The Shrine of the House of Saint Catherine

Oratory of the Bedroom

Going down the stairs on the left side of the entrance atrium, we come to the Oratory of the Bedroom, which encompasses the small cubicle where Catherine used to pray and to rest; inside it, protected by an iron grille, is the stone where she would lay her head.

This is the space most intimately tied with the first phase of the Saint’s life, where, little more than a child, she would withdraw in isolation, devoted to contemplation and penance. Here, at the young age of seven, she retreated into herself in order to learn to know Christ and then opened up to spread the grace of God throughout the entire mystic body of Christ which is the Church. Thus, from the beginning Catherine’s body, subjected to harsh deprivation, drew in and became smaller. Even the space where she moved about is marked by a progressive shrinkage: she closed herself up in her house, then did not come out of her room, and finally walled herself inside a spiritual cell constructed in the inner reaches of her soul, where she engaged in constant dialogue with Jesus. At this point Catherine has nothing, is nothing, but precisely because of this she can be completely reshaped by divine grace. Her new body does not function according to the laws of biology, but according to the directives of the Absolute: it feeds on the food of the Eucharist and the blood that pours from Christ’s side, and identifies fully with Him to the point of taking on His wounds, the stigmata. It receives extraordinary abilities: levitation, invulnerability to fire, the gift of working miracles. Her soul goes beyond the boundaries of her body, and comes out of it in ecstasy, then goes back in so she can go out into the streets of the world. Catherine leaves her cell, then her house, and then Siena, to bring to all the love of Christ that she has come to know in intimacy.

The oratory is a small room which was completely remodeled in 1874 according to plans drawn up by the architect Pietro Marchetti, leaving only the little cubicle the way it was. The back wall holds a small altar above which is the oldest art work in the oratory: the beautiful panel paining of Saint Catherine Receiving the Stigmata, made by Girolamo di Benvenuto at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

The walls were frescoed by Alessandro Franchi, with the collaboration of Gaetano Marinelli, in 1896. The cycle, inspired by the Legenda major by Raymond of Capua, begins at the far end of the right-hand wall.