“Do not be satisfied with little things, because God wants great things!”
Catherine of Siena – Letter T127
29 April is the feast of Catherine of Siena, OP, a Doctor of the Church, a Dominican, and the force behind the restoration of the Papacy to Rome following the “Babylonian Captivity” in Avignon. Siena has a beautiful Duomo (or Cathedral) that is famous too.
Catherine was the youngest in her family who gave her father no options about her decision to join the Dominicans. Catherine wrote letters to popes, kings and queens, politicians and mercenaries, and many religious figures. Her teaching in “The Dialogue of Divine Providence” earned her status as a Doctor of the Church.
Catherine’s hometown of Siena is a Tuscan hill town, located north of Rome and about 50 miles from Florence. Siena was settled in prehistoric times, with the first Roman settlement coming during the reign of Augustus. The town’s fortunes improved when the Lombards took over the area in the 4th century. Siena prospered as a city-state, and later as a republic. The University of Siena was founded in 1240, and is still an important Italian seat of learning. Notable sights include the Duomo, the Piazza del Campo, (town square) the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, and the church of San Domenico. Wikipedia has a wonderful panorama view of Siena, showing the town hall and the Duomo. Go see it – it is too big to fit here.
Siena’s Duomo was built between 1215 and 1263. A major expansion was started in 1339, but the Black Death killed off most of the parishioners and workers, so the building remains unfinished to this day. The Siena Duomo is on of Italy’s greatest cathedrals.
The Siena Duomo is unique because the major axis of the nave runs north to south.
The Siena Duomo is a Romanesque cruciform church with a Gothic facade, a dome, a bell tower, and the main altar at the crossing. Inside elements include a famous octagonal ambo, several statues and murals about Catherine, and four statues of other saints by Michelangelo. Builders used white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes for both the interior and exterior. Black and white are the traditional colors of Siena.
Sources and Resources:
- EWTN: Saint Catherine of Siena:
- Drawn by Love: the writings and world of Saint Catherine of Siena:
- Project Gutenberg: Letters of Catherine Benincasa by Saint Catherine of Siena
- Sacred Destinations: Duomo di Siena/Siena Cathedral
- Wikipedia: Duomo di Siena/Siena Cathedral
UPDATE: See more of the Architecture 101 topics here:
- Sacred Architecture for Dummies
- Built of Living Stones
- Romans, New Romans, Goths and Pearls
- Romanesque, Sant’Ambrosio
- CAD and ChurchBuilder
- Eight Historic Italian Churches
- The Tympanum
- The Nave
- 1400 Years as a Catholic Church
Side Note: In Denver, we have Saint Catherine of Siena Parish and School, which is run by the Dominicans.
See the history of this building here.