Everybody wonders what will happen to them when they die…. Hidden in an annex of Chiesa della Santa in Bologna, the mummified corpse of St Catherine of Bologna sits on a golden throne. She wears her nun’s habit as she has done for centuries. Her black crisp fingers- darkened by the soot of innumerable candles- clutch a cross and bible on her lap. Adorning the walls around her are fingers, toes and skulls crowned with flowers. The chamber in which she sits is small and hushed, only the faint steps of the nuns who guard her tomb can be heard.
The patron saint of artists and resisting temptations, Catherine lived a mysterious life. She was a nun, writer, teacher, mystic, artist, and saint. Born to a wealthy family, Catherine began her life as a lady in waiting to a noble woman, Parisina D’Este. She became inseparable with her daughter Margherita, and they would spend their days pouring over manuscripts in the library or playing the viola. Catherine was a gifted musician and writer. Her beloved violin is displayed to the right of her body.
In 1426, after her mistress was executed for infidelity, Catherine left court at 14 years of age and joined a convent of twelve women. Here, Catherine was a model of piety. She was haunted by gruesome visions of the crucifixion, the last judgment, and the devil’s tricks, as well as future events, such as the fall of Constantinople in 1453. She fervently wrote treatises, lauds, and sermons. Word of her service spread and she was appointed abbess of a new convent Corpus Domini in Bologna, and lived there with her twelve sisters until her death. On her deathbed she played her viola until her last breath.
There are mysterious tales of Catherines death- it is said she was buried in the convent graveyard, but exhumed after eighteen days due to a sweet smell that seemed to come from the grave. When her body was brought from the earth it was perfect, no sign of decay. In awe of this miracle her sisters lovingly dressed and presented her body within the church- where it sits to this day.
Written by Scott and Sophia Woods (he/him and she/her) from Kentish Town, London. Follow Scott on Twitter! This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.