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Catherine of Siena - Andrea Vanni, 15th century, fresco; Siena, San Domenico, Cappella delle Volte

Catherine of Siena 1347-1380

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Catherine of Siena has stirred the imagination as a mystic. For modern eyes it is also remarkable that she has been canonized as a lay woman. Catherine was born in Siena on March 25, 1347 as the twentieth-third child of the rich dyer Jacopo Benincasa and his wif Lapa Piagenti. At the age of six she received her first vision. Early on she decided to lead a deeply religious life. However, instead of joining a monastery or marrying she stayed at her parental home, in a kind of cell. After initial refusal she could join around 1365 the Dominican tertiaries, in Siena called "Mantellate" because of their black capes. Catherine started a life of contemplation and very real support and care for those in need of help. At the Ospedale della Scala and the San Lazzaro leprosery she tended to the ill. Around her gathered a group of inspired followers and supporters, her "bella compagnia".

On account of her visions Catherine had already become a notable figure in all Italy. In 1374 the Dominican priest Raymond of Capua (around 1330-1398) became her confessor. Raymond was elected master-general of the Dominican Order in 1380. He encouraged her to use her influence in city politics and in the Church at large. Thus she came in contact with pope Gregory IX. Catherine urged him to return from Avignon, to start a crusade and to reform the Church. The pope came back to Rome indeed in 1377. His successor, Urban VI, invited Catherine to Rome, where she addressed the cardinals in the papal consistory. She died in her humble house in the Via di Papa in Rome on April 29, 1380, fraught with paralysis and severe illness. She was buried nearby at the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.

Catherine could not write herself until very late, so she dictated to her secretaries. Her main work is the Dialogue of the divine providence from 1378, also called "Book of the divine doctrine", which she said to have been revealed to her in a vision. There are also 381 letters, addressed to many persons in and outside Italy, including citizens and clerics, from priests and nuns up to cardinals and popes. 26 prayers stem from her visions and ecstasies. In these prayers her language seems even more direct and personal than in her letters. Her works form a milestone of the Italian literature. The Dialogue was printed for the first time in 1492. The Orcherd of Syon is a version of the Dialogue in Middle English.

Catherine's rather unorthodox behaviour and role never prevented her to receive posthumously ecclesiastical recognition. In 1461 pope Pius II canonized her. In 1866 she became co-patron saint of Rome. Since 1939 she is the patron saint of Italy together with Francis of Assisi. Further honours include the title of Doctor of the Church given by Paul VI in 1970, and the co-patronship of Europe, a title bestowed on her by John Paul II in 1999.

On Internet several webpages with biographies of Catherine of Siena exist. Here you will find references to the hagiographic sources and documents concerning her canonization. This page focuses on her works, showing editions and translations. Her representation in art is dealt with in a section on iconography. A selection of relevant studies and some weblinks follow. There is also a special journal on her, the Studi Cateriniani.

Hagiography   Bibliography   Editions   Translations   Studies   Mysticism   Links

Hagiography - sources and biographical criticism Introduction   Bibliography   Editions   Translations   Studies   Mysticism   Links


Introduction   Hagiography   Editions   Translations   Studies   Mysticism   Links


The edition by Gerolamo Gigli, Le opere della serafica santa Caterina da Siena (5 vol., Siena-Lucca 1707-1754) is antiquated. See under Hagiography for the editions of hagiographical sources.


Letters Other works Introduction   Hagiography   Bibliography   Translations   Studies   Mysticism   Links




There is an online Italian translation from the Tuscan of the Lettere in PDF-format [2,8 MB], with 381 letters. Other works Introduction   Hagiography   Bibliography   Editions   Studies   Mysticism   Links

Studies (in chronological order) - a selection

Iconography Introduction   Hagiography   Bibliography   Editions   Translations   Mysticism   Links

Mysticism - a selection

Introduction   Hagiography   Bibliography   Editions   Translations   Studies   Links


Introduction   Hagiography   Bibliography   Editions   Translations   Studies   Mysticism  
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