Today is the feast day of one of the most important saints in the Catholic church. Catherine Benincasa, a Dominican tertiary nun, died in Rome on April 29th 1380 and was duly buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the mother church of the Dominican order. She was canonised almost a century later, in 1461.
While the body of Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) rests in Rome, her head is to be found, many miles to the north, in the city of her birth.
However, Raymond of Capua, Catherine's confessor and biographer, knowing how much it would have pleased her fellow citizens if she had been interred in Siena, decided that at least part of her should return home. And so on October 13th 1383, he secretly removed her head and dispatched it the church of San Domenico in Siena.
The much revered Sacra Testa (Holy Head) is held in a tabernacle in the Cappella di Santa Caterina. The tabernacle was carved in 1466 by Giovanni di Stefano, while the walls of the chapel were frescoed by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, better known as Il Sodoma.
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian, writer and guide