18 SEPTEMBER 1880, Page 24

ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA.* HEINE was wont to say, in

his own satirical manner, when he heard of any great historical movement, that he should like to know something of the woman who lay concealed behind, touching the hidden springs of action. The curiosity was not unnatural. When we read of such a life as that of St. Cathe- rine of Siena, we can realise something of what a woman may do to initiate, to incite, to mould history, to soften the conflict between contending parties, as well as to sow discord and envy and all uncharitableness, which has only too often been her share, from Helen of Troy downwards. We just know enough of St. Catherine to whet the desire to know more; for in spite of the nimbus of tradition and legend with which Catholic credulity has surrounded her, we wish to come near to her in her character, her motives, the common, patient work of her daily life. Amid the last pipings of troubadours, the clash of mail-clad knights in tourney, which fill the last records of the middle-age with the clatter and noise which distinctly intimate a period passing to its close, how sweet to behold such a figure as this,—promise and prophecy of the modern days ! For in spite of her habit, the Churchly guise in which she presents herself tons, she is distinctly the " modern woman." She really ends the medieval and begins the modern age, in view of woman's public work and her right to public work as such. Happily, in this serene saint of the middle-age we have, too, a specimen of what the public-minded should be in respect of reserve, reticence, patience, and "sweet reasonableness," in most things. She respects autho- rity,—but the first authority is in her own heart ; and, having once set herself to do a bit of work, she must do it in her own way, but without noise, flurry, or pretension. And then, saintly as she is, she is first the woman, and then the saint. Her power of managing, and of attracting others to her in faithful service ; her playful and pleasant ways, so insinuating that she was ordinarily styled by her helpers "Nostra dolcissima mamma," indicates the modern woman. It is only by her still lingering superstition, and deference to it, that she remains united to the medimval world. But no man or woman can wholly rise out of and above one's own time, as M. Taine says ; and Catherine departs from it as far as any, wherein lies her pre- eminence and great interest for us in the nineteenth century. How pleasant it is to know that, notwithstanding her early dreams and visions, and solitary wanderings so far abroad that she was often lost, she had, as a young girl, all the fervour, the warm affection, and the active spirit which should have ma0e her so fit for the ordinary fate of women in these days.. The contemplative and the practical were in her happily united. Probably it was this which so deeply dis- appointed the good dyer at the Fullonica (or dye-works) of Siena and his shrewd wife, when first Catherine began to show symptoms of going on a way of her own of which they knew not. And certainly she did go her own way ; obedient first only to the highest rule,—the voice of duty in her own soul, as she was able to understand and interpret it. We read in this new biography of her, from a Catholic hand :—

"The position occupied by St. Catherine was altogether an excep- tional one. She was never the member of a religious community, yet neither was she a secular, nor a recluse. She appears before us surrounded by a group of disciples bound to her by no other ties than those of personal affection, and numbering among them men and women of every variety of age, station, and character. Blessed Ray- mund himself and her other confessors ; her three secretaries, Neri, Stephen, and Barduccio; Master Matthew, whom she cured of the plague ; and the English hermit, William Flete; her sister-in-law, Lisa ; and Alexia, her chosen friend,—with all these we make acquaintance in a passing way in the pages of the Legend ; and the wish must have occurred to many readers that we could know them better, and interro- gate them concerning their intercourse with her to whose daily life it was their privilege to be thus associated. To respond in some measure to this wish, the writer has endeavoured to include in the history of St. Catherine such notices of her companions as can be gathered from authentic letters and records still preserved; and at the same time, gather up in their own words the testimony which they have borne to the 'sanctity of which they were so long the eye- witnesses."

• 77e History of St. Cath,rine of Siena, and her Companions. By Augusta T. Drane. London Burns and Oates. St. Catherine was from first to last the framer of her own rule. We may remember, with some satisfaction, that when she desired to enter a certain sisterhood, the mother-superior would. consent only to receive her if she were " not handsome,"—pro- bably having in her eye the. envy of the Sisters, BS well as other possibilities of annoyance ; but it casts a somewhat grotesque light athwart the whole condition of conventual life then, the track of St. Catherine showing through it like a beam of sun- light through the gloom of contorted trees.

Assuredly the portraits of St. Catherine do not give the idea of any extreme plainness or disfavour of countenance, but sick- ness was on her side ; the matrons of the convent, at the urgent importunities of Lapa, her mother, who had yielded to her daughter's request, seeing that her peace of mind else would suffer, not having consented to come to see her, and judge whether she was fair or not, until she lay wasted with sickness :—

"On coming to the house, they found Catherine lying on her bed, so altered by sickness that they were satisfied, at any rate, her beauty was not excessive. By her words, however, they judged that she had a most fervent desire to serve God, and were greatly astonished at the wisdom which appeared in one of such tender years. And so, taking their leave, they went home to the rest of their company, and declared to them what they had heard and seen. Upon this report the Sisters bommunicated the matter to the Brethren of the Order, and that done, resolved, with full consent, to receive her to the habit, sending word to Laps, that so soon as• her daughter was recovered, she should bring her to them without longer delay."

St. Catherine thus made her own pathway, deriving little or no aid from the conventional means, and she stands the purifier of the system, the anticipator, as we have said, of the later era when it would be held right for women, in philan- thropic work, to act independently. While, in essential respects, she was fully in sympathy with Catholicism, her life was one constant and active protest against the vices and the abuses which have crept into it. She was a reformer from within; and at a time when Italy, through the contests of the cities with the Popedom and with each other, threatened to pass into a con- dition of helpless exhaustion, she administered new life, in showing the points where true union was possible, and where the highest interests of all alike lay. Not that St. Catherine was not true to the Church ; only her saintliness was such that nothing could be denied to her. First, she so impressed herself upon the hearts of her own people, by her unceasing labours and sweet charity, that she may be said to have regenerated Siena, and given it a new lease of life. Setting aside the miracu- kus accompaniments which are once more in this volume in- separably involved in the record, we have abundant material to show how she won her influence, and how it was yielded to her because it had been thus indefatigably won. Here is one instance :—

"There was in Siena a poor woman, named Cecca, who, falling. sick, and being entirely destitute, was received into one of the city hos- pitals, which, being very poor, was barely able to supply her with necessaries. At last, her malady increasing, she became covered with leprosy ; and no one in the hospital choosing to have the care of' such a case, it was agreed to send her to the leper-house, which in Siena was outside the Porta Romans, on the spot now called St.. Lazzaro, about a mile out of the city. But before she was removed thither, Catherine, hearing of the matter, went to the hospital, and first visiting the poor sufferer and reverently kissing her, she offered to serve her daily with her own hands, and to supply her with all she might need, if they would allow her to remain where she was. Her offer was accepted, and from that day she came to visit the poor woman morning and evening, dress- ing her wounds and doing all that was requisite for her, 'with as much care and reverence as if she had been her own mother.. At first, Cecca took her charitable services in very good part, but as time went on, and she grew accustomed to see the Holy Virgin bestowing on her a care and attention such as no hired servant would have rendered, there arose in her a sentiment of pride ; so that, far from rendering any thanks to her benefactress, she took all that she did as a matter of duty, and as no more than she had a right to expect. If anything was done otherwise than pleased her, she would reproach and revile her with such unseemly words as might be addressed to a bond-slave. If Catherine came to the hospital a little later than usual, having been detained by her devotions in church, Cecca would greet her in mocking and bitter terms. "Good morn- ing, my lady-queen of Fontebranda!" she would say ; "where has my lady been so long ? At the Church of the Friars, I'll be bound. It seems that my lady-queen can never have enough of those Friars !" Then Catherine, without replying, would go about her work ; and when she saw her time, would speak to her in her accustomed lowly and gentle manner, saying, "Good mother, have patience ; I am a little late, it is true, but all your wants shall be seen to presently." Then lighting the fire and putting on water, she would prepare the food, and serve it with such sweet words, that Cecca herself could only wonder at her forbearance. This went on for some time, to the admiration of all who knew it, with one notable exception. Laps was much aggrieved, both at the service her daughter had undertaken and the ungrateful return she met with and she remonstrated in no gentle terms, saying, "Daughter, if this goes on, you will in your turn become a leper, a thing I will never put up with ; wherefore, I charge you, give over this business."— " Have no fear about that, dear mother," she replied ; "what I do for this poor woman, I do for God, and he will not let me suffer for it.' At length, however, as though to test her to the uttermost, He permitted that the leprosy should indeed attack the hands with 'which she daily dressed the infectious sores of her patient ; and those who before had praised her charity, now blamed her imprud- ence. More than this, they avoided her company, as one con- taminated, and spoke of her with disgust and contempt. All this in no way moved or disturbed her ; she counted her body as dust, and cared not what became of it, so long as she might employ it in God's service. Cecca's sickness continued many days, but Catherine thought them very few, by reason of the great love she had to our Lord, whom she thought she served in that sick woman.' At last Cecc.a died, assisted by Catherine's prayers and exhortations up to the last moment. And as soon as she was dead, Catherine washed the body and prepared it for burial ; she caused the dirge and other prayers to be said for the departed soul, and then carried the body herself to the grave, and covered it with earth with her own bands. When that last act of charity had been accomplished, it pleased God that the leprosy which until then had disfigured her hands should suddenly and completely disappear ; they even remained whiter and fairer than the rest of her person, as was attested by the evidence of many eye-witnesses."

This is how her work was begun ; this is the spirit in which

it was sustained.

Those who would follow St. Catherine through the greater efforts of her life, her ministry during the plague, the raemora- able visits to Pisa and Lucca, and so on, must read the chapters which describe them, either in the volume before us, or in that of Mrs. Butler, which still remains the best book in English for the ordinary reader. We have but tried to set up a finger-point or two, which may direct those who have not heretofore studied St. Catherine into the right tracks, and have endeavoured to make them appreciate the heroic character of the woman, as well as the loftiness and holy purity of the saint.

With the full desire to take the best out of such a work as this specially before us, we cannot say that it is done so well as

it might have been. The author is apt to magnify trifles, and does injury to her first intention by an over-pressure of detail in many points. Next, she is too argumentative. What good,

as regards a faithful representation of St. Catherine, is to be done by endeavouring to weaken the effect of much that Mrs. Butler has said, with a special view to a Protestant circle of readers ? We regret the controversial tone here and there im- ported, both directly and indirectly, and trust that should a second edition be soon called for, certain references may entirely disappear. The author deserves full credit for devotion and for industry. She has searched indefatigably, and

has left no stone unturned. For English readers who wish to know reliably all the facts about St. Catherine, this is and must remain the book. We should not omit to add that the excellent

little drawings at the heads of the chapters do much to bring near to us many of the spots specially associated with St. Catherine, and that the plan of Siena given as frontispiece is one of the most thoughtful though necessary indulgences which an English publisher has recently given to the public.