Saint of the Day – 29 April – St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) Doctor of the Church, Virgin, Stigmatist, Mystic, Scholastic Philosopher and Theologian, Writer, Reformer, Adviser, Mediator, Dominican Tertiary. St Catherine was born Caterina Benincasa on 25 March 1347 at Siena, Tuscany, Italy and died on 29 April 1380 in Rome, Italy of a mysterious and painful illness that came on without notice and was never diagnosed. Her body was buried in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. The first funerary monument was erected in 1380 by Blessed Raymond of Capua, her relics were re-enshrined in 1430 and again in 1466, at the high altar of the church. She was Canonised in July 1461 by Pope Pius II.
Patronages – against bodily ills, against fire, against illness, against miscarriages, against sexual temptation, against sickness, against temptations, fire prevention, firefighters, nurses, nursing services, people ridiculed for their piety, sick people, joint patron of Europe with St Benedict of Nursia, St Gertrude of Sweden, Sts Cyril & Methodius and St Edith Stein,3 dioceses, Siena, joint patron of Italy, with St Francis of Assisi, Varazze, Italy.Caterina Benincasa was born in Siena on 25 March 1347, the last of 25 children of the wealthy wool-dyer Jacopo Benincasa and Lapa di Puccio dé Piacenti.
At the age of six, Catherine received her first vision, near the Church of San Domenico. From this moment onwards the child began to follow a path of devotion, taking the oath of chastity only a year later. After initial resistance from her family, eventually her father gave in and left Catherine to follow her inclinations. In 1363, at just 15 years of age, Catherine donned the black cloak of the Dominican Tertiary sisters. In 1367 she began working tirelessly to help the sick at the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.As her fame spread throughout Christendom, during a visit to the city of Pisa, Catherine received the stigmata from a wooden cross hanging in the Church of Santa Cristina. Her many travels abroad to act as mediator for the Papacy included a trip to Avignon, where she urged Pope Gregory to bring the Papal Court back to Rome from its exile in France.
On returning to Siena, Catherine founded the Monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the castle of Belcaro. With the death of Pope Gregory XI in 1378, his successor Urban VI had to face strong opposition from a number of cardinals who had elected a second Pope with the name of Clement VII, thereby provoking what would later come to be termed the Great Schism of the West. Pope Urban VI called on Catherine to act as mediator with princes, politicians and members of the Church, with a view to legitimising his election.
In 1380, at just 33, Catherine died and was buried in the Rome church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. In 1461 Pope Pius II proclaimed her saint and in 1866 Pius IX included her as one of the patron saints of Rome. In 1939, along with St Francis of Assisi, St Catherine of Siena was proclaimed patron saint of Italy by Pope Pius XII.
In 1970 Paul VI conferred the title of Doctor of the Universal Church on Catherine and in 1999 she was proclaimed co-patron saint of Europe by Pope John Paul II.
Catherine of Siena is one of the outstanding figures of medieval Catholicism, by the strong influence she has had in the history of the papacy. She is behind the return of the Pope from Avignon to Rome and then carried out many missions entrusted by the pope, something quite rare for a simple nun in the Middle Ages.
Her writings—and especially The Dialogue, her major work which includes a set of treatises she would have dictated during ecstasies—mark theological thought. She is one of the most influential writers in Catholicism, to the point that she is one of only four women to be declared a doctor of the Church. This recognition by the Church consecrates the importance of her writings.
St Catherine’s home now known as The Sanctuary of St Catherine is a major Pilgrimage Site in Siena. The architecture of this sanctuary dedicated to Saint Catherine isn’t entirely original but the atmosphere definitely is. As are many of the objects that belonged to the saint. The rooms have been altered a lot since 1461, when the house was bought by the city of Siena and transformed into a museum. The idea wasn’t faithful architectural conservation but rather preserving her honour and memory, hence the eclectic art collection celebrating her life and work. It’s a sensitive place, full of religious passion and historical references and well reflects the extraordinary life of this woman.
The Oratory of the Bedroom: this houses the small cubicle where Catherine rested and prayed and the stone where the saint would lay her head. This space is connected with the first phase of Catherine’s life, where she would withdraw from the world in contemplation. Images below.
Church of the Crucifix: The church is home to the wooden crucifix from which Saint Catherine received the stigmata, an event which took place in Pisa, where Catherine had gone in 1375 to persuade the Lords of the city to shun the anti-papal league. The stigmata remained visible only to the Saint for the rest of her life, miraculously appearing at the moment of her death.