Siena, the product also of its historical figures, is presented here through the places that symbolise its Christian faith. Developed on and thanks to the “spiritual” route of the Via Francigena, which for centuries made it a stage for pilgrims from all over Europe, Siena is examined here by highlighting its religious history, given its large number of patron saints and preachers, who have become symbols of Catholic Italy as well as the rest of the Christian world. Routes are suggested below based on key episodes in the lives of the saints, with reference in some cases to works of art that represent their presence, as well as the greatness of Sienese art. We should also bear in mind that in 2015, to mark Siena as Capital of Italian Culture and the Jubilee of 2016, a proposal was made for a pilgrimage on the route taken by the Confraternity of St. Catherine in 1600, signifying a present-day desire to participate in the city’s spiritual life as well as its history.
According to legend, at the age of six, Catherine had a vision of Christ while strolling along this steep, scenic road with her brother Stefano.
This episode, known to the inhabitants of Siena as the “Apparita” and commemorated by a fresco on the site, marked the beginning of the saint’s journey of faith. From this moment, Catherine developed a faith so profound that, despite continued opposition from her father, who wanted her to marry, she managed to enter the Dominican order of the Mantellate at the age of sixteen (1363).
This cross is sculpted on the marble stairway, designed by Giovanni Sabatelli in 1451 to recall the legend according to which Catherine was pushed by the devil and fell here.
This became known as the Basilica Cateriana and the saint’s head is preserved here, together with several paintings in her honour, including a contemporary portrait by Andrea Vanni and some beautiful frescos by Sodoma.
One of the places associated with the saint is Piazza di San Francesco, where Bernardino preached his sermons after joining the Franciscan Order in 1402.
Since 1450, the year of his canonisation, the oratory named after him has stood in the square. It now houses the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, with a collection of Sienese art from the 13th to the 17th century.
Here, in August 1427, Bernardino began his famous 45 sermons in the vernacular, an episode represented in the famous painting “The Preaching of San Bernardino”, painted by Sano di Pietro in 1430. There are two other panels by the artist in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo, depicting the “Preaching of Saint Bernardino in Piazza San Francesco” (1440), and the later painting “Saint Bernardino” (1470).
This road, which overlooks the valley behind the complex of Santa Maria della Scala, was named after the saint because here his persecutors made an unsuccessful attempt on his life.
This plaque commemorates the legendary miracle of Ansanus, who, in 303 AD emerged unscathed from boiling oil and pitch, which instead of burning him, apparently cooled and fell to the ground.
Despite his imprisonment, Ansanus continued to baptise from the window of the tower: his feast is celebrated on 1 December, the day of his martyrdom and the start of the district calendar year.
This statue, sculpted in the second half of the 15th century, shows the saint with the typical mitre of a bishop, an office he held in the early Christian era.
Before converting to Christianity, Victor was a Roman soldier, for which reason he is depicted with armour and a sword and became a symbol of civil liberty.
Exhibition made by Youth Committee of the Italian Commission for UNESCO - Tuscany. Text edited by Francesca Ruggiero; web version edited by Paolo Menchetti and Francesco Pacini