Feast Day : March 9
Patronage: art; artists; liberal arts
Catherine of Bologna was born Catherine de Vigri on March 9, 1413. She was the daughter of a diplomatic agent of the marquis of Ferrara. At the age of 11, she was appointed maid of honor to Margaret d’Este, the daughter of the marquis, and shared her training and education. Margaret married when Catherine was 14. Catherine turned down marriage proposals, and at age 17 left the court and became a Franciscan Tertiary in Ferrara. Eventually her community became part of the Poor Clares. Catherine assumed the duties of the bakers, then of novice mistress. A story is told that once she baked bread and left the loaves in the oven for five hours while she attended a sermon. The loaves did not burn, but turned out beautifully. After her death, the oven was said to emit a sweet perfume for 10 days before each of her feast days and for several days thereafter. Catherine began to experience visions of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. One Christmas Eve, Mary appeared and placed the infant Jesus in Catherine’s arms. On another occasion, she heard angelic choirs singing after the Elevation of the Mass. After 24 years at the Ferrara convent, Catherine was sent back to Bologna with 15 sisters to establish a convent. She was abbess there for the rest of her life. Catherine was a writer and artist. The Seven Spiritual Weapons, a mystical work on her spiritual life, is her most important text. She also composed books of sermons, devotions and verses. She painted miniatures and illustrated a breviary. In Lent of 1463, Catherine became seriously ill. On March 9, her birthday, she pronounced the name of Jesus three times, and a heavenly perfume came around her, signaling her death. Though 50 years old, her face took on the radiance of youth. Catherine was buried within hours without a coffin. Her body was exhumed 18 days later because of the sweet scent coming from her grave and the miraculous cures claimed by those who visited it. Her body was found to be incorrupt and bathed in sweat. While sisters cleaned it, a pleasant perfume wafted from it. One sister pulled off a piece of skin hanging from a foot, and the corpse bled copiously. The next morning, Catherine’s face was radiant. Three months later, the corpse, exhumed, was found to bleed copiously through the nose twice. Since 1475, Catherine’s incorrupt body has remained seated in an upright position in the church of the Poor Clare convent in Bologna. In 1500, Catherine appeared in a vision to a nun and requested that her body be moved to a special chapel—the location and layout were specified—and that her body be kept in its upright position. This was done, and in 1688 the body was moved to a larger and more elaborate chapel. Until 1953, the relic was not covered, and pilgrims kissed the feet. In 1953 a protective glass urn was constructed. The hands, which were chapping, were covered with a light coat of wax during World War II. Catherine’s skin has darkened, perhaps due to exposure from oil lamps. Catherine’s biography was written by Sr. Illuminata; the original is still at the convent in Bologna.