The Shrine of the House of Saint Catherine

Confessional Chapel

Inaugurated in April 2006, this chapel is conceived as a space for celebrating the sacrament of Repentance, therefore silence and recollection prevail here. The plan by the Sienese architects Betti, Fineschi, and Lamoretti is based on the idea of the centrality of a luminous oculus of clear glass that sheds light on the room from above, just as the Grace of God is light that flows from His mercy granted in the sacrament.

To the right of the entrance is a holy water font by the artist Alberto Inglesi, rich in Christian symbolism: the ship represents the Church and the water in the font is a remembrance of baptism. The ship/Church moves on the waves of history; inside it, the living water of baptism and the Grace of Christ is offered.

The main wall of the room holds a fresco by the Sienese artist Ezio Pollai. In the center is the scene of Christ’s crucifixion, according to the symbolic reading of it given by the Gospel of Saint John: the inscription on the cross (in three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin) attests that Christ died for all, addressing his message of love to all peoples and all cultures; Jesus’ bent head expresses his free will to adhere to the offering of love; the pose of the body joined to the cross does not symbolize the drama of the event so much as the regal enthronement of Christ. The cross, in John’s Gospel, is not a scaffold but a throne from which Christ reigns: “And when I am lifted up from the earth I shall draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Mankind’s lack of comprehension of the death of the Son of God and refusal of His message of love is stressed by the artist by having the other two men crucified beside the Lord turn their backs in a sign of opposition. Diametrically opposed to this gesture of refusal is the adoring pose of Saint Catherine, who makes the mystery of crucified Love her own by embracing the wood of the cross. Lower down, Saint Francis lifts his eyes towards the Lord, in a mystic vision. On the left side of the cross is the Virgin Mary, torn by grief, with the beloved disciple John holding her head. To the right of the cross of Jesus is the scene of the soldiers gambling for Christ’s clothes: the angry attitude with which the clothes are fought over shows the complete insensitivity to the mystery of the Son of God’s gift of his life. At the base of the cross of the man on the right, the human experience of suffering is described by means of a female figure covering her face; slightly higher up is the image of famine, symbolized by the emaciated body of a child carried on the shoulders of a woman with African features.

To the left of the Crucifixion are shown two Gospel episodes which are among the most important for understanding God’s infinite love. The first presents the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-37) who, getting off his horse, tends to a man beaten and robbed by the roadside, while a short distance away the priest and Levite are so wrapped up in religious and theological matters that they pay no attention to the needs of the poor victim, thus failing to put into concrete action the contents of the faith they are discussing. The other episode is the one of the adulteress pardoned by the Lord (John 8:1-11), demonstrating God’s great mercy.

Beside the cross on the right are two antithetical scenes: the first is the one of the hired man who does not take care of the flock entrusted to him, but runs away at the sight of the wolf (see John 10:12ff). The hired man represents the man who has not absorbed the message of love of the cross: the need for a gratuitous love towards others, a love that gives one’s life and does not use other people. The other scene, in antithesis with the first, is the parable of the “Prodigal Son” or of the “Merciful Father” (see Luke 15:11-32), which tells the story of a young man who leaves his father’s home and then, falling into a state of neediness, decides to go back; he is welcomed lovingly and thoughtfully by his father, who expresses all the joyous mercy of God towards the children who return to Him even though aware of the error of their ways. Note how, with poetic sensitivity. The artist has depicted the merciful father with the facial features of Blessed John Paul II, affirming also in this way the identity of the true shepherd as opposed to the hired man.

The right corner of this grand fresco is devoted to the appearance of the Risen Christ to the apostles on Easter evening. The scene aims at communicating the effect produced by the crucifixion: the gift of life and the remission of sins which the Risen Christ dispenses freely. The cross is not Jesus’ last word, but is like the grain of wheat that has to die in order to bear fruit (John 12:24).