From nobility to abbess

Catherine left the royal court to enter a convent

That St. Catherine de’Vigri, or Catherine of Bologna, became a Poor Clare nun could be seen as expected because of her pious mother or a surprise since she lived three years at court.

This 15th-century saint was the daughter of Giovanni de’Vigri and Benvenuta Mamellini. When she was 11, Duke Nicholas III d’Este appointed her father diplomat to the Republic of Venice. She became a lady-in-waiting to Margherita d’Este, the duke’s daughter. At court, she learned Latin and how to paint miniatures.

After Margherita married, the 14-year-old Catherine joined a group of virgins in Ferrara who followed the Franciscan tertiary rule. They soon started a Poor Clares’ convent. Catherine made solemn vows in 1432 and was soon appointed mistress of novices. The Poor Clares began to establish other convents in Italy, including her hometown, Bologna. In 1456, she oversaw building of Corpus Christi Convent and served as abbess there until her death.

Catherine had visions from an early age. Some involved diabolical temptations, but others consoled her, including a Christmas Eve vision of the Virgin holding the baby Jesus — an image still widely captured in art.

Catherine wrote about her visions and struggles in “Manifestations.” She also wrote hymns and painted miniatures and a self-portrait. The breviary she calligraphed and ornamented is in the Bologna convent.

The temptations that challenged her patience, humility and faith subsided and she found spiritual consolation and contemplation.

She wrote a book for novices: “The Seven Spiritual Weapons.” She wrote, “Whoever wishes to carry the cross for his sake must take up the proper weapons for the contest, … First, diligence; second, distrust of self; third, confidence in God; fourth, remembrance of the Passion; fifth, mindfulness of one’s own death; sixth, remembrance of God’s glory; seventh, the injunctions of sacred Scripture following the example of Jesus Christ in the desert.”

Miracles were reported at her grave, so the nuns exhumed her body — which they had buried without a coffin. It had been crushed a bit and her face disfigured, but gradually it returned to normal appearance. Eventually, her body was placed on a chair in a chapel, where it is still visible in a mummified condition.


Sources: “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”;;;;; and “The Catholic Encyclopedia.”


Staley is a retired editor of The Compass.

Catherine of Bologna

When: 1413-1463

Where: Italy

What: Nun

Feast: March 9