St. Catherine of Siena

I’m a little late in getting to the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, one of the patron saints of Italy — certainly a poster saint for the “genius of women” and one of my favorites (even if she’s an act I could never begin to follow).

As I’ve mentioned previously, part of ordinary life in Rome is quite extraordinary, at least by American standards. One of those interesting events occurs every year on the occasion of St. Catherine’s feast day, when Dominicans who administer the basilica where her body lies under the main altar open the area surrounding her tomb so the faithful can enter and venerate her remains. It is, to put it bluntly, really cool.

The Basilica Santa Maria di Sopra Minerva (or Sopra Minerva for short) is one of my favorites. Looking at it the from the outside — especially given that it’s just behind the Pantheon — the church looks nondescript, except for the Bernini sculpture marking the small piazza in front of it. But it’s stunningly beautiful — and fittingly so, since Fra Angelico is also buried there.

But Sopra Minerva only houses some of St. Catherine’s remains. Her head is back in her home town, Siena, which carries on her legacy with a vibrant faith and lively people. La Testa is actually on view there, along with her thumb, in a reliquary. Truly bizarre (and a little hard to explain to the curious outsider) — but it’s just another tidbit to love about this incredible saint.



Irene Lagan is the general manager of Guadalupe Radio in Washington, DC. She is a former collaborator for the English language section of Vatican Radio, has written for several publications, and holds a Masters degree in philosophy. She served as managing editor at the National Catholic Bioethics Center while in Boston, and has been published in Ethics & Medics, the National Catholic Register, Zenit, Franciscan Way, the Arlington Catholic Herald, and The Boston Globe. In addition, she has taught university students as an adjunct professor and has consulted in the area of communications and development for non-profit organizations.

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