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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Catherine of Siena

b. 1347, Siena, Italy; d. 1380, Rome

The letters of Catherine of Siena, more than 300 of which have survived, and her Treatise of Divine Providence (ca. 1370) are considered among the high points of early Tuscan literature. At the age of six, Catherine began having visions and by sixteen or eighteen became a tertiary (a non-vow-taking member) of the Dominican order in 1363, joining the Sisters of Penitence of Saint Dominic in Siena. Around 1366, she experienced what she described in her letters as a “Mystical Marriage” to Jesus, after which she devoted herself to caring for the sick and the poor. In 1370, prompted by a vision commanding her to abandon her life of seclusion and enter the public arena, Catherine embarked on a letter-writing campaign to heal the divisions within the church. She pleaded with Pope Gregory XI to reform the clergy and to restore Rome as the papal seat. This he did in 1377. Catherine was canonized in 1461 by Pope Pius II and was granted the title Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.