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March 3, Saturday

Siena | Rome

On Saturday, we visited Siena, home of St. Catherine.

Lighting a candle at the shrine of St. Catherine at the Basilica San Domenico, also called La Cateriniana. The head of St. Catherine has been venerated here for centuries.

The medieval streets of Siena were rainy and cold!

The piazza is the site of the annual world-famous horse race, the Palio.

Getting out of the rain over a cappuccino!

The spectacular Cathedral of Siena is striped black and white, both inside and out!
Black and white are the traditional colors of Siena.

The glorious Piccolomini Library.

Statues by Bernini

Siena's Cathedral is noted for its incredible inlaid marble floors.

The familiar sight of our tour guide, Massimo, counting heads!

Father Ryan offered Mass at the Basilica San Domenico in the afternoon.
Click here to read his homily about St. Catherine of Siena.

The book of prayer intentions, including hundreds of petitions parishioners submitted online,
was carried in procession and placed at the altar at each one of our pilgrimage Masses.

A last prayer at the shrine of St. Catherine before heading on to Rome.

An evening walk in Rome on our arrival!


Where we're going: Siena

On our second day in Italy, we will have the opportunity to visit Siena. The historic center of Siena, with its glorious medieval buildings, is a World Heritage Site. According to legend, Siena was established by Senius and Aschius, nephews of Romulus, founder of the city of Rome. As the story goes, one of them rode in on a white horse, one on a black. For that reason, the coat of arms of the city of Florence is black and white! This may or may not have happened, but it is certain that Siena celebrates the story: you'll see a statue of the wolf suckling Romulus and Remus near the Cathedral.
Siena has its share of colorful traditions, in particular the horse races, the Palio di Siena, which has taken place twice each summer since the medieval period. The horses race in the very center of the city, on the Piazza del Campo!
Siena has been a center for the arts for centuries. In 1308, the Cathedral commissioned a Maestá (a painting of the Virgin and Child enthroned) by the great Duccio. This magnificent work, which brought a new naturalism to depictions of the Madonna and Child, was not taken to the Cathedral in a crate. Instead, on June 9, 1311, it was carried from the artist's studio in a great procession which honored the Virgin and Child but also celebrated the power of art to bring us close to the divine. "And on that day when it was brought into the cathedral, all workshops remained closed, and the bishop commanded a great host of devoted priests and monks to file past in solemn procession. This was accompanied by all the high officers of the Commune and by all the people; all honorable citizens of Siena surrounded said panel with candles held in their hands, and women and children followed.... They accompanied the panel amidst the glorious pealing of bells after a solemn procession on the Piazza del Campo into the very cathedral...." 

Siena's Saint: Catherine

The very name of Siena is forever associated with that of Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa-St. Catherine of Siena. Born in 1347, Catherine was one of twenty-five (!) children. From an early age, she was a mystic. She had her first vision of Christ at the age of five or six! Catherine resisted her family's plans for her marriage, and eventually succeeded in convincing them to allow her to join the Dominican tertiaries, or Third Order Dominicans. She wore the typical black and white habit of the Dominicans, but she lived the religious life not in a convent but at home in the midst of her family.
For someone who was illiterate until adulthood, Catherine left prolific writings behind her. Her major work is the mystical treatise Dialogue on Divine Providence.  Catherine also left behind some 300 letters. She lived during a time of upheaval. The Church seemed to be in tatters: the Pope was in exile in Avignon and corruption was rampant. Catherine undertook a campaign of travel and letter-writing, urging the Pope to return to Rome, and advocating the reform of the clergy.  She died in Rome at the age of 33, and is buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, though her incorrupt head is venerated at the Cathedral in Siena.
Catherine was named a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, one of the first women to be so honored. 
St. Catherine to Pope Gregory XI: "On behalf of Christ crucified I tell it you: refuse to believe the counsels of the devil, who would hinder your holy and good resolution. Be manly in my sight, and not timorous. Answer God, who calls you to hold and possess the seat of the glorious Shepherd St. Peter, whose vicar you have been.... In this way you will come and attain the reformation, giving good priests to Holy Church. Fill her heart with the ardent love that she has lost; for she has been so drained of blood by the iniquitous men who have devoured her that she is wholly wan.... Do not, then, hold off from peace, but come."

Where we're praying: Basilica di San Domenico

The Basilica di San Domenico is named in honor of Saint Dominic, but it is often called the Basilica Cateriniana because of its association with Saint Catherine. The Church was begun by the Dominicans in 1226, and it was in the process of being expanded when St. Catherine worshiped there. After Catherine's death in Rome, her confessor, Blessed Raymond of Capua, brought the relic of her head back to her hometown. Catherine's mother lived long enough to join the procession when the relic of her saintly daughter was placed in the Basilica! This relic, known as the Sacra Testa (Sacred Head), is still venerated in the Basilica today.

On Pilgrimage

"Ah, what a trip that was! I saw some very beautiful things; I contemplated all the marvels of art and religion; above all, I trod the same soil as did the holy apostles, the soil bedewed with the blood of the martyrs.  And my soul grew through contact with holy things."
--From The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux



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Seattle, Washington  98104
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