Catherine of Siena: Wikis


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Saint Catherine of Siena
St. Catherine of Siena,
fresco by Andrea Vanni, c. 14th century
Virgin; Doctor of Church
Born March 25, 1347(1347-03-25), Siena, Italy
Died April 29, 1380 (aged 33), Rome, Italy
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Anglican Communion
Canonized 1461 by Pope Pius II
Feast April 29; April 30 (Roman Calendar, 1628-1960)
Attributes Dominican tertiaries' habit, lily, book, crucifix, heart, crown of thorns, stigmata, ring, dove, rose, skull, miniature church, miniature ship bearing Papal coat of arms
Patronage against fire, bodily ills, diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA, Europe, firefighters, illness, Italy, miscarriages, nurses, people ridiculed for their piety, sexual temptation, sick people, sickness, nurses
The house of Saint Catherine in Siena
Saint Catherine of Siena escorted pope Gregory XI back to Rome on January 17, 1377. (Fresco by Giorgio Vasari, c. 1571-1574)
The Chapel of Saint Catherine with parts of her relics in the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena
Sarcophagus of Saint Catherine beneath the High Altar of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

Saint Catherine of Siena, T.O.S.D, (25 March 1347 – 29 April 1380) was a tertiary of the Dominican Order, and a Scholastic philosopher and theologian. She also worked to bring the Papacy back to Rome from its displacement in France, and to establish peace among the Italian city-states. She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970. She is one of the two patron saints of Italy, together with Francis of Assisi.



Caterina Benincasa was born in Siena, Italy, to Giacomo di Benincasa, a clothdyer who ran his enterprise with the help of more of his sons, and Lapa Piagenti, possibly daughter of a local poet. [1] The house where Catherine grew up, is still in existence. Born in 1347, she arrived when the black death struck the area; Siena was badly ravaged. Lapa was about forty years old when she prematurely gave birth to twin daughters, Catherine and her sister Giovanna. Lapa had already had 22 children, but half of them had died. Giovanna was handed over to a wetnurse, and presently died, whereas Catherine was nursed by her mother, and developed into a healthy child. She was two years old when Lapa had her 25th child, another daughter to be named Giovanna after the one who had died. [2]

Catherine claimed to have had her first vision of Christ when she was aged five or six. He smiled at her, blessed her and left her in ecstasy. Aged seven she woved chastity, but that was not unusual among little girls at the time, and they were not supposed to keep the vow once they reached puberty. A girl was regarded as marriageable at twelve, which implied that she took an interest in wearing make-up and bleaching and curling her hair. Catherine however did nothing of the kind, and fled from the apprentices staying with her family "as if they were snakes". Lapa hoped that Catherine's elder sister Bonaventura would influence her, and Bonaventura did succeed in convincing the girl that looking one's best does not annoy God. For a few years Lapa and Giacomo felt reassured about the future.

But then Bonaventura died in childbed. Catherine was heartbroken, thinking that her sister had died as a consequence of the earthly pleasures that Catherine had wanted to avoid, but flirted with during the time she took care of her looks. God's wrath in consequence had taken her dearest sibling from her. And within a year, the younger sister named Giovanna also died. While tormented with sorrow and guilt, sixteen-year-old Catherine was now faced with her parents' wish that she marry Bonaventura's widower. Absolutely opposed to this, she started a massive fast, something she had learnt from Bonaventura, whose husband had not been considerate in the least. Bonaventura had changed his attitude by refusing to eat until he showed better manners. This had taught Catherine the power of fasting in close relationships. She claimed to feel "jubilant" when cutting off her long hair. Her despairing parents and brothers resorted to menaces, attempts of persuasion and downright violence to change her mind. Later she advised her confessor and biographer Raymond of Capua to do during times of trouble what she had done as a teenager: "Build a cell inside your mind, from which you can never flee." In this inner cell she made her father into a representation of Christ, Lapa into St. Mary, and her brothers into the apostles. Serving them humbly became an opportunity for spiritual growth. The more suffering, the larger her triumph was. Eventually her father gave up and permitted her to live as she pleased. Amidst her family circle, Catherine vowed to remain unspeaking for three years. She gave up the shirt made from horse hair, replacing it with a chain that dug into the skin of her hips. This chain she wore until the end of her life. She slept on a wooden bench with a stone for a cushion. Three times a day she hit herself with the steel chain: Once for her sins, once for the living and once for the dead, every round lasting one and a half hour. Her mother despaired at the sight of her emaciated, self-torturing daughter, and Catherine herself was depressed, often weeping and believing herself haunted by evil spirits. A vision of St. Dominic strengthened her though, but her wish to join his order was no comfort to Lapa, who took her daughter with her to the baths in Bagno Vignoni to improve her health. Instead Catherine looked up the hottest sources, scorching herself. Soon she fell seriously ill with violent rash, fever and pain, which conveniently made her mother accept her wish to join the Dominican order. Lapa went to the sisters of the order and persuaded them to take in her daughter. Within days, Catherine seemed entirely restored, rose from bed and donned the black and white nun outfit. She lived outside the convent though, at home with her family like before - a costly resident, with her habit of giving away food and clothes without asking anyone's permission. She demanded nothing for herself, but her generosity cost her family a lot. By staying in their midst, she could live out her rejection of them more strongly. She did not want their food, referring to the table laid for her in Heaven with her real family. [3]

Catherine received the habit of a Dominican tertiary, after vigorous protests from the Tertiaries themselves, however, who up to that point had been only widows.

In about 1366, St Catherine experienced what she described in her letters as a "Mystical Marriage" with Jesus. Her biographer Raymond of Capua also records that she was told by Christ to leave her withdrawn life and enter the public life of the world. Catherine dedicated much of her life to helping the ill and the poor, where she took care of them in hospitals or homes. Her early pious activities in Siena attracted a group of followers, both women and men, while they also brought her to the attention of the Dominican Order, which called her to Florence in 1374 to interrogate her for possible heresy. After this visit, in which she was deemed sufficiently orthodox, she began travelling with her followers throughout northern and central Italy advocating reform of the clergy and the launch of a new crusade and advising people that repentance and renewal could be done through "the total love for God." [4]

Physical travel was not the only way in which Catherine made her views known. In the early 1370s, she began writing letters to men and women of her circle, increasingly widening her audience to include figures in authority as she begged for peace between the republics and principalities of Italy and for the return of the Papacy from Avignon to Rome. She carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, also asking him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States.

In June of 1376 Catherine went to Avignon herself as ambassador of Florence to make peace with the Papal States, but was unsuccessful. She also tried to convince Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome.[5] She impressed the Pope so much that he returned his administration to Rome in January, 1377. Following Gregory's death and during the Western Schism of 1378 she was an adherent of Pope Urban VI, who summoned her to Rome, and stayed at Pope Urban VI's court and tried to convince nobles and cardinals of his legitimacy. She lived in Rome until her death in 1380. The problems of the Western Schism would trouble her until the end of her life.

St Catherine by Rutilio Manetti
St Catherine by Melchiorre Caffà

St Catherine's letters are considered one of the great works of early Tuscan literature. More than 300 letters have survived. In her letters to the Pope, she often referred to him affectionately as Papa("Pope" in Italian). Other correspondents include her various confessors, among them Raymond of Capua, the kings of France and Hungary, the infamous mercenary John Hawkwood, the Queen of Naples, members of the Visconti family of Milan, and numerous religious figures. Roughly one third of her letters are to women. Her other major work is "The Dialogue of Divine Providence," a dialogue between a soul who "rises up" to God and God himself, and recorded between 1377 and 1378 by members of her circle. Often assumed to be illiterate, Catherine is acknowledged by Raymond in his life of her as capable of reading both Latin and Italian, and another hagiographer, Tommaso Caffarini, claimed that she could write.


St Catherine died in Rome, the spring of 1380, at the age of thirty-three. Given that Jesus is said to have died at the same age, and Catherine's idol Mary Magdalen is said to have fasted for thirty-three years, this may imply a self-staged suicide from lack of food intake. [6]

Over the years Catherine had eaten less and less, finding no nourishment in earthly food. Instead she received the Holy Communion virtually on a daily basis. This extreme fasting appeared unhealthy in the eyes of the clergy and her own sisterhood, and her confessor, Raymond of Capua, feared a scandal and so ordered her to eat properly. But Catherine claimed that she was unable to, describing her inability to eat as an infermita, illness. She would throw up what she swallowed, and suffered severe stomach pains, which she bore with patience as another penalty. She waited on the poor, serving them food at peculiar hours, and sought nourishment from them. Raymond describes how she would drink pus from the infected wound of one of her patients. She told Raymond, "As long as I have lived, I have never tasted sweeter or more exquisite food and drink." Similarly she sucked up the spittle from a dying woman with a gurgling chest. These episodes seemed a turning point; after this, she could no longer digest normal food. Her food intake was pus and Holy Communion. [7]

When death approached, Raymond gave up as once her parents had done, and asked her instead to give up her attempts at eating. Catherine had devoted large parts of her life to unite the Church again, but her politics failed her, and the conflicts may in fact have been worsened by her efforts. Not a character who stood up well to defeats, she made a last demonstration of piety when she gave up drinking water in January 1380, but to no avail, so she stopped this extreme fast, but by then it was too late to secure her survival. She was buried in the cemetery of Santa Maria sopra Minerva which lies virtually next to Pantheon. After miracles were reported to take place at her grave, Raymond moved her inside the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva [8], where she lies to this day. Her head however, was parted from her body and inserted in a gilt bust from bronze. This bust was later taken to Siena, and carried through that city in a procession to the Dominican church. Behind the bust Lapa walked, Catherine's mother, who lived until she was 89 years old. By then she had seen the end of the wealth and the happiness of her family, and followed most of her children and several of her grandchildren - ranging from babies to adults - to the grave. She helped Raymond of Capua write his biography of her daughter, and complained, "I think God has laid my soul athwart in my body, so it can't get out." [9]

The people of Siena wished to have her body. A story is told of a miracle whereby they were partially successful: Knowing that they could not smuggle her whole body out of Rome, they decided to take only her head which they placed in a bag. When stopped by the Roman guards, they prayed to St Catherine to help them, confident that she would rather have her body (or at least part thereof) in Siena. When they opened the bag to show the guards, it appeared no longer to hold her head but to be full of rose petals. Once they got back to Siena they reopened the bag and her head was visible once more. Due to this story, St Catherine is often seen holding a rose. The incorruptible head and thumb were entombed in the Basilica of San Domenico, where they remain. [10]

Pope Pius II canonized St Catherine in the year 1461. Her feast day, at the time, was not included in the Roman Calendar. When it was added in 1597, it was put on the day of her death, April 29, as now, but because of a conflict with the feast of Saint Peter of Verona, which was also on April 29, it was moved in 1628 to the new date of April 30.[11] In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, it was decided to leave the celebration of the feast of St Peter of Verona to local calendars, because he was not as well known worldwide, and Saint Catherine's feast was restored to its traditional date of April 29.[12] Some continue to use one or other of the calendars in force in the 1628-1969 period.

On 5 May 1940 Pope Pius XII named her a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Francis of Assisi. Pope Paul VI gave her the title of Doctor of the Church in 1970 along with Saint Teresa of Ávila making them the first women to receive this honour. In 1999, Pope John Paul II made her one of Europe's patron saints. She is also the patroness of the historically Catholic American sorority, Theta Phi Alpha.

Catherine is alleged to have suffered from anorexia mirabilis.[13]

Saint Catherine of Siena's Prayer

O marvelous wonder of the Church, seraphic virgin, Saint Catherine, because of thine extraordinary virtue and the immense good which thou didst accomplish for the Church and society, thou art acclaimed and blessed by all people. O blessed Catherine, turn thy benign countenance towards me, who confident of thy powerful patronage call upon thee with all the ardor of affection and I beg thee to obtain by thy prayers the favors I so ardently desire (mention your request). Thou wast a victim of charity, who in order to benefit thy neighbor obtained from God the most stupendous miracles and became the joy and the hope of all; thou canst not help but hear the prayers of those who fly to thy heart - that heart which thou didst receive from the Divine Redeemer in a celestial ecstasy. O seraphic virgin, show once again proof of thy power and of thy flaming charity, so that thy name shall ever be blessed and exalted; grant that we, having experienced thy most efficacious intercession here on earth, may come one day to thank thee in Heaven and enjoy eternal happiness with thee. Amen.[14]

See also

St Catherine by Tiepolo
Ecstasy of St Catherine by Pompeo Batoni


  1. ^
  2. ^ Finn Skårderud: "Holy anorexia: Catherine of Siena", Tidsskrift for norsk psykologforening (page 411), Oslo 2008
  3. ^ Finn Skårderud: "Holy anorexia: Catherine of Siena", Tidsskrift for norsk psykologforening (s. 412-3)
  4. ^ *Warren C. Hollister, and Judith M. Bennett. "Medieval Europe: A Short History", 9th edition, Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 2002. p. 342
  5. ^ *Warren C. Hollister, and Judith M. Bennett. "Medieval Europe: A Short History", 9th edition, Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 2002. p. 343
  6. ^ Finn Skårderud: "Holy anorexia: Catherine of Siena", Tidsskrift for norsk psykologforening (page 408)
  7. ^ Finn Skårderud: "Holy anorexia: Catherine of Siena", Tidsskrift for norsk psykologforening (page 413)
  8. ^
  9. ^ Finn Skårderud: "Holy anorexia: Catherine of Siena", Tidsskrift for norsk psykologforening (page 414)
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 91
  12. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 121
  14. ^ Novena Prayer Cards from the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude, 411 East 68th Street, New York, NY 10021, 1954.


  • Catherine of Siena (1988). Suzanne Noffke. ed. The Letters of St. Catherine of Siena. 4. Binghamton: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton. ISBN 0866980369. 
  • Catherine of Siena (1980). Suzanne Noffke. ed. The Dialogue. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 0809122332. 
  • Raymond of Capua (1980). Conleth Kearns. ed. The Life of Catherine of Siena. Wilmington: Glazier. ISBN 0894531514. 
  • Hollister, Warren; Judith Bennett (2001). Medieval Europe: A Short History (9 ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.. p. 343. ISBN 0072346574. 
  • McDermott,, Thomas, O.P. (2008). Catherine of Siena: spiritual development in her life and teaching. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 0809145472. 

Further reading

  • Catherine of Siena (1707-1721) Opere, ed. Girolamo Gigli. 4 vols. Lucca; Siena
  • Cross, F. L., ed. (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford U. P.; p. 251

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

St. Catherine of Siena. Detail of a work by Domenico Beccafumi

Saint Catherine of Siena (March 25, 1347April 29, 1380) was a Dominican Tertiary (lay affiliate) of the Dominican Order.


  • All the way to Heaven is heaven.
  • Sometimes God punishes us by granting our wishes

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