A Garner of Saints – Saint Catherine of Siena

detail of the oil on canvas painting 'Saint Catherine of Siena', 17th century by Baldassare Franceschini; Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich, London, England; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

The daughter of a dyer named Jacopo, born at Siena in 1347. At the age of seven she vowed her virginity to God as the result of a vision of the Virgin. At the age of twelve her parents wished to marry her, but she told them her mind. They resisted for a long time and ill used her, but one day her father found her in prayer, with a dove resting on her head, and overcome by this sight he at length gave way, obtaining for her admission into the Dominican order. She at once became noted for her charity to the poor and her devotion to the sick. The devil, however, tempted her in her retreat, appearing to her in various forms, and endeavouring to break down her chastity. In her efforts against the tempter, Christ visibly appeared to console and strengthen her. Her ministrations were bestowed among others on two old women, one suffering from cancer and the other a leper, whom she tended until their death. Meeting two robbers on their way to execution, she entered the cart with them and succeeded in inducing them to a state of repentance and contrition. The nuns of the convent were jealous of her reputation for sanctity and cast doubts on her visions. As she was weeping over these”things, Christ appeared to her and offered her the choice between a crown of jewels and a crown of thorns.- She took the latter, and pressed it to her head so violently that the blood flowed. On another occasion the Saviour -appeared to her and gave her His heart in exchange for her own, while in another vision she was mystically espoused by Him. But one day as she was praying before the crucifix in the chapel of Saint Christina at Pisa, she fell into an ecstasy of devotion, receiving the stigmata or imprint of the five wounds of Christ and swooning away.

Pope Gregory XI charged Raymond of Capua and another Dominican to hear the confessions of those who had been converted by Catherine, but they were so numerous that the sittings lasted night and day. During the plague of 1374 she exhibited the greatest devotion, not only in Siena but also at Pisa, and by her prayers healed many who were stricken. Soon afterwards the Florentines, who had been waging a disastrous war with Gregory XI, asked for her mediation. She accordingly proceeded to Florence where she was joyfully received and obtained full power of arranging peace. At Avignon, where the pope then was, her reception was no less flattering, the pope also giving her full power to arrange the terms of peace. She then took occasion to persuade Gregory to return to Rome and re-establish the seat of the papacy there. The pope had long wished to do so, but had not dared; now, encouraged by the holy virgin, he took the decisive step and abandoned Avignon with his court. On her return to Siena, Catherine resumed her former life of good works. Here she was visited by some doctors of Italy who came to convince her of ignorance or to entrap her, if‘ possible; but they departed in confusion, for they could not help admiring her answers. She had been subjected to a similar experience at Avignon by three prelates who were jealous of her influence with the pope. The efforts of Catherine to make peace had not proved successful as the Florentines persisted in their rebellion. Accordingly, she once more proceeded to Florence, and in spite of threats and insults at length prevailed upon the Florentines to make peace in 1378. The great schism which followed in the church by the election of two rival popes caused her the deepest affliction. She sided with Urban VI and wrote numerous letters in his behalf to the kings of France and Hungary, and to Joanna of Naples among others. Her efforts and her sorrow led to a sickness which ended in death on 27th April 1380. She was buried in the church of the Minerva at Rome, her skull however is preserved by the Dominicans of Siena. Her canonisation took place in 1461. 30th April.

Attributes

  • The stigmata or five wounds of Christ, wears the Dominican habit and almost invariably carries a lily, occasionally a book also.
  • Frequently represented as receiving a ring from the infant Jesus.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “Saint Catherine of Siena”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 April 2017. Web. 29 April 2017. <>