring his own countrymen, and for this reason selected a Portuguese as provincial, instead of a Spaniard; perhaps he had work for Michael de Fabra and Dominic of Segovia which he felt no others could do quite so well; perhaps he believed Father Sueiro was endowed with special talents for leadership. We believe de Fabra to have been as big a man as Gomez. Touron makes the happier suggestion that the fact that the Portuguese had established the greater number of convents in the peninsula led to his nomination as head of the Friars Preacher there.
Whatever brought it about, the choice was wise, for our provincial proved as popular in Spain as in Portugal. In both countries he advanced the cause of religion and his Order in an almost incredible degree. Furthermore, he was a patron of literature. He had Saint Raymond of Peñafort write a book of cases of conscience, which is said to be the first work of its kind that ever appeared. It afterwards went through several editions, and is still known as Raymond's Summary (Summa Raymundi). Gomes also persuaded Luke of Tuy, Canon Regular of Saint Isidore's, Leon, and later bishop of his own native city, to write the Life of Saint Isidore, archbishop of Seville.
Both these works were dedicated to our provincial. The words of their dedication deserve notice; for, even if we make every allowance for the time and the customary expressions among the Latin races, they show that the two celebrated authors held him in unwonted love and admiration. Raymond writes: "To the Rev. and most blessed Father in Christ, Father Gomes, Prior of the Order of Friars Preacher in Spain." Luke of Tuy says: "To the most holy Father Sueiro, Prior of the Order of Preachers. . . ." At the close of his prologue, the Canon Regular uses words that are not less expressive of profound veneration. Indeed, the zeal, virtue, good heart, and kindly address of our early disciple of Saint Dominic seem to have won the confidence and affection of all, whatever their station in life. This is aptly illustrated by a letter of Ferdinand III, king of Castile, to his people. The pious sovereign, who has since been canonized, says:Ferdinand, by the favor of God, King of Castile and Toledo, to all the citizens of Our Empire who may see these presents health and grace.The date of this letter shows that it was written a few months after Father Gomes began his provincialship. Documents still extant prove that Saint Ferdinand did not lose his love for the Order or his esteem for its head in Spain.(7) Sueiro's reputation for sanctity, good judgment, and spirit of justice won him the same regard at the court of Portugal and among the hierarchy of that country. In the controversy over the civic and ecclesiastical rights between the crown and the archbishop of Braga, which went so far that the Most Rev. Stephen Sueiro de Silva excommunicated Sanctius II, while the king threatened the metropolitan with his indignation, our Friar Preacher was made arbitrator of the difficulty by mutual consent. The litigants not merely accepted his decision with pleasure; they considered it so fair that they adopted its principles as the surest way of preventing such troubles in the future.(8)
We wish all to know that We hold Father Sueiro, Prior of the Order of Preachers in Spain, in the greatest esteem and affection; and that his life has inspired Us with a strong and abiding faith in his worth. We therefore earnestly exhort you, when the aforesaid Prior or the Preachers of his Order come in your midst, to receive them with courtesy, listen to them with reverence, and ever treat them with due honor and respect. Nay, We demand this of you; for, at the request and command of the Holy Father [Honorius III] We have taken this Order and its Fathers under Our protection, and consequently desire to defend it and to aid in its propagation. By obedience to this mandate you will render yourselves specially worthy of Our kingly favor.
Given at Madrid this 18th day of January, 1222, the fifth year of Our reign.(6)
An earlier matter in which the first provincial of Spain used his kindly offices in the cause of peace was the dispute between Alfonso II of Portugal and his sisters, the princesses Sandia (Sancha), Theresa, and Blanch, about the estates left the daughters by Sanctius (Sancho) I. The parties, unable to settle their difficulties among themselves, sought the mediation of Father Gomes. Here also his good judgment gave perfect satisfaction to all concerned.
Such marks of confidence, shown him by those in the highest stations of life in both kingdoms, did not at all lessen the holy man's spirit of humility. Neither did the frequent cases of temporal affairs in which he was obliged to take part, that he might preserve or establish peace between families or those in authority, make him in the least worldly. Through all he retained his love of interior recollection, no less than observed the rule of his Order, and sought to sanctify his soul.
From the start, Father Gomes had considered the Priory of Saint Mary of the Snow, near Alemquer, too inaccessible for the best work of the Order. After some years, therefore, although it had prospered and was filled with excellent religious, he transferred it to Santarem, where King Sanctius II erected a convent and a splendid church for the community. The institution became the greatest of the Order in Portugal, and a nursery of ecclesiastics famed not only for their sanctity, but also for their labors in every sphere of religious activity. Near Lisbon he established a community of Second-Order Dominican Sisters, which he modelled on those founded by Saint Dominic at Prouille, southern France, and at San Sisto's, Rome. Our zealous superior set great store by the prayers of these holy women to bring success to the labors of the fathers and salvation to the souls of sinners.
Father Sueiro Gomes governed the Province of Spain, which then included all that country and Portugal, for eleven years and eleven months, less a few days. His rule was a distinct success from beginning to end. Its outstanding traits were zeal, holiness of life, charity, and good judgment. He surrendered his great soul to God on April 27, 1233. In none of the authors, strange to say, could we find the place of his death. Perhaps Fathers Cacegas and de Sousa could not discover it. Yet there are indications that it occurred in the convent of Santarem.(9) He left behind him a large body of learned and exemplary religious who sincerely mourned his loss. That he planted well is evidenced by the excellent fruit which the Order continued to bear in Portugal until its work there was disrupted by irreligion and revolution, and still bears in the various provinces of Spain. As he is even yet venerated, the day may come when he will receive the honors of the altar.
1. Année Dominicaine, IV (April), 673 ff; BALME-LELAIDIER, II, 134, 231 ff, and HL 58-59, 380-386; CASTILLO, p. 157; MALVENDA, pp. 173-174, 231-232, 451-452, 510; MAMACHI, pp. 368-369, 411, 638, 641, and col. 369; MARCHESE, II, 286 ff; MORTIER, I, 29, 90, 130, 138; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 15; SOUSA, Louis de, O. P., Historia de S. Domingos particolar do Reino e Conquistas de Portugal, Vol. I, Book 1, Chap. XVI ff. The present sketch is largely taken from the Année Dominicaine and MALVENDA. (Ed. note).
2. DE SOUSA, as in the preceding note.
3. Ibid., and MALVENDA, pp. 231-232.
4. Malvenda (pp. 451-452) gives the undated original Latin of this letter. The English translation in the text is from it. Touron does not give the document. (Ed. note).
5. Page 675.
6. Malvenda (p. 397) also gives the original Latin of this document. The English translation in the text is from it. Touron gives a French rendition. In the original the letter is dated 1260; but Spain, according to her method of computing time at that date, was just thirty-eight years ahead in her time. Gomes died in 1233, and Ferdinand in 1252. (Ed. note).
7. MALVENDA, pp. 442, 458, 468, 632.
8. Ibid., p. 510, and DE SOUSA, as in note 1.
9. An old martyrology for the convent of Santarem, for instance, gives the date of his death; and this was one of the leading houses in the province, as well as particularly beloved by him.