By Ioannis Tzortzakakis

Catherine of Siena, Italian Dominican mystic, philosopher and Saint died on 29 April 1380 in Rome. Born on 25 March 1347 near Siena, in the times of Black Death, as Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa, she led a religious life from an early age; when, at age seven, according to her biographer Raymond of Capua, she had her first vision of Christ. Read her “official” biography at the Acta Sanctorum. In addition, as a religious – political activist, she played a key role in the return of Pope Gregory XI to Rome from avignon.

In art, she is portrayed holding lilies while wearing the black-and-white habit of the Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic. Her iconography draws from the narrative of her above biography, especially from the following episodes: her mystic marriage to Christ, her exchange of hearts with Jesus, the reception of the stigmata, her miraculous holy communion, the revival of her dead mother by Jesus upon the prayers of Catherine and the exorcism of a child from the city of Rome. She is also depicted holding a rosary; a religious practice that started some two-hundred years after her death.

The first extensive narrative cycle of Catherine of Siena was produced by Giovanni di Paolo, commissioned possibly shortly after her canonization, for the church of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena. This altarpiece is currently scattered across major museums. Today, the sarcophagus of St. Catherine is beneath the High Altar of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, while her relics head is in Basilica of San Domenico, also known as Basilica Cateriniana in Sienna.

She was canonized in 1461. In 1939, Catherine of Siena has been announced as one of the two patron saints of Italy; the other would be St. Francis of Assisi. In 1970, she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI, and in 1999, Pope John Paul II named her as one of the six patron saints of Europe.

Further reading

Saint Catherine of Siena – Patroness of Europe and Doctor of the Church in Ad Imaginem Dei, Posted by Margaret Duffy.

Carolyn Muessig, George Ferzoco and Beverly Kienzle (editors) (2011) A Companion to Catherine of Siena (Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition), BRILL.

Paola Tinagli (1997) Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation, Identity, Manchester University Press.

Elizabeth Ourusoff De Fernandez-Gimenez (1967) “Giovanni di Paolo: The Life of St. Catherine of Siena,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Vol. 54, No. 4, pp. 103-110.

Also, read Keith Christiansen (2012) Saint Catherine of Siena Exchanging Her Heart with Christ by Giovanni di Paolo, Catalogue Entry of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Matteo da Milano, St. Catherine of Siena, From Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri, c. 1500, London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 29, folio 36.

Giovanni di Paolo, Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine of Siena, c. 1460, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Filippino Lippi, The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine of Siena,1503, Basilica di San Domenico, Florence.

Giovanni di Paolo, St. Catherine of Siena Exchanging Her Heart with Christ, c. 1460, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Domenico Beccafumi, St. Catherine of Siena Receiving the Stigmata, 1513-1515, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum.

Il Sodoma, St. Catherine Interceding for the Condemned at the Beheading of Niccolo di Tuldo, 1526, Siena, San Domenico.

Pompeo Batoni, Ecstasy of St. Catherine of Siena, 1743, Lucca, Museo di Villa Guinigi.

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