Siena, Italy: Saint Catherine of Siena and the Eucharistic Miracle of Siena
Siena is a Gothic city, laid out over the slopes of three steep hills whose soil yields the pigment Burnt Sienna (hence the name of the color). Note the city is spelled with one “n”, but sometimes spelled with two “n”s.
It has remained practically unchanged since medieval times. The town was founded by Augustus around the time of the birth of Jesus, although legend holds that it was founded by Remus, brother of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. A complete circuit of medieval walls surrounds the ancient buildings and narrow twisting streets leading to the magnificent Piazza del Campo, one of the most stunning public squares in the world.
In addition to its natural beauty and its excellent university, it is the home to both Saint Catherine of Siena and a Eucharistic Miracle.
Saint Catherine of Siena:
Siena is the birthplace of Saint Catherine of Siena. She was the youngest of 25 children (talk about large families!) and experienced visions from an early age and seemed destined for sainthood. Throughout her life she experienced almost every type to mystical gift. She levitated, performed exorcisms, healed, lived on only the Holy Eucharist for years, received the invisible stigmata, and had numerous visions of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, and the devil.
Her set of spiritual treatises “The Dialogue of Divine Providence”. earned her the title Doctor of the Church…..although she could not actually write…she dictated all her writings.
She gained considerable respect and is perhaps most noted for convincing the papacy to move back to Rome from Avignon, France.
Canonized a saint in 1461, she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
Her childhood home is now a church: the Sanctuary of St. Catherine.
We celebrate her Feast Day on April 29.
About the Church of Saint Dominic & the head of Saint Catherine of Siena:
Although her body is beneath the main altar in the Basilica of St. Mary Sopra Minerva in Rome, her head is preserved in a reliquary in the Church of St. Dominic in Siena as shown in the photo. The people of Siena wanted to keep her body here in Siena, and according to tradition they smuggled her head out, knowing they could not take her entire body without being discovered.
The Church is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily (March through October) and 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. November through February. Unlike most churches in Italy, it does not close for a mid-day siesta.
Weekday Masses are 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Sunday and Holy Days Masses are two Masses in addition to this schedule: 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 noon.
Click here for the official website of the Church of Saint Dominic in Siena. They also have a list of licensed guides on their website.
Groups traveling with their own priest may schedule Masses by contacting them via email.
The Eucharistic Miracle of Siena:
This city is also home to a Eucharistic Miracle which is one of the longest on-going miracles in the world. On August 14, 1730, thieves broke in to the Church of St. Francis and stole a ciborium containing consecrated hosts. The theft was discovered the next day by Franciscan priests, and the town’s festivities celebrating the Feast of the Assumption were immediately halted. The bishop asked for prayers and reparations as civil authorities searched for the missing ciborium.
On August 17th a parishioner in the Church of St. Mary noticed a bright light coming from a collection box. When the box was opened a large number of hosts was discovered covered by dirt and cobwebs. Counted and examined, these were determined to be the same hosts that were stolen. Normally the priest would have consumed these hosts but since they were covered with dirt and cobwebs it was decided to let them decompose naturally, something that should have taken a few weeks. However, since 1730, the hosts have remained fresh and sweet-smelling. Over the years various tests have been performed that authenticate this miracle. They are preserved here in Siena in the Basilica of Saint Francis.
The hosts are displayed publicly on the 17th of each month, which was the day of the month that they were discovered by the parishioner. Also, on the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Thursday after Trinity Sunday) the hosts are paraded in procession through town.
Traveling to Siena:
Siena is located about 40 miles south of Florence and easily accessible by car. There is train service from both Florence and Rome. Get train & bus schedules, see fares & buy tickets here.
There is a small private airport in Siena, but the nearest major airports are in Florence and Pisa.
You can find tours of Siena here at Weekend in Italy.