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 an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

Please email comments to and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads