Catherine of Siena

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Saint Catherine of Siena T.O.S.D (25 March 1347 in Siena – 29 April 1380 in Rome) was a tertiary of the Dominican Order, and a Scholastic philosopher and theologian. She also worked to bring the Papacy back to Rome from its displacement in France, and to establish peace among the Italian city-states. She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970. She is one of the two patron saints of Italy, together with Francis of Assisi.

Contents

Life

Caterina Benincasa was born in Siena, Italy, to Giacomo di Benincasa, a cloth dyer who ran his enterprise with the help of his sons, and Lapa Piagenti, possibly the daughter of a local poet.[1] The house where Catherine grew up is still in existence. Born in 1347, she arrived when the black death struck the area; Siena was badly ravaged. Lapa was about forty years old when she prematurely gave birth to twin daughters, Catherine and Giovanna. Lapa had already had 22 children, but half of them had died. Giovanna was handed over to a wet-nurse, and presently died, whereas Catherine was nursed by her mother, and developed into a healthy child. She was two years old when Lapa had her 25th child, another daughter named Giovanna.[2]

Catherine claimed to have had her first vision of Christ when she was age five or six saying that Jesus smiled at her, blessed her, and left her in ecstasy. At age seven she vowed chastity, but that was not unusual among girls at the time, and they were not supposed to keep the vow after they reached puberty. A girl was regarded as marriageable at twelve with the arrival of her menarche.

Her older sister Bonaventura died in childbirth. Within a year, the younger sister named Giovanna also died. While tormented with sorrow, sixteen-year-old Catherine was now faced with her parents' wish that she marry Bonaventura's widower. Absolutely opposed to this, she started a massive fast, something she had learnt from Bonaventura, whose husband had not been considerate in the least. Bonaventura had changed his attitude by refusing to eat until he showed better manners. This had taught Catherine the power of fasting in close relationships. She claimed to feel "jubilant" when cutting off her long hair.

Later she advised her confessor and biographer Raymond of Capua to do during times of trouble what she had done as a teenager: "Build a cell inside your mind, from which you can never flee." In this inner cell she made her father into a representation of Christ, Lapa into St. Mary, and her brothers into the apostles. Serving them humbly became an opportunity for spiritual growth. The greater the suffering, the larger her triumph was. Eventually her father gave up and permitted her to live as she pleased.

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