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Well-Known Stigmatic: Saint Catherine of Siena

Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 , 1380) was not only a Tertiary of the Dominican Order, but was also a philosopher and theologian. Among other things, Catherine worked to uplift the Papacy back to Rome after its displacement in France. She was also on a mission to create peace between all of the city-states found in Italy. The daughter of a local poet and a cloth-dyer, Saint Catherine was born Catherine Benincasa. She was actually the 23rd child out of 25. She also had a twin sister that died at birth.  

A Dedicated Young Girl

With no formal training, Catherine announced that she consecrated her virginity to Christ even though her parents opposed. She was seven years old at the time and her parents had plans that saw her live a normal life with marriage down the road. Against their will, Catherine insisted on dedicating her life to prayer, meditation, and living completely alone throughout her teenage years. When she turned 16 years old, she embraced the habit of the Dominican Tertiaries. Her life then took a turn towards helping the sick and poor , going to homes and hospitals to offer her assistance.

Catherine then gathered a collection of followers (both men and women) and traveled along Northern Italy where they asked for a reformation of the clergy. They were also interested in promoting the start of a new crusade and also counseled people in the ways of repentance and renewed life when one was willing to embrace “the total love for God.” Her life was also dedicated to studying various religious texts.

Saint Catherine died of a stroke while in Rome. It was the spring of 1380 and she was only 33 years old. In the end, the residents of Siena wanted to have her body.

The Legend of Saint Catherine

Legend has it that the head of Catherine reached Siena, where it was placed in the Basilica of San Domenico. Those who lived in Siena were aware that Catherine’s entire body would not make it past Roman guards, so they decided to retrieve only her head , placing it in a bag. However, the guards still stopped them. They started to pray to Saint Catherine for assistance, as they knew she would have rather been brought to Siena. When the bag was finally opened , the head was no longer there , but instead a bag full of rose petals. Once the people returned to Siena, they reopened the bag and to their amazement , the head had reappeared. Because of this legend, a rose is often seen in one of Saint Catherine’s hands.

The body of the saint was buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which is located in Rome , close to the Pantheon. Throughout history, she has been linked to many different things, including the Virgin Mary, lilies, books, crucifixes, crown of thorns, hear, rings, doves, roses, skulls, as well as stigmata.