St. Catherine of Siena is one of the most popular saints in the Catholic church. Catherine di Giacomo di Benincasa was born in Siena on March 25th, 1347, and died in Rome on April 29th, 1380.
She was buried in the Roman church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. However, three years later, on October 13th, 1383, Raymond of Capua, Catherine's confessor and biographer, knowing how much it would have pleased her fellow citizens, if she had been interred in the city of her birth, decided that at least part of her should return home. And so he removed her head and dispatched it to the church of San Domenico in Siena.
The much revered Sacra Testa (Holy Head) is housed in a tabernacle in the Cappella di Santa Caterina. The tabernacle was carved in 1466 by Giovanni di Stefano, while the walls of the chapel were painted by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (1477-1549), better known as il Sodoma, and Francesco Vanni (1563-1610).
Catherine was canonised by Pope Pius II (r. 1458-64) on June 29th, 1461. Her feast day is April 29th. She was proclaimed a patron saint of Italy in 1939 and of Europe in 1999. In 1970 she was the first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church.
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