of SIENA, O.P. tert.


(?1347–80), Dominican tertiary. Caterina Benincasa was the 23rd of 25 children born to a prosperous Sienese dyer. She grew up in Christian piety, though her long hours of prayer and severe mortification at first brought her into conflict with her family. Having at the early age of 16 joined the Dominican Order of Penance (later known as the Dominican Third Order), she lived for a further three years or so in seclusion at home until, as she believed, she received a command from Christ to leave her solitude and devote herself to the care of the sick and poor and the conversion of sinners. Before long she was being called upon to act as a mediator not only between the warring factions in and around Siena but also in such higher matters as the conflict between Florence and the Holy See.

On the journeys involved in these missions, she was nearly always accompanied by some of the large band of followers, both men and women, clerical and lay, who had gathered round her, drawn by her extraordinary sanctity, attractive personality, and great spiritual wisdom. These same qualities are reflected in the 383 extant letters written or dictated by her; in the synthesis of her teaching which is usually referred to as the ‘Dialogo’; and in some 26 prayers (mostly recorded from phrases she was heard to murmur in one of her frequent states of ‘abstraction’). In all her writings, the central theme is that of Christ crucified, and in particular the thought of His blood, which Catherine saw as the supreme sign and pledge of divine love and the chief motive for ours.


Politically her one real success was to have helped persuade Gregory XI to transfer the Papacy from Avignon back to Rome in 1377. Ironically, it was Gregory’s premature death just over a year later that paved the way for the election of Urban VI and then for the onset of the Great Schism. Catherine remained unswervingly loyal to Urban, but her intense distress over the Schism tore her apart, both physically and spiritually, and she died on 29 April 1380, aged only 33. She was canonized in 1461 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970. Feast day, 29 (formerly 30) April.

Works ed. G. Gigli (4 vols., Lucca, 1707–21). The best edn. of the Dialogo is that of G. Cavallini (Rome, 1968); this omits the chapter divisions (which do not seem to be orig.) of earlier edns., e.g. that of M. Fiorilli and S. Caramella (Scrittori d’Italia [34]; 1928). 15th cent. Eng. tr., The Orcherd of Syon, ed. P. Hodgson and G. M. Liegey (EETS, Original Series, 258; 1966); modern trs. by A. Thorold (London, 1896; abridged edn., 1907, repr. Rockford, Ill., 1974) and S. Noffke, OP (Classics of Western Spirituality, 1980). Lettere ed. N. Tommaseo and P. Misciatelli (6 vols., Siena, 1913–21); crit. edn. by E. Dupré Theseider (vol. 1 only; Fonti per la Storia d’Italia, 82; 1940); good selection, with introd. and notes, by G. Cavallini, La Verità dell’Amore (1978). Eng. tr. of vol. 1 of Letters by S. Noffke, OP (2nd edn., Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies, 202; Tempe, Arizona, 2000); also of selections (with biog. and doctrinal introd., and extract from the Dialogo) by K. Foster, OP, and M. J. Ronayne, OP (London, 1980). Orazioni ed. G. Cavallini (Rome, 1978). Eng. tr. by S. Noffke, OP (New York, 1983). The principal sources for her Life are the Legenda Major by Raymond of Capua, OP, her confessor (editio princeps by T. Loher, Cologne, 1553, repr. in AASS, Apr. 3 (1675), pp. 853–959; an Eng. tr. was pub. London, prob. in 1492; modern Eng. trs. by G. Lamb, London, 1960, and C. Kearns, OP, Dublin, 1980); a Supplement to it (ed. J. Cavallini and I. Foralosso, Rome, 1974), and a Legenda Minor (ed. E. Franceschini, Fontes Vitae S. Catharinae Senensis Historici, 10; Milan, 1942), both by T. Caffarini; also the canonization process (ed. M.-H. Laurent, OP, ibid. 9; Milan, 1942). Further source material in Fontes, op. cit., 1 and 4 (both Florence, 1936), 15 (ibid., 1939), 20 (ibid., 1937) and 21 (ibid., 1938); the series is incomplete. Lives available in Eng. incl. those of A. T. Drane (London, 1880), E. G. Gardner (ibid., 1907), A. Curtayne (ibid., 1929), A. Levasti (Turin, 1947; Eng. tr., 1954), and M. de la Bedoyere (London, 1947; popular); see also G. Kaftan, St Catherine in Tuscan Painting (Oxford, 1949). Important studies include: R. Fawtier, Sainte Catherine de Sienne: Essai de critique des sources (Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome, 121 and 135; 1921–130); id. and L. Canet, La Double Expérience de Catherine Benincasa (1948). E. Dupré Theseider, ‘La duplice esperienza di S. Caterina da Siena’, Rivista Storica Italiana, 62 (1950), pp. 533–74; A. Grion, OP, Santa Caterina da Siena: Dottrina e Fonti (Cremona, 1953) G. D’Urso, Il Genio di santa Caterina (1971). E. Jordan, ‘La Date de naissance de Sainte Catherine de Sienne’, Anal. Boll. 40 (1922), pp. 365–411. Congresso Internazionale di Studi Cateriniani, Siena—Rome—24–29 Aprile 1980: Atti (Rome, 1981). Introductory studies by S.Noffke, OP (Collegeville, Minn., 1996) and G. Cavallini, OP (Outstanding Christian Thinkers, 1998). L. Bianchi and D. Giunta (eds.), Iconografia di S. Caterina da Siena (1988 ff.). L. Zanini, Bibliografia analitica di S. Caterina do Siena, 1901–1950 (1971); vols. covering 1951–75 and 1976–85, ed. M. C. Paterna (1985–9). M.-M. Gorce in Dict. Sp. 2 (1953), cols. 327–48, s.v.; E. Dupré Theseider in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 22 (1979), pp. 361–79, s.v. ‘Catering da Siena’, with detailed bibl.


EETS Early English Text Society (London, 1864–1980; Oxford 1976 ff.).

AASS *Acta Sanctorum (Antwerp, 1643–1770; Brussels, 1780–86, 1845–83, and 1894 ff.; Tongerloo, 1794; and Paris, 1875–87).

Anal. Analecta Bollandiana (Paris and Brussels, 1882 ff.).

ff. and following.


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