Open hours of the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena
- March – October: 7:00 – 18.30
- November – February: 8:30 – 18:00
Mass times at the Basilica Cateriniana
- Weekday Mass: 7:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
- Sunday Mass: 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.- 6:00 p.m.
Confessions half hours before the Holy Mass
St. Catherine of Siena passed a large part of her life inside the walls of this stupendous Basilica, which was one of the first to be dedicated to St. Dominic. It was begun by the Dominicans in 1226 on the hill of Camporegio which they had received as a gift from the Malavolti family. Most of the actual rectangular nave and the inside roof with its transverse beams, all in Gothic Cistercian style, go back to this epoch.
The Church contains a magnificent Maestà by Guido da Siena (master to Duccio of Boninsegna) dating back to 1221. The old Chapter Room, the old Sacristy, the Refectory, and the Dormitory were all built with the original Church and the Cloister was frescoed by Lippo Memmi and Lippo Vanni. In the first half of the fourteenth century, the new Church (crypt and transept for the old Church) was built on the steep side of Camporegio hill overlooking the district of Fontebranda where St. Catherine had been born. When she began going to St. Dominic the new edifice was already almost finished. Her own father and other members of her family were buried in the Crypt.
Following the canonization of St. Catherine in 1461, her most precious manuscripts and her sacred relics were transferred to the Basilica (these twelve codices in 1700 were placed behind a painting above the altar in the Scaresty and formed the so-called “virginal library”: today they are in the public library). The most important relic, the Sacred Head, was brought from Rome to Siena by Blessed Raymond of Capua in 1383 and it was at first placed in a copper container and then in a silver one (now empty but still on display in the Basilica). In 1711 it was removed to an urn in the form of a lamp done by the sculptor Giovanni Piamontini where it remained until 1947 when the Dominican Fathers decided to place it in its actual urn of silver in a niche resembling a small gothic temple.
After nearly two centuries of construction, the Basilica Cateriniana was finally dedicated entirely to St. Catherine, and a statue of her was placed even at the top of the bell tower. The Basilica has known hard times: in 1798 it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake, but after it was completely restored. Then, unfortunately, it was very much neglected and allowed to decay until 1940 when a new restoration was finally begun which was concluded in 1962. During these years the Basilica underwent some radical changes. The foundations were strengthened and especially the Chapel of the Vaults, where the original portrait of St. Catherine by Andrea Vanni is located and where the Saint had so many mystical experiences, was restored.
Today the Basilica Cateriniana is exactly as the Dominican Fathers have always wanted it to be and it has become an important center of Christian spirituality where pilgrims are welcomed and where they can pray next to the sacred relics of St. Catherine.
The Holy Head of St Catherine of Siena
St. Catherine was born in Siena on March 25th, 1347, and died in Rome on April 29th, 1380 where she was subsequently buried. Knowing how much it would have pleased the people of Siena to have had at least the remains of their great fellow citizen among them, her former spiritual director, Blessed Raymond of Capua, on October 13th, 1383, secretly sent the head of the Saint to Siena. The occasion to thus content the Sienese arose when the same Blessed Raymond wished to honor Catherine’ s corpse by transferring it inside the Basilica of Holy Mary above Minerve from the cemetery of the Friars adjacent to the church where it had been originally placed in a simple tomb not very tightly scaled and exposed to the elements.
Dampness caused by rainwaters began to consume the body very quickly. It was, therefore, quite easy to dis-attach the head from the rest of the body without violence. There was no need to actually “decapitate” Catherine as some have mistakenly believed and written. By means of tests carried out at the base of the skull the lack of the first few cerebral vertebrae has been discovered: this discovery confirmed the above-mentioned dissolution of the softer nerves and tendons which had already begun to take place, thus facilitating the separation of the head from the trunk.
For more than six centuries Siena has jealousy kept watch over the sacred head of St. Catherine in the Basilica of St. Dominic.
- Photo by Gryffindor – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4395814
Mass times at the Basilica
- Weekday Mass: 7:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (in the crypt)
- Sunday Mass: 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.- 6:00 p.m. (in the crypt)
Confessions are always a half an hour before the Holy Mass.