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.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. RTJ
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 11:38:44

    wonderful! thank you for sharing the great day.



  2. Jeanne Baxter
    May 01, 2012 @ 13:27:52

    Loved this!



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