Via Cateriniana – Itinerary

The settlement of the Dominicans in the city was mainly due to the presence of the Studium, the current University, and to the fact that the Order, founded by the Spanish Dominic of Guzmán at the beginning of the 13th century, set itself the task of fighting heresies and pursuing the salvation of souls through teaching and preaching. Both the church and the convent were completed around 1265. The basilica, very large, had to respond to the need for a new evangelization and therefore had to be suitable to contain the many people who went to listen to the sermons of the friars, also called preachers. . St. Dominic and St. Francis himself had created an original way of religious life, suitable for the new commercial cities: their friars did not produce by themselves what they needed to live, like the monks, but depended on the generosity of the people among whom they lived. They were “beggars”. The convents rose on the outskirts of the cities, in the suburbs where the poorest were relegated; the size of their churches was designed precisely to welcome the great mass of the populace to the celebrations.

After wearing the tertiary habit, or cloak, Caterina continued to spend her life in her birthplace, in accordance with the new way of living the consecration to God first introduced by St. Francis and later welcomed also by St. Dominic: institution of the Third Order represented the answer to all those lay faithful, men and women, who, even without residing in a convent like the friars, wished to practice an intense Christian life. Membership of the Third Order offers, in other words, the possibility of living the faith in the world. The figure of Caterina is an emblematic example of this: spending her existence within the home and on the streets of the city instead of in a convent, her being a layman rather than a nun, did not prevent her from entering into profound communion with God and living according to his teachings.
The various rooms that make up the Sanctuary allow you to enter into Catherine’s intimacy starting with the oratory of the Chamber, the space most closely linked to the first phase of the saint’s life, where, little more than a child, she retired in isolation, dedicated to contemplation and penance. Here, at the age of only seven, she made a vow of perpetual virginity, at the same time renouncing all material pleasures: she began to deprive herself of food and sleep, to wear a sackcloth and undergo scourging.

The medieval fountain of Fontebranda, the oldest of those existing in Siena, allows us to enter the social context in which Caterina lived. The presence of the fountain had made this place one of the nerve centers of Sienese daily life, by virtue of the great importance that water had for the city. Siena, in fact, rises on arid hills, far from streams and mountain ranges; for this reason, since ancient times, the lack of water forced its inhabitants to make considerable efforts, still testified today by the extraordinary network of underground aqueducts patiently dug into the rock: these are the ‘bottini’, so defined because they are covered by a vault barrel, which went to feed sources, wells and cisterns. One of the two ‘bottini maestri’, or the most important aqueducts of this network, was that of Fontebranda. For this reason, the waters of this source were among the most abundant and quenched the thirst of half the city for centuries, including Caterina and her family; the source also guaranteed the subsistence of his father’s business, who drew the water needed to dye the clothes from here.