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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Some personal glimpses

Maestro di San Miniato
c. 1470
St Catherine intercedes for the soul of sister Palmerina
Museo Amedeo Lia, La Spezia

Giovanni di Paolo ca.1403-1483
Saint Catherine of Siena Dictating Her Dialogues
c. 1447/1449
Tempera on wood panel
14 x 14 1/8 x 1 3/4 in. 11 3/8 x 11 3/8 in. 28.9 x 28.9 cm
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit

St Catherine`s Letters perhaps depict a very zealous woman. Totally immersed in religion, prayer and the public affairs of the day. In her letters she does not neglect the personal.

However the Letters give glimpses of a woman with a hinterland and a very important hinterland. Her family, friends and disciples. Cecca (Francesca) di Clemente Gori, Catherine's sister-in-law Lisa, Alessa dei Saracini and Simone da Cortone were close disciples of St Catherine and often served as her scribes when she dictated letters.

She obviousy inspired great devotion, affection and loyalty. Which was returned. And like very else she did, there was no half measure. She was enthusiastic about everything.

She crammed more into her thirty three years than most people could achieve if they lived four times as long.

Laughter was present in the circle. They teased each other and did not take themselves seriously. For each other they used derogatory but affectionate epithets. Alessa dei Saracini was "Fat Alessa" ( "Alessa grassotta" ). Francesca di Clemente Gori was called "Cecca" and usually "the time waster".

What they did however take seriously was their faith which was not to be laughed at. It was too important.

After great passages of spirituality are always a number of less weighty comments:

"Concerning the affairs of Benincasa, I cannot reply unless I am at Siena. Thank Messer Nicolao for the charity which he has shown for them. Alessa and I and Cecca, poor women, commend ourselves to you a thousand thousand times. May God be ever in your soul, amen. Jesus, Jesus.

Catherine, servant of the servants of God."

(To Frate Bartolomeo Dominici, in Florence Summer 1375)


"And the sign that we have received it is that we at once become lovers of what God loves and haters of what God hates.

This is why my soul longs to see you so truly united with and transformed in the fire of God's charity. Strive for that with all your might, my dearest son, so that you may fulfill God's will as well as your poor sad mother's. Keep living in God's holy and tender love.'

Tell Nanni and Papo to shout so loudly that I will pay attention to their voices. Tell Gherardo my son to respond to the voice of his mother, who is calling him, and to hurry, because I'm waiting for him. Give Vanni a hug for me, and also Missere Francesco, Monna Nella, and Caterina— all of them. Bless them by setting the most holy cross in your midst. And the same to babbo for me.

Jesus! Gentle Jesus!

Francesco says he is not obligated, and bad, lazy Francesco also says you should commend him to Frate Raimondo a thousand times in Christ Jesus and tell him to pray to God for him."

(To Neri di Landoccio Pagliaresi About 25 to 28 February 1376)


"So get rid of all petty resentment, and trust more in others than in yourself.

And if the devil should still try to trouble your conscience, tell him to deal with me—about this and about everything else—for a mother is accountable for her child! So that is how zealous I want you to be! For nothing, no situation, is so hard that charity cannot break through it, even as it makes you stronger.

Bless my son Frate Simone for me, and tell him to run on with holy desire—I mean the holy cross—as his staff.

Let me know how you are and how God's honor is faring.

Fat Alessa says that you are praying for her and asks you please to keep praying for her. Pray for me too, Cecca the time-waster. And pray for Lisa.

Keep living in God's holy peace and love."

(To Frate Bartolomeo Dominici, in Asciano Lent (26 February to 12 April) 1376)