St Catherine of Siena statue
Public Art: St Catherine of Siena statue
Sculptor: © Louis Laumen
Description: A bronze statue of
St Catherine (25th March, 1347 – 29th April, 1380), the patron saint of Italy, holding a crown of thorns up towards
Date Unveiled: The St Catherine statue was unveiled
in December, 2000.
Location : St Patrick's Cathedral, corner of Gisborne
Street & Cathedral Place, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
So who was Saint Catherine of Siena?: Caterina
Benincasa was born in the fortified city of Siena, in Italy,
during the time of the black death. Her twin sister
Giovanna died soon after birth. At the age of 5 Caterina had her first vision of Christ in which Jesus smiled
at her. By the age of 7 she had vowed chastity.
Unfortunately, at the age of 16 her older sister Bonaventura died and her parents arranged for her
to marry her sister's widower. She was to have none of that and protested by going on a hunger strike. She would
later confess that during this troubled time she built a cell inside her mind, from which she could
never flee. As Caterina grew weaker and weaker her father eventually relented.
On seeing a vision of St Dominic she persuaded her mother to allow her to join the Third Order of
St. Dominic despite her dispproval. Having being accepted she donned on the black and white habit and returned home
to almost total silence and solitude.
Much to her family's annoyance and expense, Caterina began giving away food and clothing without so
much as a thought for her large family's welfare.
Around 1366 Catherine had what she described as a "Mystical Marriage" with Jesus. She also claimed
to have received communion from Christ himself and had suffered stigmata (unexplained bleeding). In her letters she
told of how Christ had told her to leave the confinds of her family home and join the rest of the world. She did
this with enthusiasm, helping both the sick and the poor.She soon had a small group of followers who brought
Catherine's work to the attention of the Dominican Order. They in turn called her to Florence in 1374 where they
promptly interrogate her, fearing heresy.
She managed to pass the interrogation and continued to travel throughout northern and central Italy
advocating reform of the clergy and encouraging people to repent through the "the total love for God."
A prolific letter writer , Catherine spent much of her time dictating letters to her various
scribes which were then later sent to her followers and people of authority . Many of these letters
focused on the desire to return the Papacy back to Rome. As from 1309 to 1376 all of the consecutive popes
resided in Avignon (modern day France) thanks to Clement V, a Fenchman, who on being elected pope in 1309 refused
to live in Rome.A very big sore point in Italian history.
In 1376 Catherine decided to travel to Avignon herself in an attempt to convince Pope Gregory XI to
return to Rome. Her power of persuasion must have worked because the following year he did return.
Two years later Pope Gregory XI was dead and the Catholic church was virtually split in two when
two men claimed to be the true pope. This period was known as the Great Schism. Pope Urban VI was elected in 1378
but he proved to violent and overbearing. The majority of cardinals left Rome and went to Anagni where they
elected a rival pope, Pope Clement VII, and then promptly reestablished a papal court in Avignon. Confusion ensued.
Catherine was called upon by Pope Urban VI to convince nobles and cardinals of his legitimacy. This would cause her
great turmoil up until her death from a stroke in 1380. Catherine was only 33.
Catherine was originally buried in the cemetery of Santa Maria sopra Minerva near the Pantheon in
Rome, but following numerous reported miracles her remains were placed in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra
When news of Catherine's death reached Siena, the people wished for her body to be returned to her
hometown. Knowing full well there was no way they could steal her whole body, they decided to remove just her head
and thumb. They placed it in a bag and fled from Rome but were stopped by some Roman guards. In fear of being
caught as body snatchers they prayed to St Catherine. Low and behold when the soldiers took a peak into the bag all
they saw were rose petals. This is why you often see images of Saint Catherine holding a rose.
Pope Pius II canonized St Catherine in 1461 and on May 5, 1940 Pope Pius XII named her a joint
Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Francis of Assisi.
Trivia: There is a statue of St Catherine in Rome near the Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican.
Her mummified head and thumb are on display in the Basilica San Domenico in Siena. One of her feet
is said to be in a shrine in Venice while the rest of her body resides in Rome.