The Rest of Her, cont.

The latest Commonweal includes a review by yours truly of Don Brophy's biography Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life ("The Rest of Her"), which subscribers can read now or save for Catherine's feast day on April 29. It begins:

The head of St. Catherine of Siena, who died in 1380, is on display in a reliquary in Sienas church of San Domenico. The relic is slightly ghoulish, though in remarkably good shape for being more than six hundred years old. A thumb of Catherines is also exposed for veneration in a case nearby. The rest of her body lies in Rome, in a tomb in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, near the house where Catherine died.

A reader sent an email yesterday to let me know I'd overlooked a piece: "I think Catherine's forefinger is in the Venice Cathedral -- or at least it was there many years ago!"

Brophy doesn't mention any relics in Venice (as far as I recall), but I know bits of saints have a way of ending up in unexpected places -- and I recall seeing more than two "index finger of John the Baptist" reliquaries on my last trip to Italy. So I turned to Google to check this out. While I couldn't find anything about a finger at the cathedral, I did learn that Venice's Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo -- aka "San Zanipolo" -- has, or claims to have, the left foot of St. Catherine in a reliquary. I even found a photo (happily indistinct).

If you've never had the pleasure of visiting Siena -- and I do recommend it; the connection to Catherine is but one of its charms -- here is a photo of Catherine's head, so you can judge for yourself whether "ghoulish" is the right word. (Here is her thumb.) I was excited to see the relics on my visits -- and disinclined to photograph them myself -- but I must say I found it easier to pray at the tomb in Rome, with its tasteful statue of Catherine's (entire) body in repose.

Now I know I have to get to Venice on my next Italian pilgrimage! Have you encountered any memorable relics in your travels?

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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