Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine

Ambrogio Bergognone. The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Catherine of Siena.

The mystic marriage of Saint Catherine (or "mystical") covers two different subjects in Christian art arising from visions received by both Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) in which they went through a wedding ceremony with Christ. The scene usually includes one of the Saint Catherines and either the infant Jesus held by his mother Mary, or an adult Jesus. Very rarely both saints are shown in a double ceremony (as at right). Saint Catherine of Alexandria is invariably dressed as a princess with a crown, typically with long blonde hair and carrying a martyr's palm, and Saint Catherine of Siena as a Dominican nun in white with a black over-robe open at the front, so it is usually easy to tell which saint is depicted.[1]



Although Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who is now regarded as essentially a figure of legend, was supposed to have lived in the third and fourth centuries, the story of her vision appears first to be found in literature after 1337, over a thousand years after the traditional dating of her death, and ten years before Catherine of Siena was born.[2] The Barna da Siena panel below was painted within a few years of this. Although she is a very popular saint in Eastern Orthodoxy, the marriage is not a traditional subject in Orthodox icons. In Western art the vision of Saint Catherine of Alexandria usually shows the Infant Christ, held by the Virgin, placing a ring (one of her attributes) on her finger, following some literary accounts, although in the version in the Golden Legend he appears to be adult, and the marriage takes place among a great crowd of angels and "all the celestial court",[3] and these may also be shown.

Saint Catherine of Siena would have been familiar with this story – the Barna da Siena panel shown was painted in Siena a few years before she was born – and she is recorded as praying as a child that she would have a similar experience, which she eventually did. She never learned to read, and was "a devout woman whose imagination was stimulated unconsciously by religious images she had seen previously", as was also clear from the form of her stigmata as described by her.[4] Christ may be depicted as either an infant or adult in her scenes.[5] She was canonized in 1461, though the Giovanni di Paolo picture below may predate this; it is also Sienese.[6] The fresco by Spinello Aretino or a follower in the Cialli-Sernigi chapel of Santa Trinita in Florence certainly predates the canonization by several decades. However, unlike the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, there were no large monumental images, such as the main panel of an altarpiece, of the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena until 1528, when the Siennese painter Domenico Beccafumi painted one for the church of Santo Spirito in Siena.[7]

A mystical marriage to Christ is also an attribute of Saint Rosa of Lima (died 1617), and many other saints have reported such visions.


  1. ^ Earls, 56–57, 203
  2. ^ Lucetta Scaraffia, Gabriella Zarri. Women and faith: Catholic religious life in Italy from late antiquity to the present, p.80, Harvard University Press, 1999, ISBN 0674954785, 9780674954786, Google books
  3. ^ Life of St "Katherine" in William Caxton's English version of the Golden Legend.
  4. ^ Hall, 214
  5. ^ Earls, 57
  6. ^ MMA New York
  7. ^ Jenkens, 179


  • Earls, Irene. Renaissance art: a topical dictionary, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987, ISBN 0313246580, Google books
  • Hall, James. A History of Ideas and Images in Italian Art, John Murray, London, ISBN 0719539714
  • Jenkens, A. Lawrence. Renaissance Siena: art in context, Truman State University Press, 2005, ISBN 1931112436, 9781931112437, Google books

See also

External links

Media related to Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena at Wikimedia Commons Media related to Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria at Wikimedia Commons

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