Saint Catherine Statue
Public Art : Saint Catherine Statue (Statua di Santa
Caterina) and also known as Saint Catherine of Siena statue
Sculptor : © Francesco Messina (December 15th 1900 -
September 13th 1995)
Date : The statue was erected in 1961
Location : The statue is located at Piazza Pia, Rome,
Italy in a flowerbed in the gardens around Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican.
Description : The statue of St Catherine is carved from
marble and includes 4 bas reliefs of her life at the base. The main feature of the carving is her long cloak
which seems to all but encompass her . If you happen to glimpse St Catherine at the right time of
day you would almost swear she is moving at great haste, through the wind and the elements to help save a poor
Breif Background of Saint Catherine : So who is Saint
Catherine? Some may know her as Caterina Benincasa , an Italian Domininican mystic , but to many she is, along with
St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy. Commonly referred to as Saint Catherine of Siena she was
born Caterina Benincasa on the 25th March 1347 one of 25 children. Yes, that's right, her mother gave birth to
At the age of six Caterina is believed to have had her "first vision". During a walk with one of
her brothers she was visited by Christ and two saints, John and Paul. The following year a young Caterina pledged
her virginity to God, which didn't make her mother Lapa all that happy, especially in later years when she
tried fruitlessly to match make her with potential suitors. During one particular episode Caterina cut off her hair
in defiance of her mother's continued meddling. Eventually Lapa gave up and became resigned to the fact her
daughter was never going to marry.
A small room was set up at the top of the family home where Catherine would fast, meditate, pray
and self-flagellate. For three years she remained pretty much a recluse until at the age of 20 she went to a mass
and experienced yet another vision, which she described as a "Mystical Marriage" with Jesus. When Christ came to
her this time she was told to " love her neighbor as herself and to serve Christ in the neighbor." Well, with
this new vision it gave her a whole new direction in life, she was soon seen out and about helping the sick, poor
It wasn't long before news got back to the Dominican Order about this strange women of Siena and in
1374 she was called to Florence to be interrogate for heresy. All ended well , passing her heresy interrogation
with flying colors and being deemed sufficiently orthodox. Upward and onward. Catherine, now with a stamp of
approval traveled further a field within Italy launching a "total love for God" crusade, which included attacking
clergy for their desire for wealth and status.
There are many conflicting stories about whether Catherine was illiterate or not but one
thing is for certain, she was able to use her letter writing skills (dictated or not) to reach a wider audience.
Many of her letters begged for peace and the return of the Papacy from Avignon (now France) back to Rome.
Pope Gregory XI ( Avignon Pope) was one of her greatest correspondents and in 1376 she travelled to Avignon to met
him face to face. By the following year the Pope's administration had returned to Rome.
When Pope Gregory died in 1378 all hell broke loose, the Catholic Church suddenly became
divided. Two men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope, one in Rome (Pope Urban VI) and one in Avignon (Pope
Clement VII ).Of course Catherine sided with Pope Urban VI and spent a good deal of time in Rome convincing
nobles and cardinals of his legitimacy. This Papal Schism would not be resolved until 1417 long after the death of
Catherine. In fact Catherine would only live until the spring of 1380.
Catherine collapsed and died in Rome from a stroke at the age of 33. Over 300 of the letters
she wrote still exist today.
OK and now for some morbid details. When news of Catherine's death reached Siena, the people wished
for her body to be returned to her hometown. Knowing full well there was no way they could steal her whole body,
they decided to remove just her head and thumb. They placed it in a bag and fled from Rome but were stopped by some
Roman guards. In fear of being caught as body snatchers they prayed to St Catherine. Low and behold when the
soldiers took a peak into the bag all they saw were rose petals. This why you often see images of Saint Catherine
holding a rose.
Catherine's head and thumb now lies buried in the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena and her body
(minus head and one digit) is buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.
In 1461 Pope Pius II canonized St Catherine (her feast day being April 29) and on 5th May 1940,
Pope Pius XII named her a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Francis of Assisi. Wait, there's more, in
1970 Pope Paul VI gave her the title of Doctor of the Church and in 1999 Pope John Paul II made her one of Europe's