Saint Catherine of Siena (25 March 1347 – 29
April 1380), was a tertiary of the Dominican Order and a Scholastic philosopher and theologian
who had a great influence on the Catholic Church. She is declared a saint and a doctor
of the Church. Born in Siena, she grew up there and wanted
very soon to devote herself to God, against the will of her parents. She joined the Sisters
of the Penance of St. Dominic and made her vows. She made herself known very quickly
by being marked by mystical phenomena such as stigmata and mystical marriage.She accompanied
the chaplain of the Dominicans to the pope in Avignon, as ambassador of Florence, then
at war against the pope. Her influence with Pope Gregory XI played a role in his decision
to leave Avignon for Rome. She was then sent by him to negotiate peace with Florence. After
Gregory XI’s death and peace concluded, she returned to Siena. She dictated to secretaries
her set of spiritual treatises The Dialogue of Divine Providence.
The Great Schism of the West led Catherine of Siena to go to Rome with the pope. She
sent numerous letters to princes and cardinals to promote obedience to Pope Urban VI and
defend what she calls the “vessel of the Church.” She died on 29 April 1380, exhausted by her
penances. Urban VI celebrated her funeral and burial in the Basilica of Santa Maria
sopra Minerva in Rome. The devotion around Catherine of Siena developed
rapidly after her death. She was canonized in 1461, declared patron saint of Rome in
1866, and of Italy in 1939. First woman declared “doctor of the Church” on 4 October 1970 by
Pope Paul VI with Teresa of Ávila, she was proclaimed patron saint of Europe in 1999
by Pope John Paul II. She is also the patron saint of journalists, media, and all communication
professions, because of her epistolary work for the papacy.
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. Since 18 June 1939, Catherine of Siena has
been one of the two patron saints of Italy, together with Francis of Assisi. On 4 October
1970, she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI, and on 1 October 1999, Pope
John Paul II named her as one of the six patron saints of Europe, together with Benedict of
Nursia, Saints Cyril and Methodius, Bridget of Sweden and Edith Stein.==Life==Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa was born
on 25 March 1347 in Black Death-ravaged Siena, Italy, to Lapa Piagenti, the daughter of a
local poet, and Giacomo di Benincasa, a cloth dyer who ran his enterprise with the help
of his sons. The house where Catherine grew up is still in existence. Lapa was about forty
years old when she gave premature birth to twin daughters Catherine and Giovanna. She
had already borne 22 children, but half of them had died. Giovanna was handed over to
a wet-nurse and died soon after. 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
named Giovanna. As a child Catherine was so merry that the family gave her the pet name
of “Euphrosyne”, which is Greek for “joy” and the name of an early Christian saint.Catherine
is said by her confessor and biographer Raymond of Capua O.P.’s Life to have had her first
vision of Christ when she was five or six years old: She and a brother were on the way
home from visiting a married sister when she is said to have experienced a vision of Christ
seated in glory with the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John. Raymond continues that at age seven,
Catherine vowed to give her whole life to God.When Catherine was sixteen, her older
sister Bonaventura died in childbirth; already anguished by this, Catherine soon learned
that her parents wanted her to marry Bonaventura’s widower. She was absolutely opposed and started
a strict fast. She had learned this from Bonaventura, whose husband had been far from considerate
but his wife had changed his attitude by refusing to eat until he showed better manners. Besides
fasting, Catherine further disappointed her mother by cutting off her long hair as a protest
against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance to attract a husband. Catherine would later advise Raymond of Capua
to do during times of trouble what she did now 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, her mother into the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her brothers into the apostles.
Serving them humbly became an opportunity for spiritual growth. Catherine resisted the
accepted course of marriage and motherhood on the one hand, or a nun’s veil on the other.
She chose to live an active and prayerful life outside a convent’s walls following the
model of the Dominicans. Eventually her father gave up and permitted her to live as she pleased.
A vision of Saint Dominic gave strength to Catherine, 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. Catherine fell seriously ill with a violent rash, fever and pain, which
conveniently made her mother accept her wish to join the “Mantellate”, the local association
of Dominican tertiaries. 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 habit of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. Catherine received
the habit of a Dominican tertiary from the friars of the order after vigorous protests
from the tertiaries themselves, who up to that point had been only widows. As a tertiary,
she lived outside the convent, at home with her family like before. The Mantellate taught
Catherine how to read, and she lived in almost total silence and solitude in the family home.Her
custom of giving away clothing and food without asking anyone’s permission cost her family
significantly, but she requested nothing for herself. 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. According to Raymond of Capua, at the age
of twenty-one (c. 1368), Catherine experienced what she described in her letters as a “Mystical
Marriage” with Jesus, later a popular subject in art as the Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine.
Caroline Walker Bynum explains one surprising and controversial aspect of this marriage
that occurs both in artistic representations of the event and in some early accounts of
her life: “Underlining the extent to which the marriage was a fusion with Christ’s physicality
[…] Catherine received, not the ring of gold and jewels that her biographer reports
in his bowdlerized version, but the ring of Christ’s foreskin.” Catherine herself mentions
the foreskin-as-wedding ring motif in one of her letters (#221), equating the wedding
ring of a virgin with a foreskin; she typically claimed that her own wedding ring to Christ
was simply invisible. 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 rejoined her family
and began 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, women and men, who gathered
around her.As social and political tensions mounted in Siena, Catherine found herself
drawn to intervene in wider politics. She made her first journey to Florence in 1374,
probably to be interviewed by the Dominican authorities at the General Chapter held in
Florence in May 1374, though this is controverted (if she was interviewed, then the absence
of later evidence suggests she was deemed sufficiently orthodox). It seems that at this
time she acquired Raymond of Capua as her confessor and spiritual director.After this
visit, she began travelling with her followers throughout northern and central Italy advocating
reform of the clergy and advising people that repentance and renewal could be done through
“the total love for God.” In Pisa, in 1375, she used what influence she had to sway that
city and Lucca away from alliance with the anti-papal league whose force was gaining
momentum and strength. She also lent her enthusiasm towards promoting the launch of a new crusade.
It was in Pisa in 1375 that, according to Raymond of Capua’s biography, she received
the stigmata (visible, at Catherine’s request, only to herself).
Physical travel was not the only way in which Catherine made her views known. From 1375
onwards, she began dictating letters to scribes. These letters were intended to reach 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, asking him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States.
Towards the end of 1375, she returned to Siena, to assist a young political prisoner, Niccolò
di Tuldo, at his execution. In June 1376 Catherine went to Avignon as ambassador of the Republic
of Florence to make peace with the Papal States (on 31 March 1376 Gregory XI had placed Florence
under interdict). She was unsuccessful and was disowned by the Florentine leaders, who
sent ambassadors to negotiate on their own terms as soon as Catherine’s work had paved
the way for them. Catherine sent an appropriately scorching letter back to Florence in response.
While in Avignon, Catherine also tried to convince Pope Gregory XI, the last Avignon
Pope, to return to Rome. Gregory did indeed return his administration to Rome in January
1377; to what extent this was due to Catherine’s influence is a topic of much modern debate.Catherine
returned to Siena and spent the early months of 1377 founding a women’s monastery of strict
observance outside the city in the old fortress of Belcaro. She spent the rest of 1377 at
Rocca d’Orcia, about twenty miles from Siena, on a local mission of peace-making and preaching.
During this period, in autumn 1377, she had the experience which led to the writing of
her Dialogue and learned to write, although she still seems to have chiefly relied upon
her secretaries for her correspondence.Late in 1377 or early in 1378 Catherine again travelled
to Florence, at the order of Gregory XI, to seek peace between Florence and Rome. Following
Gregory’s death in March 1378 riots, the revolts of the Ciompi, broke out in Florence on 18
June, and in the ensuing violence she was nearly assassinated. Eventually, in July 1378,
peace was agreed between Florence and Rome; Catherine returned quietly to Florence.
In late November 1378, with the outbreak of the Western Schism, the new Pope, Urban VI,
summoned her to Rome. She stayed at Pope Urban VI’s court and tried to convince nobles and
cardinals of his legitimacy, both meeting with individuals at court and writing letters
to persuade others.For many years she had accustomed herself to a rigorous abstinence.
She received the Holy Eucharist almost daily. This extreme fasting appeared unhealthy in
the eyes of the clergy and her own sisterhood. Her confessor, Blessed Raymond, ordered her
to eat properly. But Catherine claimed that she was unable to, describing her inability
to eat as an infermità (illness). From the beginning of 1380, Catherine could neither
eat nor swallow water. On February 26 she lost the use of her legs.Catherine died in
Rome, on 29 April 1380, at the age of thirty-three, having eight days earlier suffered a massive
stroke which paralyzed her from the waist down. Her last words were, “Father, into Your
Hands I commend my soul and my spirit.”==
Sources of her life==There is some internal evidence of Catherine’s
personality, teaching and work in her nearly four hundred letters, her Dialogue, and her
prayers. Much detail about her life has also, however,
been drawn from the various sources written shortly after her death in order to promote
her cult and canonisation. Though much of this material is heavily hagiographic, it
has been an important source for historians seeking to reconstruct Catherine’s life. Various
sources are particularly important, especially the works of Raymond of Capua, who was Catherine’s
spiritual director and close friend from 1374 until her death, and himself became Master
General of the Order in 1380. Raymond began writing what is known as the Legenda Major,
his Life of Catherine, in 1384, and completed it in 1395.
Another important work written after Catherine’s death was Libellus de Supplemento (Little
Supplement Book), written between 1412 and 1418 by Tommaso d’Antonio Nacci da Siena (commonly
called Thomas of Siena, or Tommaso Caffarini): the work is an expansion of Raymond’s Legenda
Major making heavy use of the notes of Catherine’s first confessor, Tommaso della Fonte (notes
that do not survive anywhere else). Caffarini later published a more compact account of
Catherine’s life, entitled the Legenda Minor. From 1411 onwards, Caffarini also co-ordinated
the compiling of the Processus of Venice, the set of documents submitted as part of
the process of canonisation of Catherine, which provides testimony from nearly all of
Catherine’s disciples. There is also an anonymous piece entitled “Miracoli della Beata Caterina”
(Miracle of Blessed Catherine), written by an anonymous Florentine. A few other relevant
pieces survive.==Works==Three genres of work by Catherine survive: Her major treatise is The Dialogue of Divine
Providence. This was probably begun in October 1377, and was certainly finished by November
1378. Contemporaries of Catherine are united in asserting that much of the book was dictated
while Catherine was in ecstasy, though it also seems possible that Catherine herself
may then have re-edited many passages in the book. It is a dialogue between a soul who
“rises up” to God and God himself. Catherine’s letters are considered one of
the great works of early Tuscan literature. Many of these were dictated, although she
herself learned to write in 1377; more than 300 have survived. In her letters to the Pope,
she often addressed him affectionately simply as Babbo (“Daddy”), instead of the formal
form of address “Your Holiness”. 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.
Approximately one third of her letters are to women.
26 prayers of Catherine of Siena also survive, mostly composed in the last eighteen months
of her life.==Theology==
Catherine’s theology can be described as mystical, and was employed towards practical ends for
her own spiritual life or those of others. She used the language of medieval scholastic
philosophy to elaborate her experiential mysticism. Interested mainly with achieving an incorporeal
union with God, Catherine practiced extreme fasting and asceticism, eventually to the
extent of living solely off the Eucharist every day. For Catherine, this practice was
the means to fully realize her love of Christ in her mystical experience, with a large proportion
of her ecstatic visions relating to the consumption or rejection of food during her life. She
viewed Christ as a “bridge” between the soul and God and transmitted that idea, along with
her other teachings, in her book The Dialogue. The Dialogue is highly systematic and explanatory
in its presentation of her mystical ideas; however, these ideas themselves are not so
much based in reason or logic as they are based in her ecstatic mystical experience.==Veneration==She was buried in the (Roman) cemetery of
Santa Maria sopra Minerva which lies near the Pantheon. After miracles were reported
to take place at her grave, Raymond moved her inside the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra
Minerva, where she lies to this day. Her head however, was parted from her body
and inserted in a gilt bust of bronze. This bust was later taken to Siena, and carried
through that city in a procession to the Dominican church. Behind the bust walked Lapa, 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
to the grave. She helped Raymond of Capua write his biography of her daughter, and said,
“I think God has laid my soul athwart in my body, so that it can’t get out.” The incorrupt
head and thumb were entombed in the Basilica of San Domenico at Siena, where they remain.Pope
Pius II, himself from Siena, canonized Catherine on 29 June 1461.On 4 October 1970, Pope Paul
VI named Catherine a Doctor of the Church; this title was almost simultaneously given
to Saint Teresa of Ávila (27 September 1970), making them the first women to receive this
honour.Initially however, her feast day was not included in the General Roman Calendar.
When it was added in 1597, it was put on the day of her death, April 29; however, because
this conflicted with the feast of Saint Peter of Verona which also fell on the 29th of April,
Catherine’s feast day was moved in 1628 to the new date of April 30. In the 1969 revision
of the calendar, 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 Catherine’s feast
was restored to April 29.===Patronage===
In his decree of 13 April 1866, Pope Pius IX declared Catherine of Siena to be a co-patroness
of Rome. On 18 June 1939 Pope Pius XII named her a joint patron saint of Italy along with
Saint Francis of Assisi.On 1 October 1999, Pope John Paul II made her one of Europe’s
patron saints, along with Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and Saint Bridget of Sweden.
She is also the patroness of the historically Catholic American woman’s fraternity, Theta
The people of Siena wished to have Catherine’s 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 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 back
at Siena, as they reopened the bag her head was visible once more. Due to this story,
Catherine is often seen holding a lily.==Legacy==
Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. She remains
a greatly respected figure for her spiritual writings, and political boldness to “speak
truth to power”—it being exceptional for a woman, in her time period, to have had such
influence in politics and on world history.==Main sanctuaries==
The main churches in honor of Catherine of Siena are: Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome:
place where her body is preserved. Basilica of San Domenico in Siena: in this
church the incorrupt head of Catherine of Siena is preserved.
Shrine of Saint Catherine in Siena: complex of religious buildings built around the birthplace
of Catherine.==Images====Works=====Modern editions and English translations
===The Italian critical edition of the Dialogue
is Catherine of Siena, Il Dialogo della divina Provvidenza: ovvero Libro della divina dottrina,
2nd ed., ed. Giuliana Cavallini (Siena: Cantagalli, 1995). [1st edn, 1968] [Cavallini demonstrated
that the standard division of the Dialogue in into four treatises entitled the ‘Treatise
on Discretion’, ‘On Prayer’, ‘On Providence’, and ‘On Obedience’, was in fact a result of
a misreading of the text in the 1579 edition of the Dialogue. Modern editors and translators,
including Noffke (1980), have followed Cavallini in rejecting this fourfold division.]
The Italian critical edition of the 26 Prayers is Catherine of Siena, Le Orazioni, ed. Giuliana
Cavallini (Rome: Cateriniane, 1978) The most recent Italian critical edition of
the Letters is Antonio Volpato, ed, Le lettere di Santa Caterina da Siena: l’edizione di
Eugenio Duprè Theseider e i nuovi problemi, (2002)English translations of The Dialogue
include: The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P.
Paulist Press (Classics of Western Spirituality), 1980.
The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, TAN Books, 2009. ISBN 978-0-89555-149-8
Phyllis Hodgson and Gabriel M Liegey, eds., The Orcherd of Syon, (London; New York: Oxford
UP, 1966) [A Middle English translation of the Dialogo from the early fifteenth century,
first printed in 1519].The Letters are translated into English as: 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 0-86698-036-9. (Republished
as The letters of Catherine of Siena, 4 vols, trans Suzanne Noffke, (Tempe, AZ: Arizona
Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2000–2008))The Prayers are translated into
English as: The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, trans.
Suzanne Noffke, 2nd edn 1983, (New York, 2001)Raymond of Capua’s Life was translated into English
in 1493 and 1609, and in Modern English is translated as: Raymond of Capua (1980). Conleth Kearns, ed.
The Life of Catherine of Siena. Wilmington: Glazier. ISBN 0-89453-151-4.==See also==Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati
Saints and levitation Mystical marriage of Saint Catherine
Order of Preachers War of the Eight Saints
Churches dedicated to Catherine of Siena==References====
Sources==Blessed Raymond of Capua (2003). The Life
of St. Catherine of Siena. Translated by Lamb, George. Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books.
Catherine of Siena (1980). The Dialogue. Translated by Noffke, Suzanne. New York: Paulist Press.
ISBN 0-8091-2233-2. Hollister, Warren; Bennett, Judith (2002).
Medieval Europe: A Short History (9 ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.
Skårderud, Finn (2008). “Hellig anoreksi Sult og selvskade som religiøse praksiser.
Caterina av Siena (1347–80)”. Tidsskrift for norsk psykologforening (in Norwegian).
45 (4): 408–420. Retrieved 12 May 2013.==Further reading==
Cross, F. L., ed. (2016). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford U.
P. p. . 251. ISBN 978-0-192-11655-0. Emling, Shelley (2016). Setting the World
on Fire: The Brief, Astonishing Life of St. Catherine of Siena. New York: St. Martin’s
Press. ISBN 978-1-137-27980-4. Girolamo Gigli, ed., L’opere di Santa Caterina
da Siena, 4 vols, (Siena e Lucca, 1707–1721) Hollister, Warren; Judith Bennett (2001).
Medieval Europe: A Short History (9 ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. p. 343.
ISBN 0-07-234657-4. Faure, Gabriel (1918). Au pays de sainte Catherine
de Sienne. Grenoble: J. Rey. OCLC 9435948. McDermott, Thomas, O.P. (2008). Catherine
of Siena: spiritual development in her life and teaching. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN
0-8091-4547-2. Carolyn Muessig, George Ferzoco, and Beverly
Mayne Kienzle, eds., A Companion to Catherine of Siena, (Leiden: Brill, 2012), ISBN 978-90-04-20555-0
/ ISBN 978-90-04-22542-8.==External links==Works by Catherine of Siena at Project Gutenberg
Letters of Catherine from Gutenberg Works by or about Catherine of Siena at Internet
Archive Saint Catherine of Siena: Text with concordances
and frequency list Drawn by Love, The Mysticism of Catherine
of Siena St. Catherine of Siena at the Christian Iconography
web site Divae Catharinae Senensis Vita 15th-century
manuscript at Stanford Digital Repository St Catherine statue – St Peter’s Square
Colonnade Saints “Saint Catherine of Siena: the De Docta Ignorantia
“. Invisible Monastery of charity and fraternity – Christian family prayer. Archived from the
original on 31 October 2018. Retrieved 31 October 2018.