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. I have to say the Catherine of Genoa is more deserving, with all that hospital work and assorted charities, but I have dreams of going to Emilia Romagna, and should I ever get there, I am going to see Catherine of Bologna in person!

  2. I fancy myself an artist and vote for Catherine of Bologna. My Google search finds 8 other saint named Catherine including a Mohawk, an American and a doctor.

  3. Please don't hold it against Catherine of Bologna that folks chose to display her body after her death. The number of saints whose parts are on display somewhere or other is probably greater than the number of them undisplayed. For saints of this time period it is a common thing and has nothing to do with the saint's choice (and might not be the actual saint's remains anyway).

  4. As a liberal arts graduate, I’ve had to work hard to convince folks that a well-rounded education isn’t just a lot of baloney. Hurrah for Catherine of Bologna!

  5. Thanks to St. Celia for her punny comment at "9:06 am" above.

    I wonder where I can find English translations of both The Seven Spiritual Weapons Necessary for Spiritual Warfare and Dialogues on the Soul and the Body. Anyone know?

    Whilst Catherine of Bologna hasn't missed a liturgy in 558 years, I'm quite impressed that Catherine of Genoa was a daily communicant.

    I was quite impressed with Bologna until the part about them digging her up and placing her upon a golden throne. I suspect she would have preferred a seat more befitting a nun of the Poor Claire's or better yet to be left to rest in peace, socially distancing below ground.

    I once knew a miniature Dachshund named Oscar Mayer, so I was strongly tempted to vote for his middle name, but I think a Golden Halo on top of someone who already has a golden throne would be a little too ostentatious for a num, especially of her order, so my vote goes to Genoa. Maybe someday her city will be known more as the home of one of the Saints Catherine than as the birthplace of the founder of the North Atlantic slave trade.

    1. Check above comments. One of the pilgrims on this journey gave a great link that should satisfy some of your "hunger" for more.

      1. Thanks. I found it. It was posted after my post above. Still looking for information on Dialogues on the Soul and the Body though.

  6. I was drawn to Catherine of Bologna for her writing and illustrating, but I decided to vote for Catherine of Genoa because it's very tough to resurrect a marriage when trust has been lost and negative patterns have become habitual. It's hard to put your heart back into the relationship and have hope of change. It was pretty cool that she and her husband ministered together and found their way back to their marriage through this ministry. Catherine also broke bad habits of escapism through self-indulgence (like many other saints, I do realize). I think she's a good example in Lent.

    By the way, there is a photo of Catherine of Bologna's mummy on her throne at her Wikipedia entry, and it is definitely creepy!

  7. I am struck by the double story here of Catherine of Genoa and her husband... who found through and with each other a new life in God. Part of what is so attractive is that, rather a than story of going off to a convent, it is a story of staying .. ... and redemption.

    1. Thank you, Len, for the perspective of staying rather than leaving. Catherine of Genoa it is.

  8. Catherine is my middle name after my mother's twin sister. Five family members have been named after my aunt. She was such a wonderful lady, adored by her grandchildren and her friends. She once told me she felt better when I was in town, even if she didn't see me. She was the person in my life who loved me unconditionally. I don't care which Catherine wins today. My Catherine will always be my guardian angel. Thanks for the sweet memories of my wonderful aunt.

  9. Is the treatise, The Seven Spiritual Weapons Necessary for Spiritual Warfare in print? She wrote, “Whoever wants to go to God through sweetness and consolation is deceived.” Think about that for a minute. Catherine of Bologna must be a strong woman, not another battered wife.

  10. When in Massachusetts, visit St. Catherine of Genoa Church in Somerville. It is noted for its beauty.

  11. I grow weary of the Saints who think they have to lock themselves up in monasteries or convents or worse in order to live a Christian life. Much prefer those who live out their Christianity in the world, caring for the sick and dispossessed. Isn’t that what Jesus did? Catherine of Genoa it is!

  12. For all you sailors out there... To fly a Genoa is a team sport...
    As with my second husband, or in Catherine’s case, renewed husband they finally found their spirit filled pace in the world among the people.

  13. Since I attend St. Clare's, I had to vote for the Poor Clare. However, to be honest, otherwise I probably wouldn't have gone for Catherine of Genoa.

  14. Both worthy, and a wonderful pairing by the SEC. I'm in for Catherine of Bologna because she was a Poor Clare. In our Parish dedicated to Francis, we have pictures of both Francis and Clare on either side of the altar.

  15. Bologna - all about the preserved meat. Ew on so many levels.
    But I voted for who she was in life, not death. Love her toughminded assessment of the God journey.
    (Excellent write-up, Emily!)

  16. Lunch meats? I thought this was the battle of the Catherines. I expect to win.

  17. Genoa's biography just reached off the page to me, and I didn't second guess myself today.

  18. David Hansen persuaded me to vote for Catherine if Genoa when he wrote. "she continued experiencing an inner relationship with God." also "her deep spirituality and the physicality of her service to those in need are an example to all who seek to be connected to the divine while living out our faith on this earth." Shouldn't this be our heart's desire?

  19. Bologna it is, for me today! I love a good mystic, and one who can return to a formerly terrible husband and work tirelessly with him among the mortally ill is that much more deserving - IMHO!

      1. Hi Len! Yup, this couple's story definitely got my vote. Marriages that work despite multiple reasons to disintegrate. Loved it. I was sure she'd ditch him and found a nunnery (or monastery) as seems to occur too frequently in the lives of saints we've come across over the years. Love to you and Lindsey.

  20. Catherine of Bologna, artiste,
    was talented, to say the least.
    She founded a convent,
    to which many nuns went,
    and sits on a throne, though deceased.

  21. Catherine of Genoa for her fidelity to her marriage vows and her God, for her work among the sick and the poor, and for her example which led to the redemption of her husband. (And I agree with all those who get the shivers thinking of Catherine of Bologna sitting on that throne for 500 and some years. How tacky is that?)

  22. As an alumna of a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts (Williams College, founded in 1793), I had to vote for the patron saint of the liberal arts, Catherine of Bologna - although, like many of you, the notion that she resides corpus in situ elicited an initial dry heave.

    Voting. It's not for the faint of heart (or of stomach!).

    1. Three cheers for Williams. Our daughter graduated in 1988. We were so happy she chose Williams, partly because it meant trips to Williamstown for us, and visits to the Clark Museum of Art.

  23. Painting in Sister Catherine's life was key
    as was the memory of holding baby Jesus on her knee,
    but though she taught her fellow nuns the arts
    and both pastels and tempera were dear to all their hearts,
    they displayed her corpse after death, to which I say baloney!

  24. Catherine of Genoa seems to have the combined spirituality of Mary AND Martha - Direct mystical union with God AND extreme service to the poor and sick. I have absolutely no artistic gifts, but nonetheless my vote goes to Catherine of Bologna, because (A) I spent the summer of 1978 studying Italian in Bologna and loved it, and (B) she is way behind in the voting at this point in the day (1:20PM EST) and I like to see the voting come out closer to even. (Yes, I know, trivial-seeming reasons, but after all, both are saints so really both should attract our love, even if we can vote for only one under SEC rules.

  25. My primary criterion is continuing impact. The lasting contribution of the Poor Clares causes me to vote for Catherine of Bologna. She had no control over her final resting place.

  26. After reading and thinking about both saints, I realized Catherine of Genoa did not actually plant/belong to a religious order, although her piety is not to be denied. And once her husband realized they were better off if she was in charge of the money, they risked their lives caring for those struck by the pandemic. That really hit home in today's world.