The worship of Saint Catherine (as a mystic woman and a prophet), spread by her disciples and certified by iconography, sided the care for her writings and, therefore, for her language, thought and spirituality. The wide manuscript tradition, which reached the monastic, ecclesiastical environments, as well as those of lay spirituality, was replaced by the wider printed diffusion, especially thanks to the edition of Saint Catherine’s letters published by Aldo Maurizio (1500), followed by Girolamo Gigli’s (1707-1721).
In the Italian Risorgimento and Post-Risorgimento, Catherine’s involvement in the civil history contemporary to her induced people to interpret her appeals to peace and reconciliation in a nationalistic key. Her aspiration to the “passage” among the non-Christian people in the Holy Land were sometimes interpreted as Romano-centric and apologetic.
Literary criticism (De Sanctis, Croce, Sapegno), somehow, opposed itself to these trends to rhetorical emphasis of the Catherinian writings, which underestimated their poetic value. The figure of Catherine as a Patroness of Rome (1866) and Italy (1939) accompanied the national history through the complex relationships between the Church and State. The story of Catherine was read in an apologetic way (Alfonso Capecelatro, 1856) or in a liberal catholic one (Niccolò Tommaseo, 1860), until even it was interpreted in a nationalistic way during fascism.
The figure of the Sienese woman, however, called the attention of two British scholars: Augusta Theodosia Drane, the author of a remarkable biography (1880; Italian translation 1911) based on documentary sources which presents the figure of Catherine along with her disciples in the environment of her spiritual family. Edmund Gardner presents Catherine in the religious as well as literary and historical environment of the fourteenth-century Italy; during his research he discovers eight unpublished letters, which raised up to 381, the number of the known ones at the time.
As people gained greater knowledge of Catherine, her daring interferences in politics, her outspoken ways to admonish the greatest authorities, the depth of her thought, which appear through the dictations, which were very personal, seemed incompatible with the social status of her family, her young age and lack of education. Thus there was the need to make research-work for evaluation of the figure of Catherine, her life and work.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century Robert Fawtier dedicated himself to this task, but he came to altogether negative conclusions. He denied Catherine the authorship of her writings and cast doubt over the sincerity of her biographical sources, as marred by the desire to achieve her canonization.
Fawtier’ s criticism soon provoked a reaction: Eugenio Duprè Theseider, a scholar taking into account the various elements of historical research, in 1927 put forward the realization of a Catherinian iconographic “repertoire” and in 1936 the University of Siena instituted a Catherinian chair dedicated to the critical study and the publication of the biographical sources. The activities carried out by the chair were interrupted in 1942 because of Second World War.
The soberest and most precise reference to the sources allowed Giovanni Getto to legitimize the role played by Catherine in the Italian literary history (1939) and Vittore Branca and Giorgio Petrocchi joined him. In the meantime in 1940 the “Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo” published the first volume of her letters in the critical edition edited by Eugenio Duprè Theseider in the field of his studies on the vicissitudes of Papacy in the fourteenth century.
The chronological succession of the Letters, proposed by Tommaseo (1860), was used in various twentieth-century editions. Among them the one edited by Piero Misciatelli presents an interesting novelty as in the appendix published a few letters written by some of the Catherine’s disciples.
The text of the 383 letters, critically revised on the basis of the main manuscripts, was published by Antonio Volpato in 2002 in an electronic format equipped with a search engine. At present Volpato’s edition, with critical apparatus and annotations, is being progressively published on our website.
A new critical edition is being prepared by the “Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo”.
As for the Dialogue, the new editions, at the beginning of the twentieth-century, were based on the most ancient and reliable codices. Matilde Fiorilli (1912) reproduced the text of the Sienese I,II,9 and Innocenzo Taurisano presented the Casanatense 292 (1928; 1947). This codex was published by Giuliana Cavallini (1968; 19952) with a critical edition which restored the original plan of the work, changed by a sixteenth-century printer. His subdivision into four treatises, altogether arbitrary, had been reproduced in the following editions.
In the same collection the “Testi Cateriniani” Giuliana Cavallini published Catherine’s Prayers (1978) for the first time in a critical edition and in collaboration with Imelda Foralosso, the editio princeps (1974) of the integral text of the Libellus de Supplemento by Tommaso of Siena, known as “the Caffarini”, which records some interesting biographical details not included in the Legenda Maior.
In establishing Catherinian texts on philological basis, the way to study the language and environment of St. Catherine is starting to be opened, now with a great care for the mystic writing. However, the renewed availability of the Catherine’s texts, indispensable for their utilization as historic and hagiographic sources, gave a new vitality to the study of Catherine’s spiritual doctrine; besides, from the strictly theological point of view, her writings (especially the Dialogue) before and after the Second Vatican Council, have aroused interest in scholars like Charles Journet, Jacques Maritain, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Giambattista Montini and in 1970 culminated with the proclamation of St. Catherine Doctor of the Church along with St. Theresa of Avila.
From the end of 1970s, thanks to an initiative of the CISC, a worldwide iconographic research work started, directed to the publication of the Iconografia di S. Caterina da Siena. In 1988 the first volume, dedicated to the “Image”, was published by Lidia Bianchi along with Diega Giunta, who is now preparing the second volume (dedicated to “Scene from her life”).
In 1980, on the occasion of the sixth centenary of Catherine’s death, when the Dominican Order promoted an International Congress of Catherianian Studies (Siena - Rome 24-29th April 1980), the National Centre of Catherinian Studies collaborated to its organization and gave its scientific contribution through the presentation of some essays written by some of its members.
At the same time in Siena the International Catherinian-Bernardinian Symposium celebrated the coincidence of Bernardino’s birth date with the Catherine’s death one.
Since then there has been a remarkable rise in the interest in the Sienese woman’s figure and work, as it may be noted from the numerous translations of her writings and those of Legenda maior, which is now critically edited by Silvia Nocentini (Florence 2013). In particular, of the Letters which Suzanne Noffke she translated into English (2000-2008), a chronological order was founded on innovative linguistic criteria.
From the Analytical Bibliography on St. Catherine of Siena, published by CISC since 1971s – especially through the New Series (I vol. 2001-2010), which can be consulted on line – we can gather that the Caterinian Studies have spread considerably, also from a geographic point-of-view.