From: St. Dominic and His Work, by Pierre Mandonnet, O.P.,
        Translated by Sister Mary Benedicta Larkin, O.P., B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis/London, 1948.

Foreign Missions

THE spread of the gospel in schismatic, heretical, and infidel nations, as well as the evangelization of the Christian world, was a primordial idea in the foundation of the Preachers. The one was the complement and extension of the other.

The Bishop of Osma had died without realizing his desire to convert the Cumans. He bequeathed his holy ambition to St. Dominic who, unable to accomplish it himself, transmitted it to his sons, when he sent them into Hungary at the time of the general chapter of 1221. In 1219, in the house of Cardinal Ugolino, Dominic won to the Order the young William of Montferrat and with him projected plans for going to the Orient after the brethren were established. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Dominic and his successors devoting special attention to the development of missions beyond the frontiers of Christendom. The papacy, moreover, was thoroughly convinced that the crusades and military orders could play only a negative role, that of defending the outposts of Christendom; apostolic soldiers alone could win souls to the faith and lead them back to the Church. Therefore the Church urged the Preachers toward far distant fields.

During the thirteenth century the organization of foreign mission work was in close dependence on the geographical constitution of the Order. Each of the frontier provinces of Christendom could initiate its work for the neighboring people and nations. Still, in this distribution of apostolic labor, the Province of the Holy Land had a singular importance, because to it were annexed the Asiatic missions, most extensive in area and most numerous in workers. The final overthrow of the continental division of this Province with the fall of St. John of Acre (1291) and the insistent purpose of developing missions in the Orient in the early fourteenth century, led to the formation of a special Congregation of missioners for Asia, called Friars Pilgrims for Christ (1312). It nurtured the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Asia and by its own activity gave birth to the Congregation of United Brethren of Armenia.

The Dominican provinces girding Christendom pursued foreign mission work almost as soon as they were established. The Province of Poland, founded in 1220 with the delegation of St. Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslaus by St. Dominic, undertook in particular the evangelization of the Ruthenians, Russians, and Lithuanians. In 1222 Hyacinth preached at Kiev and settled his friars there. The invasion of the Tartars in 1241-42 destroyed the work of these missions; many convents of the Province were pillaged and numerous religious suffered martyrdom. After the devastating storm, the work was resumed and sustained.

Established in 1221 by the assignment of Blessed Paul, the Province of Hungary spread the faith among the Cumans according to instructions from St. Dominic. Many chiefs and their subjects were converted, and Brother Theodore became their first bishop in 1227. The Hungarian Preachers likewise labored for the conversion of Bosnia, where one of them, John of Teutonia, became Bishop of Diacovár (1233), and subsequently they extended their apostolate through almost the entire Balkans. Filled with compassion for the pagans of their nation on the middle Volga (Greater Hungary), the Hungarian Preachers made several expeditions to reach them, beginning in 1232, and Brother Julian has preserved some interesting accounts of these difficult attempts.

The Province of Greece, where the first religious were sent in 1221, carried on an apostolate among the Greek schismatics, especially at Constantinople.

The Province of Spain was employed in the conversion of the Moslems of the peninsula, but lost no time in undertaking missions on the shores of Africa. In 1225, one friar Dominic was appointed first bishop of Morocco, and a few years later the Spanish 'Preachers founded a convent in Tunis where they opened a school of Arabic.


The Holy Land, mentioned last on account of the extent of its mission territory in Asia, had received its first Dominican colony as early as 1225. Promptly its apostolate radiated beyond the region occupied by the Latins, even though finding itself in frequent contact with the Moslem and heretical churches of the Orient. In an interesting letter written in 1237 by Philip, provincial of the Preachers in the Holy Land, and addressed to Gregory IX, there is a full summary of the results achieved by the Dominican preachers in western Asia. From this period dates the establishment of the Preachers among the Maronites, in Georgia and in Armenia, and the opening of the road toward central Asia. In spite of the upheavals that took place in these regions, the missions were carried on successfully during the course of the thirteenth and the fourteenth century. In 1244, Matthew of Paris wrote that the apostolate of the Preachers and the Minors reached the ends of the earth. In his letters of March 22 of the same year, addressed to the master general of the Order and to the provincial of the Holy Land, Innocent IV granted privileges to the friars in the territory of the Jacobites, Nestorians, Georgians, Greeks, Armenians, Maronites, Mosulites and other Oriental peoples. Clement IV in a letter of 1257 to the master general extended still further the regions to be evangelized: the friars were to go to the Tartars, Ethiopians, Hindus, Nubians, and Saracens of the East and of the South, and to infidels of all nations and countries whatever. We find, in the course of the thirteenth century, through a documentation that has unfortunately too often been sporadic, proof of the presence of the Preachers in most regions of Asia.

The fall of St. John of Acre (1291), though ruining the last stronghold of the Latins and likewise of the Preachers on the Asiatic continent, did not slacken the pace at which the missioners penetrated among the infidels. On the contrary, Boniface VIII and John XXII signalized the intensification of the missionary activity in the Orient. Faced with the slowness of progress among the nations called Christian, the papacy seemed more than ever to place its hopes in the conversion of Asia. Late in the thirteenth century the Preachers established at Pera, near Constantinople, and at Caffa on the Black Sea, then at Trebizond, contact points for the Asiatic missions. The development of this movement led the Master General, Beranger de Landore, to institute the Congregation of the Friars Pilgrims in the Orient (1312). Under the direction of a vicar, this congregation constituted a true province, and within its boundaries united all the missioners of Asia. Franco of Perugia, who departed for the Levant in 1298, became the first superior. The Friars Pilgrims worked with great intensity in Armenia, Persia, and Mesopotamia.

So rapid was the progress of the evangelization that in 1318 John XXII thought the time had come for organizing the Catholic hierarchy of those regions on a firm foundation. He instituted an ecclesiastical province having Sultanieh, the capital of Persia, as the archiepiscopal see, with six suffragan bishoprics. The territory included the-regions subject to the Tartars of Persia, Ethiopia, and India. It embraced the whole western and central part of Asia situated south of the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Himalaya Mountains, besides the eastern part of North Africa. Franco of Perugia, vicar of the Friars Pilgrims, was made archbishop of Sultanieh, and six other Friars Preachers were assigned as suffragans. The Preachers successively held the archiepiscopal see, and during the fourteenth century gave numerous bishops to the Orient, until the United Friars of Armenia could themselves supply an almost uninterrupted hierarchy for several of these bishoprics, even after Islamism had penetrated central Asia and ravaged the Christian missions. In that disaster, nearly all the Friars Pilgrims of Persia perished. Though the Congregation had fifteen establishments there, only three friars survived in that country in 1349. Greatly reduced, the Friars Pilgrims still numbered in 1358 two convents and eight other houses in their Congregation.


The activity of these Friars Pilgrims resulted in a very interesting and practical creation in Upper Armenia: the foundation of a congregation of native religious and missioners which, even through the most severe trials, would perpetuate itself until the end of the eighteenth century. The apostolate and the holy life of the Preachers, and especially the labor of the Bishop of Maragha, Bartholomew the Little of Bologna, drew a number of convents of Oriental monks within the Dominican sphere of influence. John, abbot of the Oriental monastery of Kerna, was a most zealous mediator and promoter in the return of various convents to Catholic unity. The religious of these monasteries took upon themselves the mission of restoring the Armenian nation to unity. This unity was accomplished in 1330. After the death of Bartholomew (1333), John of Kerna visited the West, and upon his return prevailed upon the Uniates to adopt the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Friars Preachers. The Friars Pilgrims, in cooperation with the United Friars, labored to translate a great number of Latin works into Armenian. In 1356, Innocent VI confirmed the Order of the Uniates and placed it under the jurisdiction of the master general of the Friars Preachers; later, this Order became a Dominican province. To preserve contact with the Latin Church, the Armenians established three convents at Caffa and houses in many Italian cities. They also sent young religious to study in the schools of the Order in the West.

Apart from the United Friars of Armenia, the Dominican missioners, as well as the personnel of the provinces of Greece and of the Holy Land, were recruited almost entirely from all the other provinces of the Order. Religious could be individually assigned to particular labors on the Oriental missions, but the Order took the initiative, when it was not so requested by the Holy See, in sending out large hands of missioners, ordinarily about fifty in number, but at times even exceeding that figure.

In the interests of the Church, the Preachers carried on numerous negotiations with princes in the East and in the West. The popes often made the Preachers their nuncios and their legates, and these tireless messengers could be met almost anywhere between the Roman Curia and the Asiatic provinces.

The missionary Preachers wrote accounts of their travels, geographical descriptions, political memoranda for princes or the Sovereign Pontiffs, and discourses on apologetics and religion in the hope of extending and supporting the influence of their ministry. Many of these works were remarkable for their originality and their learning, and have a great source value for history.