Santa Caterina is not just one of the most famed Siena-born personalities, but also one of the most important figures of the Catholic Church. She, along with Saint Teresa of Avila, is the first woman ever proclaimed Doctor of the Church (in 1970). Before that, she was proclaimed patron saint of Italy (in 1939) together with San Francesco d’Assisi, her canonization taking place some 80 years after her early death (at age 33), in 1460. The extraordinary feats of Caterina Benincasa, which have led to her sanctification, are well known by the scholars of Catholicism.
The house where she was born (in 1347) is opened to the public, being an excellent destination for tourists who seek tranquility and peace of mind. It’s not just the religion-driven tourists who should visit the site. If you harbor a true interest for the works of the likes of Il Sodoma, Vanni or Giovanni Battista Pelori, you might just as well visit this house in Terzo di Camollia driven by a purely artistic curiosity. Either way, you simply cannot miss out a stop at Casa-Santuario.
Caterina Benincasa, sanctified and declared patron saint of Italy, was born in Siena, in the very house now opened to the public. The saint died at age 33, and the house she was born in was turned into a sanctuary in 1466. The edifice retains little to nothing of the original dwelling, virtually all rooms (kitchens included) having been turned in time into churchy-looking chambers.
In time, the building was, artistically speaking, enriched with works by notable Siena-born or foreign masters. The 20th century even so the house still being decorated and rearranged. But that’s relieving, since it reassures you the visit to this religious museum-like site will be an intense artistic experience.
At present, the entrance to the sanctuary is made through the so-called Portico dei Comuni, built in 1941. It replaces a preexisting Renaissance door by Vicolo del Tiratoio. The first sight to be seen once the portico is crossed is the Oratory of the Crucifix.
The former gardens of the house of the Benicasas were used as site for what now pilgrims call the Oratory of the Crucifix. The structure contains a single nave and it features, as centerpiece, the very wooden crucifix from which Catherine received her stigmata. The relic is showcased near the altar. It was brought here from Pisa (from the Church of Santa Christina, where the stigmata episode took place) in the year 1565. The crucifix aside, your interest might also be drawn by the frescoes executed by Giuseppe Nicola Nasini.
The old summer kitchen of the house has been turned into the nowadays Oratorio Superiore, located right next to Oratorio del Crocifisso. Entering this place, you’ll step on a majolica floor, likely executed between the 16th and the 17th century. Its fineness is matched by the exquisite inlaid ceiling, a work by Il Riccio. The murals signed by the likes of Manetti, Francesco Vanni, Pomarancio and other 17th century artists adorn the walls, while Bernardino Fungai’s Stigmata of Santa Caterina complements the altar.
Oratorio Superiore is linked to Oratorio della Camera by a staircase. The latter is where the saint’s cell is located. It is the very cell where she would confine herself. It is of incredible austerity, the stone she would use as a headrest providing you an idea of Caterina’s take on how the mortification of the body would help spiritual elevation. The cell aside, Oratorio della Camera features, right above the altar, the scene of the stigmata (work by Girolamo Benvenuto), as well as murals by Alessandro Franchi (late 19th century) depicting scenes inspired from the life of the saint.
The entrance to this one is made through a stair from the vestibule of Oratorio della Camera. Highlights refer to the centerpiece of the altar (a wooden statue of Santa Caterina) flattered by Il Sodoma’s frescoes depicting angels. The murals, rendering scenes inspired from the life of the saint (the theme focuses on the miracles she worked), are by Gerolamo Della Pacchia. Interesting to note is the nowadays place of worship used to be the warehouse of the residences of the Benicasas.
Just to add a twist of thrill to the visit, you can also enter the cellars said to have been the site where the miracle of the inextinguishable barrel took place.
The sanctuary of Santa Caterina is also home to the Museum of Contrada dell’Oca. This one showcases the trophies gained at the Palio editions. You can make a pretty good idea about how the locals hold in great respect this historical event.
This one is the newest addition to the historical sanctuary. Built no sooner than 2006, this structure, work of a team of architects (Betti, Fineschi and Lamoretti) tries to sensitize pilgrims and visiting tourists to the idea of listening to the word of God and let it do its work, just like the glass lets the light pass through. The chapel is also home to a handful of works of contemporary art of religious inspiration.
The table below lists all information on address of Casa-Santuario di Santa Saterina da Siena and contact.
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The initial 13th century Romanesque style of the Basilica of San Francesco in Siena made rooms during the 15th century to a Gothic architectural approach
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