Catherine of Bologna vs. Catherine of Genoa

Finally! We've nearly made it to the end of the Round of 32. But not before we take care of today's saintly business, the highly anticipated Battle of the Deli Meats. Take a number and get ready to cast your vote between two 15th century saints, Catherine of Bologna and Catherine of Genoa. Anybody hungry for an Italian sub?

Yesterday, in the penultimate matchup of the first round, Ives of Kermartin routed Jacapone da Todi 77% to 23%. No word yet on whether Jacopone will appeal the decision.

Catherine of Bologna
If Advent is—as some have called it—a “little Lent,” you’ll want to remember this saint in your nativity scene later this year. After all, it was Catherine of Bologna who the Virgin Mary asked to hold baby Jesus, not the little drummer boy.

Born Catherine de’Vigri in 1413, in Bologna, Italy, Catherine joined her father in the court of Ferrara as a companion to the Marquis of Ferrara’s daughter, Margaret d’Este. There, Catherine was educated alongside Margaret, learning to read, write, and paint. Catherine also felt called to religious life.

At thirteen, she joined a semi-monastic community of women following an Augustinian rule in Ferrara—but that didn’t last long. The community split over whether to continue following the Augustinian rule or adopt a more austere Franciscan rule. In the end, Catherine and several others founded a convent of the Order of Poor Clares, following the first rule created by a woman, Saint Clare of Assisi. Like the order founded by her companion, Saint Francis of Assisi, the order named for Clare emphasized poverty. Later, Catherine was invited to become abbess of another new convent in Bologna.

As a nun, Catherine continued to paint, even illustrating her own breviary with portraits of the saints and about 1,000 prayer rubrics. She also wrote her most famous treatise, The Seven Spiritual Weapons Necessary for Spiritual Warfare. She wrote, “Whoever wants to go to God through sweetness and consolation is deceived.” She also detailed several visions, including seeing Mary place her infant “graciously and with great kindness” into Catherine’s arms.

During Lent 1463, Catherine became ill and died. People visiting her grave reported a sweet scent and miracles they attributed to her intercession. Her body was exhumed eighteen days later, discovered incorrupt, and placed in the chapel of the Poor Clares in Bologna. There, you still can find her, dressed in her habit and sitting on a golden throne.

Catherine was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 1712. Her feast day is March 9, and she is the patron saint of Bologna (the city, not the lunchmeat), artists, liberal arts, and against temptations.

Collect for Catherine of Bologna
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Catherine special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching, we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

—Emily McFarlan Miller


Catherine of Genoa
Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) came from a life of luxury, but her path veered from her noble upbringing and toward the heights of heaven itself.

Growing up in a family connected to two popes, Catherine heard the call of God early in her life. At the age of thirteen, she attempted to enter a convent and become a nun but was denied because of her age. Her life then followed a well-trod path for women of her time and station: she entered into a marriage of political convenience.

Catherine’s marriage was a train wreck, and her husband was a louse. Catherine was forced to endure his financial irresponsibility and infidelity, even as she remained childless. Continually hurt by her marriage, Catherine sought escape in pleasure and indulgence. Then at the age of twenty-six, after ten years of unhappy marriage, everything changed for Catherine. While in confession, Catherine experienced a mystical vision of God. Thereafter, Catherine continued to experience an inner relationship with God—directly communing with the divine without many of the formal institutional structures of religion and spirituality of the time. In addition, she took up the rare practice of receiving the sacrament of Holy Eucharist daily.

Catherine described her relationship with the divine in her Dialogues on the Soul and the Body, and her writings and visions influenced generations of mystics. She said, “On your part (God), you will grant your pure love, which will extinguish all other loves in me and will annihilate me and busy me so much with you that I will have no time or place for anything or anyone else.”

Meanwhile, Catherine’s husband declared bankruptcy. As he hit rock bottom, he discovered a new relationship with God. Together, Catherine and her husband began work with the poor and sick of Genoa. In 1478, at the beginning of a terrible four-year spike of the plague in Italy, Catherine and her husband moved into the hospital in Genoa. They not only cared for the sick, but also they lived among them. Catherine was so devoted to this work that she eventually was made manager and treasurer of the hospital.

Catherine’s deep spirituality and the physicality of her service to those in need stand as an example to all who seek to remain connected to the divine while living out our faith on this earth.

Collect for Catherine of Genoa
Gracious God, reveal to your church the depths of your love; that, like your servant Catherine of Genoa, we might give ourselves in loving service, knowing that we have been perfectly loved by you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

David Hansen


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Catherine of Bologna: Getty Center / Public domain
Catherine of Genoa: Giovanni Agostino Ratti / Public domain


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112 comments on “Catherine of Bologna vs. Catherine of Genoa”

  1. It’s a tie at 8:02. This Catherine calls it Kick me, Kate! Hoping for Catherine of Genoa for my bracket’s sake.

  2. When St. Catherine’s nobleman spouse
    Turned out to be kind of a louse
    First, she huddled in bed;
    Then, repenting, instead
    Did the healing of others espouse.

  3. This was a tough one. Both Catherines are deserving. In the end I went with Catherine of Genoa for the utterly trivial reason that the visual of a saint's corpse, dressed and enthroned, gave me the creeps.

  4. Go Catherine of Bologna. This one is too easy for me as an artist named Claire! Glad to have a break from my hand wringing over my choices.

  5. As an artist who is currently struggling to put my portfolio together to start a new art career, I am voting for the patron Saint of artists! Here's to hoping she'll bless my work and help me nail this interview!

    1. Keep working Gillian! May God bless and multiply your talents, creativity, and perseverance! You can do it!

    1. I voted for Catherine of Bologna too!!! thinking of her as an artist, a writer, and a mystic convinced me. And yes, the corpse thing is rather creepy... but in a cool way as well. Why don't we talk about incorruptible corpses any longer?!?

  6. What I am loving about this is that more often than not I choose the loser in the daily face off, but what is so marvelous is that I am learning about sSaints I didn't know and understand we are ALL right with our choices each day.

  7. Soul and Body...Body and Soul; a transformation of th world through the work of Incarnate Spirit. Catherine of Genoa exemplifies how God uses us where we are.

  8. Tough choice for sure today, especially as I share a name with both saints. In the end I chose Catherine of Bologna because of her identifying "spiritual weapons" to guide us in struggles with spirituality. I'll look up that treatise to learn more.

  9. Another contest where it's hard to vote against the one who goes "all in" to care for the sick and dying. In this of all years, I have to go with Genoa.

  10. Genoa. did anyone else find it mildly creepy about a dead person dressed and sitting on a throne? saint or not...

  11. For me, this was the hardest contest of the whole Round of 32. I will be happy with whichever Catherine goes on to the next round.

  12. I go for Catherine of Bologna because of her connection with the Poor Clares. This order continues its good works to this day and has its roots in the Franciscan ideals.
    Imagine what these 2 Catherine’s might have done Together! The husband louse might have been overwhelmed sooner for one thing and this threesome could have achieved awesome good works.

  13. Catherine of Bologna all the way - liberal arts majors are being slashed in colleges and universities across the US and could surely use Catherine's intersession!

  14. Voting for Catherine of Genoa during the week of International Women’s Day. Both she and her husband (following her example) worked tirelessly to heal during a plague but they ended up making HER the manager and treasurer of the hospital! How wonderful to have her talents and hard work valued!

  15. Finally! We have a woman who was married, stayed married, had a deep relationship with God, and devoted her life to doing good works. Genoa gets my vote.

  16. I had to vote for the beautiful collect for Catherine of Bologna—it borrows from the same wording as Tallis' GORGEOUS anthem "O Lord give thy Holy Spirit". Worth listening to this Lent or, for that matter, Pentecost.

    1. In Bologna's case, it's the literal arts. You can actually search for images of her corpse online, where she, like Jeremy Bentham, has joined the canon of the undead.

  17. I cannot bring myself to vote for the mummy, even if the mummy of baby Jesus let her hold him. I much prefer Catherine of Genoa's interior relationship with the divine, and I'm intrigued by the fact that when her husband did hit rock bottom he joined her in service and didn't just abandon her for alcohol. I hope his sticking around was real penitence and, possibly, affection. Plus, bonus points: plague! As we too try to give faithful service during plague, perhaps Catherine of Genoa will intercede for us.

  18. Unique among the revered saints one who stayed married and worked as a team with her spouse. 21st Century Christians need that example and inspiration. My spouse is gone, but continuing to keep a family working for Christ together is a goal for me.

  19. She (Catherine of Genoa) said, “On your part (God), you will grant your pure love, which will extinguish all other loves in me and will annihilate me and busy me so much with you that I will have no time or place for anything or anyone else.”, “On your part (God), you will grant your pure love, which will extinguish all other loves in me and will annihilate me and busy me so much with you that I will have no time or place for anything or anyone else.”
    Good grant that I be so annihilated.

    1. Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
      As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend.
      You and John Donne.

  20. Both Catherine's are deserving. Others' comments are inspiring. I closed my eyes, and to my surprise, I tapped on a Catherine of God's calling.

  21. I was real happy to see a worthwhile husband join the contest, about time! So Genoa has my vote.

  22. Genoa it is, for the sticking with the world, though it handed her lemons, and for working in a hospital during plague—how fitting for this time! Plus, our preference is for Lebanon bologna! (Must look up her writing, though, help battling sins is always needed.)
    Aside: Lent Madness has managed to turn my iPad keyboard purple! Some clever HTML or php, there!

  23. I just can't go with anyone who calls it "spiritual warfare." To me that's oxymoronic and completely missing the point. If you have to war with either yourself or others in order to reach the divine, you're just not doing it right. Catherine of Genoa for me! Besides, I appreciate that she was able to stick by her husband, even when he didn't deserve it, only to come out the other side with a partner in healing the sick.

    1. Hi Anita. The idea of spiritual warfare has its roots in scripture. Consider Ephesians 6: 10-20.

      1. Oh, I understand that it's all over the scriptures. I simply think calling anything "spiritual warfare" and referring to "weapons" when talking about spirituality is wrong. I rarely, if ever, vote for saints who believed they had to purge themselves of all of their humanity. Like I's missing the point. Just my opinion.

        1. I have a lot of women friends who call themselves "Prayer Warriors" so that makes me lean toward C of Bologna. It works better for me than "self annihilation" as C of Genoa prays above.

          C of Bologna should've had me at the violin and the liberal arts-- but I have to give credit to C of Genoa for working in the hospital and getting her husband to do the same.

  24. A hard choice to make, but in the end I decided for Bolonese over Genovese. I may have been swayed by "la cucina"...