ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA
St. Catherine of Siena (ca. 1347–1380).
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1500.
Born to a large family of cloth dyers in Siena, Caterina Benincasa became a Dominican nun at the age of sixteen. Her self-denial, charity, and bold spiritual writings attracted many followers, and during the insurrection of the Papal States she was called to mediate with Gregory XI, the last pope at Avignon. Eventually she convinced the pope to transfer the Holy See back to Rome, but to her disappointment his death led to the Western Schism between Urban VI in Rome and the antipope Clement VII in Avignon. Living on sacramental bread and wine alone, she died at age 33. She was canonized in 1461, and in 1970 she and St. Teresa of Ávila were declared the first female Doctors of the Church.
St. Catherine’s correspondence, 383 letters dictated in Italian and addressed to heads of church and state as well as humble monastic followers, centered on themes of devout mysticism, ecclesiastical reform, and contemporary political issues. This Venetian edition, the first complete collection of St. Catherine’s Letters to be published, features a striking woodcut portrayal of the saint with symbols of her purity, faith, and love. Bridwell Library’s copy came from the library of the Carmelite sisters of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Borgo San Frediano, Florence.