05 May 2015

The Feast of St. Catherine of Siena in Siena

The Italian friars at the Catherinian Basilica of St. Dominic in Siena kindly invited another friar and me for the feast of St. Catherine.  The feast usually celebrated by the city on the weekend near her feast day, with several events spread through the weekend.  This year, the Pope's representative was Beniamino Cardinal Stella, the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, who celebrated the solemn Mass.  The Archbishop of Siena, the aptly named Antonino Buoncristiani (which would translate as Tony Goodchristians), also attended all of the events.

It is interesting, especially as an American, to see the mixture of civil and religious in events like this.  For the Italians, the civic, the cultural, and the religious are mixed (and assumed) in a way that we simply do not normally do in the U.S.  St. Catherine is both a figure of religious holiness and of civic pride for the Sienese, and remains a very important figure.

The first event we attended was the laying of flowers at the statute of St. Catherine near the Basilica.  This generally involved groups of women--religious, lay groups, and civil organizations--who came with bouquets of flowers to be set at the statue.  In attendance were also the mayor of Siena and other civil officials.  As at most of the events, the local neighborhoods (contrade) had representatives in period costume with flags and drums.

That same evening was a concert in honor of St. Catherine at the Duomo (Cathedral), with the Archbishop in attendance.  Siena has a well-regarded school of music, the Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali "Rinaldo Franci" da Siena.  They chose a selection of music from Gustav Faure, and especially music from his Requiem Mass.  I find the Pie Jesu from Faure's Requiem Mass to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music.  (Here's a YouTube version of the Pie Jesu sung by the great Kathleen Battle.)

The next day began with another religious/civic event at the house of St. Catherine.  With the Cardinal, the Archbishop of Siena, the Mayor of Siena, and various military figures in attendance, gifts were offered to the sanctuary there, including candles and oil for the lamps.

Following that was the solemn Mass presided by Cardinal Stella at the Basilica San Domenico.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, was the procession with the relic of St. Catherine.  The relic was solemnly carried from San Domenico, accompanied by the local neighborhood (contrada) where the Basilica is located (the contrado Drago (dragon)), with flags and drums.  We then came to the Church of St. Christopher near the town center, where we were joined by the sisters from the shrine of St. Catherine, as well as representatives from the other neighborhoods (contrade) in period costume.  The drums escorted us to the campo, where there is a permanent outdoor shrine and altar, where the relic rested as various speeches were made by civil officials.  The event ended with a prayer of blessing from the Archbishop of Siena.

Here is a slideshow with more pictures:

And here is some video from Siena: