The spirituality of Catherine of Siena

Written by a scholar of Catherine’s spirituality, this website offers an in-depth discussion of key themes of Catherine’s teaching and wisdom about advancement in the spiritual journey through a relationship with God.

The site offers context for understanding Catherine’s medieval spirituality. For there are many legends about Catherine’s life, and many ways of interpreting her mysticism. You will find insights based on solid research about Catherine’s life, her writings and the history and culture of her day.   

Intended Audience 

This book-length website is intended for the spiritual seeker wishing to explore Catherine’s life and spiritual path more deeply, for spiritual guides and pastors, and for students of St. Catherine of Siena’s spirituality.  It will also be of interest to students of medieval women mystics and some content may be of interest to scholars. [About author]

Catherine lived from 1347-1380 in Siena, at that time an Italian City state.  Like most girls then, she was not educated so she did not know how to read until her late teens and may have learned to write late in life. [See Catherine’s life and spiritual writings  – education and formation]. Because of this, her writings are really dictated texts, written down by scribes.  She dictated as she reflected out loud in the colloquial speech of a young Sienese woman.  She used images and metaphors understood in her culture—not obvious to ours—and sometimes unique to her.  Catherine expressed herself in emotional ways that would seem odd and dramatic to an Anglo 21st century world.  Accordingly, reading her spiritual writings and understanding the depth and complexity of her wisdom requires historical and cultural understanding about her and her day.  This website offers such guidance to understanding Catherine’s spiritual journey and her teaching about spiritual growth and development.   

The site presents historical research that has not been integrated into most non scholarly accounts about Catherine’s life and lived experience.  Accordingly, this website offers new insights about St. Catherine. 

Tab Content

Mystical spirituality and holiness

The tab, mystical spirituality and holiness, engages the question, how does Catherine live her spirituality and mysticism in terms of the essential goal of the Christian spiritual journey, namely the imitation of Jesus in his life and teaching? In answering this question, the following are also addressed: 

  • Catherine’s extraordinary spiritual experiences  
  • What makes Catherine a holy person or saint
  • Catherine’s fasting and ascetical practices  

Spiritual development

The tab Spiritual development – key elements, answers the question, what are essential elements of Catherine’s teaching about the spiritual journey, about spiritual development and growth in relationship with God.  

Catherine does not present her spiritual and mystical wisdom in an orderly fashion in one place.  One has to cull the essential elements of her wisdom from her 383 letters and The Dialogue, her main work. In this tab, I give a structure to Catherine’s scattered teachings about the spiritual journey of transformation.  

Key, grounding belief.  A foundational belief of Catherine’s spiritual teachings is that persons are created in the image of God. Through God’s transforming love we are able to grow into the images of God we are meant to be. This means the spiritual path entails practices that empower a relationship with God 

Key elements of spiritual growth. Catherine has much to say about this spiritual journey of growth in relationship with God.  She teaches about transformation of our capacity to love and to recognize truth.  This process of growth empowers our capacity to live according to truth and love, which is also living according to God’s will.

Essential to this spiritual path are: 

      1. Time for silence and solitude and connection to one’s inner experience. 
      2. Knowledge of oneself and God as two sides of one coin.
      3. Transformation of desire.   

These themes are covered in the three sub-tabs: 

In each sub-tab there are suggestions for applying Catherine’s spirituality to a spiritual path today.

Spirituality and political engagement

In the tab, Spirituality and political engagement, I describe the spirituality of Catherine’s call or vocation to political involvement. This aspect of Catherine’s life has been particularly informed by legends.  Accordingly, I summarize research showing a historically updated perspective, which enriches interpretation of Catherine’s spirituality of political engagement.

Catherine was chosen by church authorities as a holy person who would pray for the pope and his policies and who, as a holy woman, would be effective in persuading leaders regarding papal policies.  Catherine took on this role becoming an advocate through her letters and in person. The pope and high church and secular authorities—among others— became the object of letters through which she urged conversion and transformation through relationship with God. For Catherine was most interested in the conversion of her correspondents so that they might be capable of perceiving and acting upon God’s will for the good of the church (which in medieval times included all Europeans). 

Catherine’s readiness to receive and act upon a calling unimagined for an uneducated, young lay woman, evidences her holiness—her commitment to a path of transformation and her surrender to God’s will. These capacities are fruit of her own spiritual development and deep relationship with God, which is also her mysticism.

Catherine’s life and spiritual writings

The tab, Catherine’s life and spiritual writings, summarizes her life and describes her writings.  I discuss the way she learned about her faith and some influences on her spirituality. 

  • The subtab on Letters: illustrative passages, includes a number of translations of excerpts from Catherine’s letters that are not easily obtained, and which illustrate her spiritual wisdom. 
  • In the sub-tab Catherine’s Siena today you will find photographs of places in Siena that existed in Catherine’s day and give you an idea of the city during her life.