The relics of St Catherine


The head and finger of the Sienese saint are on display in the Basilica of San Domenico

Lapa Piacenti, the mother of Catherine Benincasa, was also present on 5 May 1385 when in a great procession,the citizens of Siena, starting from the church of the Hospital of San Lazzaro, outside Porta Romana, carried the relic of the saint’s head to the Basilica of San Domenico.

Catherine died in 1380 at 33 years old, afflicted by the long fasting and penances she inflicted on herself in the name of spirituality and her inner relationship with Jesus Christ, whom she called ‘my mystical groom’. She was buried in Rome in the cemetery of Maria Sopra Minerva, where she still rests today.

The Head of St Catherine of Sienna was detached from the body of the Sienese nun in 1381 at the behest of Pope Urban VI. A year after her death, the pope decided that the young woman’s head should be given to the Sienese.

For four years it was kept indoors, in a cupboard in the sacristy of San Domenico, but once the Consistory of the Republic became aware of it, it gave orders to pay public honours to the precious relic.

So, the mummified head of St Catherine was displayed in the centre of the chapel, behind a grid. It’s surrounded by the striking frescoes by Sodoma on the Ecstasy of the Saint and The Fainting Caused by the Stigmata. The beauty of the painting reflects the greatness of the mind of the young Sienese girl.

Another important relic is the finger, which is also kept in the Basilica of San Domenico. With this relic, a blessing is imparted to Italy and the Armed Forces on the Sunday afternoon of the International Festival in honour of St Catherine of Siena. This relic, together with the cords with which the Sienese nun used to discipline herself and the bronze bust that held and protected her head for so many years, is preserved in an artistic reliquary.This was crafted by Sienese architect Sandro Bagnoli and is located on the right wall of the Basilica of San Domenico.

The left foot is kept in Venice (in the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo). A rib that used to be in the Cathedral of Siena was donated to the shrine of St Catherine in Astenet (Belgium), built in 1985. Finally, a piece of the shoulder blade of the patron saint of Italy and Europe is found in the shrine of Catherine in Siena.



Federico Muzzi

tel. 0577 286848
fax 0577 280540


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