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.


An Embassy into the Marches
by M. H. Vicaire, O.P.

THE purpose and the nature of the journey which took Diego de Acebes and St. Dominic out of the Diocese of Osma and after several detours led them into the Albigensian country are even now still interpreted in various ways. The seventeenth century in particular accumulated so many different stories on this point that in the following century, in spite of a true critical sense, the Castilian historian Loperraez found no better way out of the confusion than to close his eyes to the difficulty and repeat the description given in Fleury's ecclesiastical history. It is possible, however, to avoid such a desperate solution. To escape it, we believe it will suffice to travel the length of the seven-century-old procession of hagiographers and historians, asking of each the how and the why of his innovation, testing the worth of witnesses and treasuring the reliable information. Through an adventure very rare in the critical examination of an intricate tradition, we think that this time we take our stand on solid ground where we may finally gain conclusive views on certain points.


Leading in the traditional lines is Jordan of Saxony, who, around the year 1234, recounted the story thus.(1) King Alphonso IX of Castile desired his son Ferdinand to marry a noble girl of a country called "the Marches." He confided this enterprise to the Bishop of Osma, who set out, taking in his company the subprior of his chapter, Dominic. Passing through Toulouse, where Dominic converted his host, they came after fatiguing travel to the end of their journey. When the embassy was concluded, they returned. Then they set forth again with a larger retinue for an escort of the young lady; but she had died. With their mission thus ended, Diego and Dominic then proceeded to visit the Pope, from whom the Bishop sought in vain to obtain permission to resign from his diocese in order to devote himself to an apostolate among the pagans. On their return journey they stopped at Citeaux, and found in Languedoc the Cistercian monks who finally detained them to preach with them. This account was repeated in all the legends and Dominican chronicles of the thirteenth century.(2)

A careful comparison of these different recitals warrants our concluding that in the course of the thirteenth century there was added to Jordan's account only one word: that of Dacia (Scandinavia), which was used in the Chronica prima to identify the enigmatic ad Marchias, and was copied by Bernard Guidonis. On the other hand, certain details were omitted by one writer or another: the matrimonial nature of the embassy; the name of the future husband; the second journey; the plea for resignation from the diocese; the visit at Cîteaux.

In documents as concise as the two Chronicles, the résumé of Bartholomew of Trent, and to a certain extent the legend of Constantine of Orvieto (and that of Roderick which follows it), there is not one of these omissions that might not be expected. Vincent of Beauvais offers as his contribution in this matter only some extracts selected from Ferrand. It would be a mistake to think that the differences discernible between these few secondary accounts and the record developed from Jordan resulted from a historical improvement or from a critique on the text of the Libellus; rather would it be a case of diminution. The narrative of Thierry of Apoldia, which, in accord with his method, contains all earlier accounts and omissions, offers nothing better than the text of Jordan. Thierry dropped many details that he did not find in each of the oldest accounts. It is easy to understand how the project of the marriage of Ferdinand, whose premature death caused even his name to be forgotten, did not interest him.

In concluding this examination of the thirteenth century histories, we can say that the record of Jordan of Saxony, continually repeated, is the unique source for Dominican accounts of the journey to the Marches; a single little detail has been added (Dacia); many features have been progressively effaced by the work of successive borrowings.

The legend of Thierry of Apoldia closes at one and the same time a century and a period in our tradition. From the time of its appearance his study became for modern times almost the only source for the history of St. Dominic, causing previous records, with the exception of that of Vincent of Beauvais, to be unknown.

Now it is remarkable how one and then another of these writers notably obscured the clearness of the primitive record in the matter of the legation and the second journey. In addition there was great lack of precision in the expression ad Marchias. The incident of the embassy of the Bishop of Osma passed into fourteenth century accounts with dangerous vagueness. All later history gives the proof.


At the end of the fourteenth century, the brief résumé of Pierre Desnoels(3) did not mention the mission of Diego. In 1457, St. Antoninus made no allusion to it. According to him, when the Abbot of Cîteaux and his twelve confreres were sent to the Albigenses, Diego joined them with Dominic; then he went to Rome to offer his resignation that he might devote himself more fully to the apostolate. The account is a mere combination of elements and is evidently false. In 1517, John Garzoni of Bologna referred again to the mission and approximated the idea of Thierry in attributing to the King the initiative of the Bishop's journey to Rome, charged with an embassy to the Sovereign Pontiff.(4)

But in the meantime Alanus de Rupe introduced something new into the life of St. Dominic. Future mothers learned from his lips of the desirable blessings which grew out of an interview of Blanche of Castile with the Patriarch. The future Queen of France, saddened by not yet having an heir to the throne, was led to resolve, upon the exhortation of the saint, to recite the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin and to distribute rosaries to those who wished to recite it. In consequence of this devotion, she conceived and brought into the world the great St. Louis and all her other children. The anecdote, repeated with enthusiasm by innumerable preachers of the Rosary, was soon woven into the legend of St. Dominic and into that of Queen Blanche,(5) and precisely to throw light on the nature of that mysterious embassy entrusted according to Thierry of Apoldia, to Diego and his subprior, by King Alphonso of Castile.

Fernando del Castillo, in 1584, gives an example of this collusion;(6) in the ignorance which he acknowledges about the exact nature of Diego's mission in 1203, he can give only this detail: the King sent the Bishop, among other purposes, to visit his daughter who had just been married the preceding year (Castillo was mistaken: Blanche was married in 1200, not in 1202). Then follows with all its details the story of Alanus de Rupe; in effect this would place the conception of St. Louis eleven years before his birth. Furthermore, even if he had not had the anecdote of the Breton Preacher at his disposal, we cannot help thinking that the Castilian historian, in the pride of his national glory, would have introduced into the account the daughter of Alphonso of Castile. Did not the connection suggest itself? That is what gives to the narrative the false aspect of likelihood.

Moreover, it must not be forgotten that in the method and contents of his history as a whole, Castillo dominates not only his predecessors but all his successors in the seventeenth century. For example, in the prologue he declares his program as a historian and even his judgment on the chronicles and legends of St. Dominic: "It seems that the weakest incidents have been committed to writing and the most important omitted; works have been filled with accounts of miracles of which there is no need to recount many in order to praise the saints, and to imitate them, none." The Dominican bibliography which he also gives in extenso in this prologue shows that he knew most of what had been written previous to his time. A fervent Castilian and favorably situated for the collection of ancient items still available in Osma about Diego and St. Dominic, he had the merit to add, it seems, a single new fact to this history: the date of Diego's death inscribed on the tomb in the cathedral. On this score, his contribution marks a new stage in the tradition we have watched growing: in the dawn of the modern era his work constituted an inventory of Dominican tradition and Castilian documents. Inadequately prepared to weigh the respective values of his sources, Castillo evidently could present no more than a kind of probable collection, gathered from a vast medley of records. At least in regard to Diego's mission, he shows he could find nothing more than the sheaf of thirteenth century legends and the little anecdote about the Rosary.


Then it is that the official historians enter the scene. No longer do the last years of the Bishop of Osma belong, as formerly, almost exclusively to the history of St. Dominic. Historiographers and hagiographers of Castile, of the Church of Osma, of the Church of Spain or of the Universal Church, of the Cistercians or of the Jacobins, appropriated him in turn. Obliged by their position to compose great general works, these writers produced little more than compilations. Often they contributed nothing original but a certain number of national or corporate prejudices, and displayed relatively little scruple in the choice or even in the character of their sources.

Following Antonio of Siena,(7) who speaks of Dacia, the good Malvenda(8) was satisfied simply to repeat the version of Thierry of Apoldia, suspending comment on ad Marchias, which he despaired of being able to explain,(9) and mentioning the journey into France and into Italy. But Réchac was much more positive. All the incoherences of the earlier accounts were easily resolved for him by a manuscript which he chanced to find in the Convent of St. James in Pavia (?). It did indeed concern a legation and a marriage for Ferdinand, as Vincent of Beauvais said, with Mlle de Lusignan, daughter of Hugues le Brun, the Count of the Marches. Diego and Dominic, therefore, journeyed into the territory of Limousin (the Marches) to a certain château of Gace, whence the error in some manuscripts which, having confused G and D, indicated Dacia.(10)

Meanwhile in Spain, the official Cistercian annalist, Manrique(11) cited a manuscript book which he consulted at Osma in which the Castilian account was supplemented by elements from Thierry and from Vincent. These included the record of the embassy into the Marches, the visit to Blanche of Castile, the mention of the royal household of the newly married, and the visit to the Pope, etc., in a very ingenious narrative: the Bishop who was to present himself to the Sovereign Pontiff was requested by his sovereign the King to stop off in the Marches to visit Blanche of Castile and Prince Louis. Manrique does not give the origin of the manuscript book (and does not say it is ancient); it is certain that this work has a curious likeness to that of Gil Gonçales Davila,(12) which was in course of printing when the Cistercian composed his own volume.

Finally appeal was made to a third manuscript, and this time it was published by J. Tamayo-Salazar.(13) The Bollandist Cuyper was cautious in accepting it as genuine, because he said he had often noticed that Tamayo for ancient documents had given his own compositions.(14) Moreover, in nearly every respect, the work was but a reproduction of that of Thierry of Apoldia.

The rapid survey we have just made showing the vast accumulation of unedited records and unlooked for documents which were added in the seventeenth century to the production of the preceding ages enables us to realize how Loperraez might have been somewhat abashed in 1788 and finally took refuge in the attitude of dismay spoken of at the beginning of this little sketch. Nevertheless the historian, along with Castillo, happily succeeded in organizing the contributions of the century. Loperraez was also a Castilian writer, historian of the Church of Osma. He was superior to his rival contemporaries through a solid critique and a genuine care to construct the history of Diego only on official works, a great number of which be published, at the same time correcting the epitaph given by Castillo. He might be said, more than any other, to have been placed where be could bring new documents to the light of day and judge the value of the sources purported as discoveries by his modern predecessors. If like Castillo he found nothing and laid hold of nothing original on the subject of our interest, it must mean that the Castilian archives, which alone might house something unpublished, could at that time yield nothing new.


We are now in a position to judge. To the Dominican tradition of the thirteenth century, the following centuries added nothing authentic but the date of Diego's death. A supposititious incident without historical foundation like the visit to Blanche of Castile, inserted in the context of a spiritual treasury on the use of the Rosary, is not by its nature calculated to convince a historian. The tradition of the thirteenth century added to the record of Jordan only a vagueness and the mention of Dacia. Finally, we believe that a statement on the embassy of Diego can today be founded historically on no other source than the Libellus of the successor of St. Dominic. Is it, therefore, a hopeless question? Not at all. In our opinion, this source is worthy of thorough credit on this point in particular.

In Jordan's book, the embassy of Diego of Osma is not mere chance detail, a hypothetical transition, a passing thought or intention on which one might be mistaken even without willing it; it sets forth a concrete fact with varied and extensive implication.(15) Thirty years after the event, the account was written, Though Jordan was not a witness, could he not have had trustworthy informants? Their identity might be easily guessed: Castilians like Mannes, the brother of St. Dominic, or Friar Dominic of Spain, or some canon of Osma become a Friar Preacher and a son of Jordan. The witnesses at the process of canonization cited several details supplied by these canons.(16) They could have furnished Jordan with desirable details on the subject of the legation. If the King of the Belgians were to dispatch the Bishop of Tournai and the Prior of Le Saulchoir on an official embassy which consumed a long period of time and finally ended in the establishment of a new religious Order, completely changing the life of certain friars of the convent by attracting them to the new institution, is it not credible that thirty years later those friars and other witnesses would be able to relate the circumstances to anyone inquiring about the purpose of the journey? An official embassy would not be secret or obscure. Jordan had no need of inventing a story: the royal legation was a celebrated affair.

Furthermore, the account set down by him can be checked for verification on more than one point of importance. There was mention of a Ferdinand of Castile. Alphonso IX, in fact, had two sons of this name: the one born in 1184 died less than four years later; the other was born November 9, 1189.(17) The second evidently is the one referred to here. In consequence of the early death of the male descendants who had preceded him (a Henry and a Ferdinand), he became at birth heir to the throne. In 1203-5 he was about fifteen years old; according to the custom of the time it was the age for arranging a marriage. The negotiation which Jordan of Saxony refers to was admittedly a highly important one. Many circumstances, moreover, make particularly remarkable the mention of the young prince in the Libellus. He died prematurely, certainly before 1214, since at that time it was not he but the little Henry, born only in 1204, who became heir to the throne. This brief career, therefore, did not carve a place for him in history, nor even ensure his ever being known out of Spain. Only with great difficulty could historians of Castile today discover his existence (unless they knew also the text of Jordan). Further Jordan was a German who had not come to Italy from Paris before 1220, at least a decade after the death of Ferdinand. In no way, therefore, could he have known of the fleeting existence of the boy, if it were not through direct and detailed information. All this confirms the historical value of the Libellus on the point at issue.


The Marches were designated by Jordan as the place of the matrimonial legation. The Chronica prima specifies Dacia. An examination of the text of the Libellus will show that, even though the chronicler might not have had independent information, he was but identifying in one specific word what Jordan had written. In fact, neither the Marches of Ancona, nor of Treviso, nor of Poitou seem likely to be correct. If there had been the least possibility of identifying the last-named territory with the country mentioned by Jordan, Gerard de Frachet (if he is really the author of the Chronica prima) and Bernard Guidonis, who were both natives of that district, would not have failed to claim for their home land the honor of being traversed in the first journey of St. Dominic. Moreover, the term "Marches" was not currently employed to designate that locality; not once does Frachet in his work use it in speaking of Limousin. Jordan speaks of the distance between Toulouse and the Marches, whither the Bishop was traveling, in strong terms: "arriving at length in the weariness of many labors"; and further: "undertaking once again the laborious journey." He employs no such terms in describing a passage of the Pyrenees, or for that of the Alps, or for a journey to Rome. Furthermore, for the master of the Order, a man of the thirteenth century and an indefatigable traveler, short journeys from France into Italy or Spain would not have merited such ponderous attention. The natural interpretation of Jordan's text, therefore, suggests the distant Marches: those of Brandenburg or of Dacia, Denmark or the Scandinavian countries.

And, here again, there appears a remarkable historical context. In the first half of the thirteenth century, not less than four alliances were entered into between the House of Castile and the Scandinavian countries. Blanche of Castile, sister of the young Ferdinand, by her French marriage became a sort of daughter-in-law of Ingeborg, sister of Valdemar II of Denmark. Urraque, another sister of Ferdinand, by her marriage with Alphonso II of Portugal became the sister-in-law of Valdemar II of Denmark, who had married Berengaria, sister of Alphonso II. Later she became the mother-in-law of Valdemar III, husband of her daughter Eleanor. Finally Alphonso X of Castile, in 1254, married Christina of Sweden. Therefore at the beginning of the century it would have been natural for Alphonso IX, in seeking a wife for the heir to the throne, to think of the princely houses of Scandinavia. Not only does Jordan's text seem thus to have a solid historical basis, but the interpretation of the Chronica prima also seems probable. The record of Jordan, rendered precise in this way, appears, therefore, to be the best account a historian even today could give of the embassy of Diego and Dominic.

In concluding this little study we may note that Scheeben's account of this voyage (18) seems unacceptable because of the proofs just given on the preceding pages. Although the documents substantiating his account have not been indicated, evidently they are derived in part from Manrique, to whom Scheeben attached too much importance. It is scarcely reasonable, on the word of a seventeenth century author, to prefer an uncertain document which is manifestly a late compilation to the certain evidence of Jordan of Saxony, who was almost a contemporary of the events he relates. Another remark will suffice to refute the thesis directly. In 1206, Alphonso IX would not have commissioned the Bishop of Osma to cross the Pyrenees in order to carry a message to his daughter in the course of a hypothetical journey into the ancient Marches of Aquitaine, because the King himself at that date was in Aquitaine.(19)


1 Jordan, nos. 14-20.

2 Ferrand, Constantine, Bartholomew of Trent, Vincent of Beauvais, Humbert, Roderick of Cerrate, Thierry of Apoldia; we may add Bernard Guidonis, who really belongs to the thirteenth century.

3 Catalogus Sanctorum, Bk. X1, chap. 72.

4 Leandro Alberti, De viris illustribus ord. praed.

5 Elie Berger, Histoire de Blanche de Castille, p. 21.

6 Historia generale de S. Domenico e dell' Ordine suo dei Predicatori, chap. 7.

7 Chronic. fr. Pr., p. 9.

8 Annalium S. O. Fr. Centuria Ia.

9 Modern authors have made great efforts to learn into what country and kingdom he went; the cause of this difficulty was that, not being French, they could explain neither in Latin nor in their mother tongue what Vincent of Beauvais meant in his Miroir historial (Bk. XXIX chap. 95): Ivit ad Marchias. Curious about the possible explanation of these words: Malvenda named various provinces having for the seignorial title the name "la Marche," as in Italy, the Marches of Ancona and the Marches of Treviso; in Saxony, the Marches of Brandenburg and others. He concluded finally that he did not know to which one Dominic went with the venerable prelate, Dom Diego de Acebes (Réchac, p. 104).

10 This solution was adopted by Percin, and later in part by Fleury (Hist. ecol., XVI, 198).

11 Cisterciensium . . . annalium, III (1649), 460.

12 Theatro Eclesiastico de la Iglesia y cividad de Osma, 1648. On pages 29 and 30 are found the citations given by Manrique.

13 Anamnesis sive commemoratio omn. Sanct. hisp. (1651), I, 2, 65-68.

14 Acta sanctorum, August, I, 396.

15 Jordan, nos. 14-19.

16 Processus (Bologna), nos. 14, 29.

17 Schirrmacher, Geschichte Castiliens, pp. 686 f.; Elie Berger, Hist. de Blanche de Castille, Paris, 1895, p. 4.

18 Der heilige Dominikus, pp. 12-27.

19 Elie Berger, Hist. de Blanche de Castille, p. 13.