The Life and Writings of Saint Catherine of Genoa
By St. Catherine of Genoa and Unknown Biographer
Compiled in between 1500 and 1600
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Saint Catherine of Genoa was a nun who lived in the late 1400s. She was married at an early age against her will, but dutifully stuck to her husband until he died 10 years later. Around this time, she became extremely ill, and had a divine revelation. After that she decided to become a nun, where she lived very piously, and wrote several rambling pieces of Christian theological musings.
This book is a strange mishmash of things St. Catherine of Genoa wrote as well as hagiography written by her followers. I found it very confusing and hard to read at times because it is unclear who is writing what, although this tends to be a symptom of religious writing. Fanatics tend not to be very rational people; and hence their writings are often unclear and garbled.
The hagiography is really weird. The claims made about her are so over the top, that I found myself frequently laughing out loud. “She was so pious that she never showered, not even once.” “She abhorred all luxuries so much that she slept on a wooden block which she used as a pillow.” “She wanted to suffer so she would eat the lice off of the heads of the poor whom she groomed.”
Writings from the same century make me suspect that some contemporaries would have found these claims ridiculous. Satirists like Boccachio in his Decameron definitely poke fun at Saints lives; while serious theologians like Martin Luther were critical of this kind of unrealistic over-the-top portrayal of Saints.
This book is not worth reading for most people, but I would recommend it to a certain audience. People who would like to learn more about how medieval and renaissance people viewed Saints should read this. It is pretty dull, but has several unintentionally funny moments. I read the first half of the book diligently, but skimmed and skipped around the second half once I had an idea of what it was about.
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