|Saint Catherine of Siena,
Virgin - 1347-1380
History knows Catherine Benincasa as the persuasive mediator who negotiated peace between Florence and the papacy and who was behind Pope Gregory XI's decision to return the papal court to Rome after its long stay in Avignon. (Less persuasively, she also urged on Gregory and his successor a thorough reform of the clergy.) But in art and literature she is better known for her intense mystical experiences. These were detailed shortly after her death in a biography by Raymond of Capua, her confessor. Some of the most notable experiences narrated by Raymond were the saint's mystic marriage to Christ (image), her exchange of hearts with the latter (image), her reception of the stigmata (image), a Communion miracle (image), and the revival of her dead mother by Jesus upon the prayers of Catherine (image).
In portraits, St. Catherine of Siena appears as at left, with a sprig of lilies and wearing the black-and-white habit of the Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic, the society of Dominican tertiaries to which she belonged.
In 1999 John Paul II proclaimed St. Catherine of Siena one of the patron saints of Europe. (The others are St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Bridget of Sweden, SS. Cyril and Methodius, and St. Benedict.) The Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, governed by the Dominicans, has a painting of her in this new role which may influence her iconography in years to come.
Feast day: April 29
At left, portrait by Giovanni di Paolo
St. Catherine Receives the Stigmata, Beccafumi
Christ Gives St. Catherine Communion
Painting in Trastevere, Rome
See the pages linked in paragraph 1 above for relevant quotations from Raymond of Capua. His Life of St. Catherine of Siena is not yet available online but can be purchased through Amazon.com.