Last night at my meeting with my Lay Dominican community, the subject of St. Dominic’s physical appearance came up. So I thought I would re-post some information I found in Dominican Spirituality: Principles and Practice by Fr. William A. Hinnebusch, OP: (with my emphases and comments)
Of all those who knew the founder, Sister Cecilia alone describes his physical characteristics and appearance. At the very end of The Miracles there is a fine verbal portrait of St. Dominic. Modern information helps to substantiate what she said. After World War II, Pope Pius XII authorized the Dominicans of Bologna to have the relics of the founder examined. … After the war, with the Pope’s permission, the Provincial of Lombardy had the relics examined by X-ray. He was not permitted to open the casket, but photographs from many angles were taken. Almost all the bones are still there after more than seven hundred years. Doctors and anthropologists were able to study them and give an accurate description of the skeleton and physical characteristics of St. Dominic.
[Sr. Cecilia’s] description is proved reliable by the scientific examination. She said he was of medium height — the measurements show that he was five feet six inches tall. [About an inch shorter than me.] She said, “his figure was supple; his face handsome and somewhat ruddy; his hair and beard blond with a reddish tinge. He was not a bit bald [apart from the shaven tonsure], though here and there in his hair there was a touch of gray.” At the bottom of the reliquary, the examiners found some shreds of St. Dominic’s hair. It was exactly the color that Cecilia had said it was. “From his brow and eyes,” she continued, “there came a radiant splendor which won the respect and admiration of all; his eyes were large and beautiful.” St. Dominic’s remains show large eye-sockets that are widely placed, confirming the physical description of Cecilia. With the scientific measurements and Cecilia’s description an artist has reconstructed an image of St. Dominic [see below!]. At least in size, shape, and proportion it conforms to life. Cecilia added: “His hands were long and handsome and his voice powerful and sonorous, and he was always joyous and smiling, except when moved with compassion at the affliction of his neighbors.” There are very few saints of so long ago whose personal appearance is so well described.
From what I’ve been able to tell, the statue below is the image reconstructed from these descriptions. It was sculpted by Carlo Pini in 1946 and is in the Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna, Italy. That is also where St. Dominic’s remains are entombed.
I think this holy card may also have been inspired by the description; note the reddish hair and similar facial structure:
Pretty neat, huh?! Great things can happen when history, science, and art cooperate.