How did St. Catherine of Siena Die?
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How did St. Catherine of Siena Die? In short, her cause of death was pretty common for an uncommon woman, but not for a woman her age. However, the way she died, was glorious.
St. Catherine of Siena was a lay Dominican of the 14th century, who was like no other. For a woman of her time, she was uncommoningly outspoken and fearless.
To gain a better understanding of her fearless mindset, check out St. Catherine of Siena Quotes That Will Set You on Fire.
She was also a mystic who had a mystical conversations with God the Father, chronicled in the Dialogue.
When Did St Catherine of Siena Die?
St. Catherine of Siena died on April 29, 1380, at the age of 33.
How Did St. Catherine of Siena Die?
The actual immediate cause of her deaths seems to have been a stroke.
For many years she had accustomed herself to a rigorous abstinence. She received the Holy Eucharist almost daily. This extreme fasting appeared unhealthy in the eyes of the clergy and her own sisterhood. Her confessor, Raymond, ordered her to eat properly. But Catherine claimed that she was unable to, describing her inability to eat as an infermità (illness). From the beginning of 1380, Catherine could neither eat nor swallow water. On 26 February she lost the use of her legs.
Catherine died in Rome, on 29 April 1380, at the age of thirty-three,having eight days earlier suffered a massive stroke which paralyzed her from the waist down. Her last words were, “Father, into Your Hands I commend my soul and my spirit.”
However, what is really interesting, is the account of Catherine of Siena’s scribe on the last days leading up to her death. This letter is found at the end of the Dialogue.
This blessed virgin and mother of thousands of souls, about the feast of the Circumcision, began
to feel so great a change both in soul and body, that she was obliged to alter her mode of life, the
action of taking food for her sustenance becoming so loathsome to her, that it was only with the
greatest difficulty that she could force herself to take any, and, when she did so, she swallowed
nothing of the substance of the food, but had the habit of rejecting it. Moreover, not one drop of
water could she swallow for refreshment, whence came to her a most violent and tedious thirst,
and so great an inflammation of her throat that her breath seemed to be fire, with all which,
however, she remained in very good health, robust and fresh as usual. In these conditions we
reached Sexagesima Sunday, when, about the hour of vespers, at the time of her prayer, she had
so violent a stroke that from that day onwards she was no longer in health. Towards the night of
the following Monday, just after I had written a letter, she had another stroke so terrific, that we
all mourned her as dead, remaining under it for a long time without giving any sign of life. Then,
rising, she stood for an equal space of time, and did not seem the same person as she who had
From that hour began new travail and bitter pains in her body, and, Lent having arrived, she
began, in spite of her infirmity, to give herself with such application of mind to prayer that the
frequency of the humble sighs and sorrowful plaints which she exhaled from the depth of her
heart appeared to us a miracle. I think, too, that you know that her prayers were so fervent that
one hour spent in prayer by her reduced that dear tender frame to greater weakness than would
be suffered by one who should persist for two whole days in prayer. Meanwhile, every morning,
after communion, she arose from the earth in such a state that any one who had seen her would
have thought her dead, and was thus carried back to bed. Thence, after an hour or two, she would
arise afresh, and we would go to Saint Peter’s, although a good mile distant, where she would
place herself in prayer, so remaining until vespers, finally returning to the house so worn out that
she seemed a corpse.
These were her exercises up till the third Sunday in Lent, when she finally succumbed,
conquered by the innumerable sufferings, which daily increased, and consumed her body, and
the infinite afflictions of the soul which she derived from the consideration of the sins which she
saw being committed against God, and from the dangers ever more grave to which she knew the
Holy Church to be exposed, on account of which she remained greatly overcome, and both
internally and externally tormented. She lay in this state for eight weeks, unable to lift her head,
and full of intolerable pains, from the soles of her feet to the crown of her head, to such an extent
that she would often say: “These pains are truly physical, but not natural; for it seems that God
has given permission to the devils to torment this body at their pleasure.” And, in truth, it
evidently was so; for, if I were to attempt to explain the patience which she practiced, under this
terrible and unheard-of agony, I should fear to injure, by my explanations, facts which cannot be
explained. This only will I say, that, every time that a new torment came upon her, she would
joyously raise her eyes and her heart to God and say: “Thanks to You, oh eternal Spouse, for
granting such graces afresh every day to me, Your miserable and most unworthy handmaid!”
In this way her body continued to consume itself until the Sunday before the Ascension; but by
that time it was reduced to such a state that it seemed like a corpse in a picture, though I speak
not of the face, which remained ever angelical and breathed forth devotion, but of the bosom and
limbs, in which nothing could be seen but the bones, covered by the thinnest skin, and so feeble
was she from the waist downwards that she could not move herself, even a little, from one side to
another. In the night preceding the aforesaid Sunday, about two hours or more before dawn, a
great change was produced in her, and we thought that she was approaching the end. The whole
family was then called around her, and she, with singular humility and devotion, made signs to
those who were standing near that she desired to receive Holy Absolution for her faults and the
pains due to them, and so it was done. After which she became gradually reduced to such a state
that we could observe no other movement than her breathing, continuous, sad, and feeble. On
account of this it seemed right to give her extreme unction, which our abbot of Sant’ Antimo did,
while she lay as it were deprived of feeling.
After this unction she began altogether to change, and to make various signs with her head and
her arms as if to show that she was suffering from grave assaults of demons, and remained in this
calamitous state for an hour and a half, half of which time having been passed in silence, she
began to say: “I have sinned! Oh Lord, have mercy on me!” And this, as I believe, she repeated
more than sixty times, raising each time her right arm, and then letting it fall and strike the bed.
Then, changing her words, she said as many times again, but without moving her arms, “Holy
God, have mercy on me!” Finally she employed the remainder of the above-mentioned time with
many other formulas of prayer both humble and devout, expressing various acts of virtue, after
which her face suddenly changed from gloom to angelic light, and her tearful and clouded eyes
became serene and joyous, in such a manner that I could not doubt that, like one saved from a
deep sea, she was restored to herself, which circumstance greatly mitigated the grief of her sons
and daughters who were standing around in the affliction you can imagine.
Catherine had been lying on the bosom of Mother Alessia and now succeeded in rising, and with
a little help began to sit up, leaning against the same mother. In the meantime we had put before
her eyes a pious picture, containing many relics and various pictures of the saints. She, however,
fixed her eyes on the image of the cross set in it, and began to adore it, explaining, in words,
certain of her most profound feelings of the goodness of God, and while she prayed, she accused
herself in general of all her sins in the sight of God, and, in particular, said: “It is my fault, oh
eternal Trinity, that I have offended You so miserably with my negligence, ignorance,
ingratitude, and disobedience, and many other defects. Wretch that I am! for I have not observed
Your commandments, either those which are given in general to all, or those which Your
goodness laid upon me in particular! Oh mean creature that I am!” Saying which, she struck her
breast, repeating her confession, and continued: “I have not observed Your precept, with which
You commanded me to seek always to give You honor, and to spend myself in labors for my
neighbor, while I, on the contrary, have fled from labors, especially where they were necessary.
Did You not command me, oh, my God! to abandon all thought of myself and to consider solely
the praise and glory of Your Name in the salvation of souls, and with this food alone, taken from
the table of the most holy Cross, to comfort myself? But I have sought my own consolation. You
did ever invite me to bind myself to You alone by sweet, loving, and fervent desires, by tears and
humble and continuous prayers for the salvation of the whole world and for the reformation of
the holy Church, promising me that, on account of them, You would use mercy with the world,
and give new beauty to Your Spouse; but I, wretched one, have not corresponded with Your
desire, but have remained asleep in the bed of negligence.
“Oh, unhappy that I am! You have placed me in charge of souls, assigning to me so many
beloved sons, that I should love them with singular love and direct them to You by the way of
Life, but I have been to them nothing but a mirror of human weakness; I have had no care of
them; I have not helped them with continuous and humble prayer in Your presence, nor have I
given them sufficient examples of the good life or the warnings of salutary doctrine. Oh, mean
creature that I am! with how little reverence have I received Your innumerable gifts, the graces
of such sweet torments and labors which it pleased You to accumulate on this fragile body, nor
have I endured them with that burning desire and ardent love with which You sent them to me.
Alas! oh, my Love, through Your excessive goodness You chose me for Your spouse, from the
beginning of my childhood, but I was not faithful enough; in fact, I was unfaithful to You,
because I did not keep my memory faithful to You alone and to Your most high benefits; nor
have I fixed my intelligence on the thought of them only or disposed my will to love You
immediately with all its strength.”
Of these and many other similar things did that pure dove accuse herself, rather, as I think, for
our example than for her own need, and then, turning to the priest, said: “For the love of Christ
crucified, absolve me of all these sins which I have confessed in the presence of God, and of all
the others which I cannot remember.” That done, she asked again for the plenary indulgence,
saying that it had been granted her by Pope Gregory and Pope Urban, saying this as one an
hungered for the Blood of Christ. So I did what she asked, and she, keeping her eyes ever fixed
on the crucifix, began afresh to adore it with the greatest devotion, and to say certain very
profound things which I, for my sins, was not worthy to understand, and also on account of the
grief with which I was laboring and the anguish with which her throat was oppressed, which was
so great that she could hardly utter her words, while we, placing our ears to her mouth, were able
to catch one or two now or again, passing them on from one to the other. After this she turned to
certain of her sons, who had not been present at a memorable discourse, which, many days
previously, she had made to the whole family, showing us the way of salvation and perfection,
and laying upon each of us the particular task which he was to perform after her death. She now
did the same to these others, begging most humbly pardon of all for the slight care which she
seemed to have had of our salvation. Then she said certain things to Lucio and to another, and
finally to me, and then turned herself straightway to prayer.
Oh! had you seen with what humility and reverence she begged and received many times the
blessing of her most sorrowful mother, all that I can say is that it was a bitter sweet to her. How
full of tender affection was the spectacle of the mother, recommending herself to her blessed
child, and begging her to obtain a particular grace from God — namely, that in these melancholy
circumstances she might not offend Him. But all these things did not distract the holy virgin
from the fervor of her prayer; and, approaching her end, she began to pray especially for the
Catholic Church, for which she declared she was giving her life. She prayed again for Pope
Urban VI., whom she resolutely confessed to be the true Pontiff, and strengthened her sons never
to hesitate to give their life for that truth. Then, with the greatest fervor, she besought all her
beloved children whom the Lord had given her, to love Him alone, repeating many of the words
which our Savior used, when He recommended the disciples to the Father, praying with such
affection, that, at hearing her, not only our hearts, but the very stones might have been broken.
Finally, making the sign of the cross, she blessed us all, and thus continued in prayer to the end
of her life for which she had so longed, saying: “You, oh Lord, call me, and I come to You, not
through my merits, but through Your mercy alone, which I ask of You, in virtue of Your Blood!”
and many times she called out: “Blood, Blood!” Finally, after the example of the Savior, she
said: “Father, into Your Hands I commend my soul and my spirit,” and thus sweetly, with a face
all shining and angelical, she bent her head, and gave up the ghost.
Her transit occurred on the Sunday at the hour of Sext, but we kept her unburied until the hour ofSer Barduccio di Piero Canigiani, the Dialogue
Compline on Tuesday, without any odor being perceptible, her body remaining so pure, intact,
and fragrant, that her arms, her neck and her legs remained as flexible as if she were still alive.
During those three days the body was visited by crowds of people, and lucky he thought himself
who was able to touch it. Almighty God also worked many miracles in that time, which in my
hurry I omit. Her tomb is visited devoutly by the faithful, like those of the other holy bodies
which are in Rome, and Almighty God is granting many graces in the name of His blessed
spouse, and I doubt not that there will be many more, and we are made great by hearing of them.
When we ask how did St. Catherine of Siena die, we have to consider both what is in the natural world, as well as the journey that took place in the spiritual world.
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.