Santa Catarina: Mainly for Matthew

This post began as an email to Matt, my son who loves most things Italian and nearly everything Dominican. I wrote to tell him that the vigil for the festa of Saint Catherine of Siena had begun with great flourishes on Saturday. We could hear drums and bugles, and see the alfieri with their flags, all over the city….but as I had to tell Matt, Gmail wouldn’t let me load my video.

A second after I hit “SEND” I found he had written me at the same moment to ask how Siena celebrated the day.

If you’re a fan of the Italian language, of Dominicans, or — most important of all,imho — Catherine of Siena, this is for you.

The next day — Sunday, the 29th, as the Torre clock reminded us — everything honoring the great 14thc. Dominican and Doctor of the Church began in the Campo —

First things first, however: breakfast on the Campo, as we waited for the celebrations to begin.

From the Campo, we joined city officials, and the 17 sets of contrade drum-and-bugle-and-flag-carriers, in the procession to Catherine Benincasa’s home, now – and since the 15thc – called the Casa e Santuario di Santa Catarina. It’s an odd place, one I visit fairly often, because it’s near us and because I’m reading Don Brophy’s fine, modern biography of Catherine: (<a href="").

A chapel, “Oratorio del Crocifisso, ” where Catherine is said to have received the stigmata, is on one side. The family’s old kitchen, now an oratory (the fireplace is under the altar!) is on the other side. Downstairs, where I tried again today, again unsuccessfully, to get in, is her cell.

The procession into Catherine’s house lasted for 30 minutes. These black-and-whites represent none of the 17 contrade, but rather the Citta, the City of Siena.

The Dominican Sisters were there with us, watching and waiting above the courtyard…

I videoed these 53 seconds for the drums and flags, but think the bystanders are worth a look, too.

Eventually, the archbishop and cardinal arrived

After an hour of speeches by city and church officials, we went to San Domenico, where we — WAIT FOR IT — STOOD AROUND until the men arrived.

Before Mass, the cardinal and the Dominican prior knelt before the head of Saint Catherine.

Mass was Solemn and High. I snapped this quickly at the beginning (sometime I might be persuaded to reveal what the Prior hissed at me when I got into the wrong line at Communion)

Outside San Domenico, life goes on.

After Mass, it was time for lunch. We went to one of our favorites, which we have FOR TEN YEARS referred to as “La Cellina” (recommended it last week to a couple classmates,and later overheard them recommend it to others). To begin again, we returned, after Mass, to one of our favorite restaurants in Siena, LA TELLINA.
Lunch was lovely, with great soaked-in-extravirgine eggplant antipasta, great seafood (Ann) and decadent gorgonzola rissotto (MEB). The tiny place was packed,and – best of all – we are almost certain the waiter now knows us.

After lunch, we returned to the Campo for more speeches from more city and church officials, a great deal of flag-twirling and even some tossing (this, we believe, is by way of practicing for the 2 July PALIO).

Finally, we joined the procession back to San Domenico with the great relic – not her head, which seems never to leave San Domenico, but her finger. Yes.

(Photo: ATC)

We returned home sadder, wiser, and determined to figure out how to figure THIS out: why the prior had veered right with such alacrity (relic of Catherine suddenly covered with his cappa), then darted into the tiny side door of San Domenico, instead of continuing down Via di Citta, where we had been waiting.

Once home and on the terrace, however, all was forgiven, if not forgotten. It was, really, an amazing couple of days.

25 April: FESTA

Something is going on today that I’ve heard variously referred to as an all-Italy holiday and a communists-only celebration.

For us, it translate as NO SCHOOL. Our neighborhood greengrocer is closed, as is our neighborhood puts-Walgreens-to-shame shop (it’s where we get toilet paper and wash cloths, and where I’ve seen L’Occitane products and fabric softener; I know it is water softener, b/c he first time I did a load of washing, I used it — clothes smell great [are they clean? si et non]).

With everything on/near the block closed, we made another trip to the local supermarto, Conad. We’re preparing for the happy hour we are hosting tonight after the Siena-Bologna soccer game: Spritz- Prosecco + Aperol – accompanied by lots of Focaccia sliced into tiny sandwiches of mozzarella, basil, and tomato. We’re offering other salty things, and a local cheese covered with onion jam (a gift from head of school, Mauro, on my birthday) – from the day we went to Montepulciano. It contains a vino nobile.


If you look out the window in the wine section, you see a fine metaphor:
everything may look like junk up close, but if you take the longer view…

shops at Conad: waiting in line, wondering if all the Prosecco and all the bruschetta-makings and all the cheese will fit into our 2 backpacks…

I did say EVERYbody, didn’t I?

On the way home, we ran into the City Band of Siena, marching to Piazza Salimbeni, where they played for 30 minutes…

Best way to see hear the music:

Hi from E.B. to Ceci, Finn, Gus, and Kieran!

Hi from E.B. to Ceci, Finn, Gus, and Kieran!.

Being Catholic in Siena: One Procession and a Church

Posters like this one announced the week ahead, an Octave of celebration beginning with Sunday afternoon’s procession from the church of Santa Maria di Provenzano to the city’s great Duomo

We had attended Mass at a side altar of the Duomo on Friday, a celebration with a couple dozen worshippers. Except for the priest, a dapper 50-something WHO SAID MASS WITH HIS BACK TO US, we were the only ones under 70. One of the benefits of attending Mass: free admission to the Duomo. We were hurried out by guards immediately afterwards, however; and of course there is NO PHOTOGRAPHY. AT ALL. ANYWHERE INSIDE.

It goes without saying, then, that getting in free and being able to ignore the “No Photos” signs were among our motives for attending Sunday’s festa.

The interior of the Duomo mirrors the travertine stripes on the exterior.

Entering the great church — old men and their drums (below).
Also notable are the ubiquitous BLACK and WHITE: they are the colors of all Dominicans, of Catherine, the city’s great Doctor of the Church, and of the city of Siena herself.

After settling the statue on steps leading up to the high altar, it was the young men who lead the procession out of the Duomo.

Siena: EVERYTHING Old is New Again



AROUND THE CORNER FROM THE APARTMENT: BAR DIACETTO, perhaps (jury still out) our go-to  bar café. 

The search for coffee brought us here in the morning, torrential rains made it a refuge this afternoon. Suddenly, we were surrounded by scores of 20-somethings ordering their apperitivi (hence, the jury).
In between trips to Café Diacetto, we ran into
–> –> day trippers at San Domenico (was Catherine’s head always so far away? I thought we could get closer than this over-the-top reliquary) and
–> –> a man from Quincy, MA at the phone store.

 This photo of the Easter “Cioccolato” is for Kieran, Gus, Finn, and Ceci – you don’t even have to be in Minnesota (or the North End) for a giant chocolate Easter egg!