Did you know that St. Catherine of Siena was the second woman to be granted the title “Doctor of the Church”? A lay Dominican of the 14th century, St. Catherine is remembered for her boldness in confronting corruption, her defense of truth, and her unquenchable zeal for Christ.
As we celebrate her Feast on April 29, we invite you to learn more about her life and take a virtual tour of the chapel where she is honored at the Basilica.
The Life of St. Catherine
In 1347, Catherine was born to an Italian wool-dyer and cloth merchant. She grew up during a tumultuous era of fear, disease, and instability; while the Bubonic plague ailed the population without, corruption of the Church indicated a spiritual disease within. When Catherine was just 15, she became a lay Dominican. A withdrawn young lady, she decided against entering a convent. Her solitary lifestyle continued for three years, a period where she was inundated with mystical visions which were often disturbing. Sometimes inner voices whispered doubts in her mind, but when she laughed out loud one day, they vanished, and she saw Christ in their place.
She began to have these visions of Christ every day, and at age 20, she decided to forsake her life of hermitage and dedicated herself to serving others. Catherine became a champion for truth, writing her most popular books and sending letters to Church and government authorities during this time. Her work The Dialogue recounts her conversations with God, in an impactful, but at times, abstruse, text. Catherine was bold, unafraid to call out Church leaders for letting money influence appointments and making decisions from personal and political motivations.
As she watched the Church around her devolve into a pattern of spiritual decay, Catherine believed that she could carry the weight of its atonement. In her last mystical experience, she felt the Church’s weight on her back, and collapsed into a state of excruciating paralysis and died within weeks. Discovered on her body were strange markings that the faithful believe to be stigmata, and a “wedding band” on her finger, signifying her relationship to Christ.
The St. Catherine of Siena Chapel at the Basilica
At the Basilica, St. Catherine of Siena is honored in a chapel in the Great Upper Church. The bronze statues there and in the St. Dominic Chapel were the first commissioned by the Basilica and were created by sculptor Charles Umlauf. Directly above the statue, text reads, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” Behind the statue, black and white tiles resemble the habit worn by those of the Dominican order. The archway text reads, “May God give you a heart to worship Him with a generous mind and willing spirit.” Saint Catherine is also honored in the Basilica in the Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel and the Our Lady of Pompei Chapel.
Take the Virtual Tour
Explore the St. Catherine of Siena Chapel in immersive 360° with our virtual tour below.
Butler’s Lives of Saints, ed. Bernard Bangley
Cowan’s The Way of Saints
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.
Light a Candle at the Basilica
In honor of St. Catherine of Siena, we invite you to light a candle today at the Basilica. Vigil candles burn in the chapels throughout the Upper Church and lower crypt level of the National Shrine. Each candle represents the faith of the supplicants and their fervent prayers entrusted to the intercession of the Blessed Mother.