St Catherine of Siena Canonised: April 29th 1461

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, April 2011 | Go to article overview
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St Catherine of Siena Canonised: April 29th 1461


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


The saint's family home can still be seen in Siena. Her father, a comfortably off dyer called Giacomo di Benincasa, had already had 22 children when she was born, with a twin sister who did not survive. The generally accepted date is 1347. Catherine early showed an intense fascination with Christianity, accompanied by invincible determination to have her own way. She later recalled a vision of Christ in majesty she had as a child, which inspired ecstasy. In her teens she utterly refused to consider marriage and learned to overcome opposition by fasting until her parents gave way and let her do as she wished.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Still living at home Catherine joined the Dominicans' women's section as a Sister of Penitence. In or about 1368 she experienced a 'mystical marriage' with Christ, I her to emerge from her withdrawal at home and enter the world. As she would say in a letter years afterwards: 'My life is consumed and distilled into this sweet Spouse, so that I in this way accomplish what the martyrs did with their blood.' Still practising austerities and experiencing mystical ecstasies in private, she devoted herself to helping the poor and the sick and her magnetic personality attracted followers. Fasting became a habit with her and she often vomited up what little she had eaten.

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