This portico was created after Catherine was proclaimed Patron Saint of Italy on 19 June 1939, when it was decided to enlarge the entrance to the shrine by tearing down the church of Sant’Antonio in order to facilitate the passage of pilgrims and tourists who came to visit the sites of the Saint’s presence.
Every Municipality (Comune in Italian) in Italy contributed the cost of one brick for its construction, hence the name, which means the “Portico of the Municipalities.” Work began in 1941 but was interrupted by the events of World War II; it was finished in 1947.
The only ancient element left in this area is the very fine travertine well, on the right, datable between the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century.
Under the portico are the busts of the Popes whose papacy was connected with Saint Catherine: Pius II, the Sienese Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who presided over her canonization on 29 June 1461; Pius IX, who proclaimed her Co-Patron Saint of Rome for having brought the seat of the papacy back to Rome from Avignon; Pius XII, who made her a Patron Saint of Italy on 19 June 1939; John XXIII, who in 1961, on the five-hundredth anniversary of her canonization, urged all Christians to celebrate her; Paul VI, who proclaimed her a Doctor of the Universal Church in 1970, “considering the distinguished holiness of her life, her outstanding doctrine, and her beneficial effect on the life of the Church”; and finally John Paul II, who named her Patron Saint of Europe in 1999, because of her extraordinary efforts to bring peace to Europe in her time through her many exhortations to kings and rulers to build a society inspired by Christian values.
During the annual festivities in honor of Saint Catherine, a ceremony is held in the portico during which an Italian Municipality or association donates the oil to keep the flame burning in a votive lamp placed inside the Church of the Crucifix by the mothers of soldiers who died in World War II. All the terracotta and porcelain jars donated over the years to hold the oil for the lamp are on display in a niche located along the right side of the church and in the little bookshop to the left of the entrance atrium.