Touring Siena - Infos about the city and what to visit

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Saint Catherine of Siena - Following her footsteps through Siena and its surroundings

Since she was a child Saint Catherine of Siena clearly felt the faith in Christ weighting on her. When she was only 6 years old she had her first mystic vision of Christ seated in glory with the Apostles Peter,Paul, and John. Soon after she vowed to devote her whole life to the God and when her parents tried to dissuade her, first suggesting to marry the widower of one of her sisters, and then by taking her away from Siena to Bagno Vignoni in order to make her change her mind, not only she refused to turn back, but also she fell seriously ill, and only when her mother had her admitted to a local association of Dominican tertiaries, called the “Mantellate”, she entirely restored.

She kept on living with her family giving away, as often as possible, the goods they owned while taking anything for her.
When she was only 16 years old she started a massive fasting, a practice she will be carrying out for her whole life, and that, maybe, would be one of the causes of her premature death. Her frugality and abnegation showed up in any aspect of her life, even while she was sleeping, as she chose to use a pillow made of stone, that is still visible in the house-sanctuary in the centre of Siena.

Her commitment in helping the infirm is renown and for the time she spent in Siena she dedicated herself to the cure of the ill people volunteering as a nurse in the biggest Medieval hospital of that time, Santa Maria della Scala of Siena. One day, while she was walking from her own house to the hospital she fell on the step of a steep staircase going aside the Cathedral of Siena and leading to the square right in front of the hospital. The legend says that on that day while she was stepping up, she had a vision of the devil peering out of the window of the Cathedral dome, and upset and, maybe, disturbed by the skills of the adversary she slipped and lost most of her teeth on the stair, each tooth engraving the marble of a step.

Another name for Catherine, known at least in Siena, is “La Santa di Fontebranda” (literally “the Saint of Fontebranda”).
Fontebranda is spring located below the church of San Domenico, not too far from the house of Saint Catherine, where used to go and get some water. Sometimes we tend to forget that even though great preacher dedicate their whole life to God and things concerning aspect that go beyond human life, they’re human beings too. This pet name, at least, proves a part of Saint Catherine’s “normal” life: a woman simply walking through her city and taking water from a spring.

Walking through the streets of Siena you may find yourself walking into the same places and watching the same panoramas that St. Catherine used to: Via del Costone (where she had her first vision), her house, Fontebranda spring, the Cathedral and the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala (now restored and used as a museum) and the church of Saint Domenico, where she probably went many times and where now lies her head in a chapel dedicated to her, taken from Rome where she was buried.
The iconography of Saint Catherine often represents her with a rose, and this particular flower is linked to the figure of the Sienese saint by a legend. Caterina died in Rome on 29 April 1380, at the age of 33, and her head was stolen by some Sienese citizens that believed she would have liked that her body (or at least a part of it) would be resting in Siena. But, while they were escaping from Rome a soldier stopped them and asked to open the sack where the head was hidden. They prayed Catherine to help them out and what the soldier found in the sack was just rose petals, but as they arrived in Siena the head was right where they left it.

In 1999, Pope John Paul II made Saint Catherine one of Europe's patron saints and in 1970 Pope Paul VI gave Catherine (and Saint Teresa of Ávila) the title of Doctor of the Church, a praise for her theological consideration.
Saint Catherine of Sienna is definitely a religious figure of strength and one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day.