Saint Catherine of Siena

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"This one is a wise virgin, and one from the number of the prudent." —Introit for the Mass of a Virgin not a Martyress

The life of Saint Catherine of Siena makes one forget for a moment that the other saints are saints; for her life is of such astoundingly glorious sanctity that even the great saints seem to pale in comparison to her magnificence. Truly one of the wise virgins, she was born to a merchant family in Siena in 1347 on the Feast of the Annunciation and dedicated her virginity to God at the age of 7, at which time she had also had a vision of Christ in majesty crowned like the pope. This latter element would influence her intense devotion to the papacy; indeed, it was perhaps largely by her efforts that the Barque of Peter persevered through tumultuous and difficult times. In her difficult teenage years, her desired path forward in steadfast religious devotion and stringent fasting was opposed by her family. Her solution was advice she later gave her confessor: "Build a cell inside your mind, from which you can never flee." Eventually, she joined a group of devout laywomen. At 21, she experienced a mystical marriage with Christ, and soon received the stigmata as well—though out of her humility, she prayed it be kept invisible; it was.

She labored in the Italian political turmoil of the 14th century, attempting to negotiate peace between Florence, Siena, and the Papal States. At a time when it seemed all things temporal and spiritual were under great distress, Catherine made it her goal to save the papacy from crumbling; to this end, she induced Pope Gregory XI to return from Avignon to Rome, thus ending the Avignon captivity. After miraculously learning to write and founding a monastery, she engaged in the writing of extraordinary tracts, the seraphic wisdom and mystical doctrines of which made her centuries later declared a Doctor of the Church. One last time, however, she was summoned to Rome to defend the papacy when the Great Western Schism broke out in 1378; it seems that her blessed soul was the only thing supporting the Chair of Peter in this devastating period. And after all that, she died in 1380, worn down by her enormous stringencies—only 33 years old.

In this captivating and substantial biography, meet the saint who saved the papacy and married Christ, who bore His wounds and did not eat except His Sacred Flesh. In short, meet the saint among saints, surely a wise virgin.

Alice Curtayne
TAN Books
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