Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 1380) has become a defining
figure in the history of medieval religion and one of the main
exemplars of the "feminine turn" in late medieval religious
culture. Despite a hagiographical tradition and historiography that
has placed Catherine at a mystic remove from the politics of her
day, Catherine's public authority was shaped by politics, both
locally in Siena and broadly within late-fourteenth-century
contests between the papacy and the Republic of Florence for
hegemony in central Italy.
In The Saintly Politics of Catherine of Siena, F. Thomas Luongo
combines literary-critical readings of Catherine's letters she was
the author of one of the largest collections of medieval letters
with political and social analysis. Drawing on a wide range of
archival sources, Luongo investigates how Catherine's spiritual
authority and sanctity were linked with contemporary political and
cultural developments. He shows how the political situation of the
church in Italy and a culture that privileged female spirituality
and prophetic speech facilitated Catherine's emergence into a
The Catherine who emerges from Luongo's well-written pages is a
splendid example of what can result when a historian asks fresh
questions about a familiar figure's life and brings new materials
and methods to bear in formulating answers. The Saintly Politics of
Catherine of Siena offers a woman more complex and interesting than
the figure portrayed in most contemporary scholarship."
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