Saint Catherine of Siena (Dictionary of World Biography: Middle Ages)
Article abstract: This patron saint of Italy and Doctor of the Church helped to persuade the Avignon papacy to return to Rome. She is also known for her mystic writings, which advocate a combination of personal ecstatic experience with active service in the world.
Caterina Benincasa was born in Siena, Italy, the twenty-third child of Giacomo Benincasa, a cloth dyer, and his wife, Lapa Piacenti. Lapa was more than forty years old when Catherine and her twin sister, Giovanna, were born and did not believe that she could nurse both infants. She sent Giovanna to a wet nurse and nurtured Catherine herself. In her old age, Lapa remembered Catherine as a specially favored child, nursed by her mother for a full year and brought to robust health, while her less fortunate twin died. Catherine remained attached to her family throughout her life, and images of nurturing pervade her writings.
The young Catherine was also influenced by Sienese life in the mid-fourteenth century. When she was a year old, the Black Death (bubonic plague) swept through the city, beginning a series of epidemics that brought death and panic. The Benincasa family was not prosperous enough to leave the city; Catherine lost a number of siblings and spent her early years surrounded by the fear of death and of God’s punishment.
Catherine also heard of momentous happenings in the larger Christian world. The Dominican monks...
(The entire section is 2694 words.)
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