I have been on organised visits to Siena before but have never been taken to the basilica before.It has quite an interesting history and is apparently on the pilgrims road which travelled from England,through France and through Italy to Rome.
It was dedicated to Dominic and was begun by the Dominicans in 1226 and was built on a hill overlooking the district where St Catherine had been born in 1347.
She was a humble and illterate woman but left 375 letters penned by her disciples from dictation.She had consecrated herself to God as a little girl and when she was 16 she recieved the Dominican habit.
In 1376 she travelled to Avignon to encourage the Pope Gregory X1 to return to Italy.Catherine convinced him and he returned in September that same year.From 1377 until her death in 1380 she sent many letters to famous and powerful men and women urging them to live Holy lives.
She was only 33 when she died and was canonised by Pope Pius 11 and was proclaimed Patroness of Italy together with St.Francis of Assisi. Her remains were buried in Rome but Siena wanted her body returned to them and her spiritual director,Blessed Raymond wished to honour Catherine's corpse.He transfered it inside the Basilica of Holy Mary from where it had been in a very damp tomb exposed to the elements and the body had been consumed by the rainwater.It was,therefore,quite easy to disattach the head from the rest of her body.
The head of St Catherine can still be seen inside the basilica and this attracts thousands of pilgrims to it every year to see the Sacred Head of St. Catherine.
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