Saint Catherine of Siena icon

Today is the Feast Day of St Catherine of Siena. She was canonized in 1461.  She is considered one of the two patron saints of Italy, the other being St. Francis. In 1999, she was named one of the patron saints of Europe. She is also the patron saint of  firefighters,  illness, miscarriages, nurses, people ridiculed for their piety, against sexual temptation and sick people. She lived from 1347-80, and was considered a mystic, a tertiary (layperson not in a religious order who has done good works but is allowed to wear certain items of that order) of the Dominican Order and a Doctor of the Church. According to this  iconography website, she was known for being a ” persuasive mediator who negotiated peace between Florence and the papacy [in the event called the War of the Eight Saints]and who was behind Pope Gregory XI’s decision to return the papal court to Rome after its long stay in Avignon,” thus ending the Great Schism. All of her mystical writings have been gathered in a book known as the Dialogues, which includes 381 letters and 26 prayers, which can be found here. It is through her mystical writings that artists got inspirations for paintings depicting her receiving the stigmata, her vision of symbolically marrying Christ, and him giving her Communion. In art, she is usually pictured with a crown of thorns, lilies and a book, or a heart (which refers to the legend that she switched hearts with Christ).

Alessandro Franchi and Gaetano Marinelli, The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine, 1896

Alessandro Franchi and Gaetano Marinelli - The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine - 1896

She was buried at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where the first painting is located. Well at least most of her is. According to this story from Wikipedia,

“The people of Siena wished to have St. Catherine’s body. A story is told of a miracle whereby they were partially successful: Knowing that they could not smuggle her whole body out of Rome, they decided to take only her head which they placed in a bag. When stopped by the Roman guards, they prayed to St Catherine to help them, confident that she would rather have her body (or at least part thereof) in Siena. When they opened the bag to show the guards, it appeared no longer to hold her head but to be full of rose petals. Once they got back to Siena they reopened the bag and her head was visible once more. Due to this story, St Catherine is often seen holding a rose. The incorruptible head and thumb were entombed in the Basilica of San Domenico, where they remain.”

Catherine of Siena was known to be anorexic, which seems to be an effect of her mystical visions and fasting to be closer to God. I found an interesting article on the subject today while looking for research material. For today and tomorrow’s poetry, I would like to use two prayers done by the saint.

My Nature is Fire

Prayer 12 (XXII)*

In your nature,

eternal Godhead,

I shall come to know my nature.

And what is my nature, boundless love?

It is fire,

because you are nothing but a fire of love.

And you have given humankind

a share in this nature,

for by the fire of love

you created us.

And so with all other people

and every created thing;

you made them out of love.

O ungrateful people!

What nature has your God given you?

His very own nature!

Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing

through the guilt of deadly sin?

O eternal Trinity,

my sweet love!

You, light,

give us light.

You, wisdom,

give us wisdom.

You, supreme strength,

strengthen us.

Today, eternal God,

let our cloud be dissipated

so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth

in truth,

with a free and simple heart.

God, come to our assistance!

Lord, make haste to help us!


*Taken from The Prayers of Catherine of Siena. 2nd edition. Suzanne Noffke, OP, translator and editor.
(San Jose.: Authors Choice Press, 2001) (Roman numerals indicate the number of the prayer in
the critical edition of G. Cavallini).

Prayer of Saint Catherine of Siena to the Precious Blood of Jesus
Precious Blood,
Ocean of Divine Mercy:
Flow upon us!

Precious Blood,
Most pure Offering:
Procure us every Grace!

Precious Blood,
Hope and Refuge of sinners:
Atone for us!

Precious Blood,
Delight of holy souls:
Draw us! Amen.