Catherine of Siena, Saint

Catherine of Siena, Saint sēĕnˈə [key], 1347–80, Italian mystic and diplomat, a member of the third order of the Dominicans, Doctor of the Church. The daughter of Giacomo Benincasa, a Sienese dyer, Catherine from early childhood had mystic visions and practiced austerities; she also showed the devotion to others and the winning manner that characterized her life. At age 16 she entered the Dominican order as a tertiary and lived at home. In 1370, in response to a vision, she began to take part in the public life of her time, sending letters to the great of the day. She went to Avignon and exerted decisive influence in inducing Pope Gregory XI to end the “Babylonian captivity” of the papacy and return to Rome in 1376. She helped bring about peace between the Holy See and Florence, which had revolted against papal authority. In the Great Schism, she supported the Roman claimant, Pope Urban VI, and worked vigorously to advance his cause. She also advocated a crusade against the Muslims. In 1375 she is supposed to have received the five wounds of the stigmata, visible only to herself until after her death. She became the center of a spiritual revival and a formidable family of devoted followers gathered around her. Though she never learned to write, she dictated hundreds of letters and a notable mystic work, commonly called in English The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena or A Treatise on Divine Providence (or both as title and subtitle), which has been much used in devotional literature. She was canonized in 1461 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970. Feast: Apr. 29. The accounts of her life collected by her followers were used in a biography by her confessor, Fra Raimondo da Capua (1398).

See Saint Catherine as Seen in Her Letters (ed. by V. D. Scudder, 1905); biographies by A. Curtayne (1929), S. Undset (tr. 1954), and J. M. Perrin (tr. 1965); F. P. Keyes, Three Ways of Love (1963); S. Noffke, ed., Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue (1980); R. Bell, Holy Anorexia (1985).

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