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SIENA Art and religion - St Catherine Sanctuary

The steep descent of Via Santa Caterina leads to the Sanctuary and House of St Catherine, which has become a popular place of pilgrimage. The house of the saint was converted into a sanctuary in 1464 and today contains a number of documents and paintings related to her.

The original entrance to the complex was from Vicolo del Tiratoio, through a fine Renaissance door over which was written Sponsae Kristi Chatarinae Domus. In 1941 a new entrance was opened, called the Portico dei Comuni. The entrance opens into the Oratorio del Crocifisso, once the kitchen garden of the Benincasa family and today a single nave church decorated with frescoes by Giuseppe Nicola Nasini.

Near the high altar is the wooden Crucifix from which the saint is believed to have received the stigmata in the Church of Santa Cristina in Pisa, in 1375. It was brought here in 1565. Next to the Oratorio del Crocefisso is the Oratorio Superiore, also known as the Oratorio della Cucina, which probably stands over what were the kitchens of the original Benincasa house. The fine majolica floor is largely 17th century and the elegant inlaid ceiling was designed by Riccio. Above the altar, which is built around the stones of the kitchen fire, hangs a painting by Bernardino Fungai depicting The Stigmata of St Catherine within a surround painted by Riccio in 1572. The walls are adorned with 17 pictures by a variety of artists, including Francesco Vanni, Pomarancio and Manetti. From here, a stair leads to the Oratorio della Camera, decorated with frescoes by Alessandro Franchi in 1896 with Episodes from the Life of St Catherine. Over the altar hangs a painting by Girolamo Benvenuto, again of the Stigmata of St Catherine. The cell where Catherine would retire is also here, along with the stone used by the saint as a headrest.

After a vestibule, another flight of steps leads down to the former warehouse of the Benincasa home, now the Church of Santa Caterina of the Contrada dell’Oca. Above the main altar stands a coloured wooden statue of St Catherine. The walls are decorated with Miracles of St Catherine painted by Gerolamo Della Pacchia, while the angels above the altar are frescoes by Sodoma.

A little stair leads down from the church into the cellar where the Miracle of the Inextinguishable Cask is believed to have taken place. On the opposite side of the church is the museum of the Contrada dell’Oca with the Contrada’s Palio trophies.

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