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Quodlibet 17 - Iron Seal/Coin Die of the Order

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
A Romanian collector of medieval coins has asked about the symbolism found on the item below. He believes it was used either for sealing documents or as a die, for striking tokens of the Order.

The symbolism used is quite common in the Order and is not really particular to one region or time. The field here is divided into three parts or "tierced in mantle". This is often referred to as chapé in heraldry circles. The lower charge is of a dog holding a torch. According to the Golden Legend St Dominic's mother, while pregnant, dreamed that she would give birth to a dog who would hold a torch in its mouth and would "burn the world." It has also been suggested that the dog represents a pun on Dominicanus, the word for a Dominican friar who is domini canis, "a dog of the Lord." At any rate, a dog is often shown, at the feet of St. Dominic, holding a torch in its mouth and the order (and this website!) have often used this image.

The top right sections seems to display a lily. St Dominic is often depicted holding a lily to represent his notable chastity. In our anthem to St. Dominic, traditionally sung during the Compline procession, one of the titles we give him is ebur castitatis, "ivory of chastity". I am not too sure what is in the top right section but I think it is a palm branch crossed with a torch. I think this represents the martyrs of the Order, who have died whilst preaching the Gospel but this is purely speculative.

The ordinary or border that divides the sections contains the initials C.M.O.P. I imagine that the OP stands for Ordo Praedicatorum , the Latin for Order of Preachers, but I am not too sure about the CM. The C might stand for Conventus but any suggestions would be welcome. The apex contains a star. This is another common Dominican symbol. Legend tells us that when St. Dominic was a baby his godmother saw a star on his forehead during the baptism, so another common attribute of his representations is a star either on his forehead or above his head. He is also the patron saint of astronomers and astronomy. Finally the rim of the seal contains one of the mottos of the Order: Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare (to praise, to bless, to preach).

Within the Order we still use official seals for certain documents. In the English province these are generally impression seals rather than seals that need wax. Below is the seal used today by the Priory of the Holy Spirit in Oxford (popularly known as 'Blackfriars').

Mark Davoren


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