St Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena lived out her whole life with a profound belief in the spiritual value of lay experience, explains Judith Hook.

This year has seen celebrations throughout Italy of the six hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of Italy, whose heart is buried at Rome and whose head is preserved in her native Siena. For the religiously-inclined, the influence of St. Catherine remains strong; among the first statements of intent made by both Pope John Paul I and John Paul II was that, at the earliest opportunity, they would worship at her shrine in the church of San Domenico in Siena. On her saint's day all Italy comes to a halt, and Siena in particular exhibits an annual outpouring of extreme religious fervous. Each year thousands of pilgrims make their way to St. Catherine's shrine, or to visit the house where she was born to see the fireplace into which she fell in the abstraction of religious ecstacy or the cell where she once meditated. Her religious writings, although not as frequently read as they once were, remain an important source of religious inspiration to many devout Catholics and have a particular relevance for those interested in the mystical experience.

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