April 29 is the feast day of Saint Catherine of Siena, patron saint of Italy (along with St. Francis of Assisi) and Europe (together with Benedict of Nursia, Saints Cyril and Methodius, Bridget of Sweden, and Edith Stein). Born in 1347 as the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa, Catherine originally had a twin sister, Giovanna, who died soon after birth. Catherine, on the other hand, grew into a healthy and happy girl, gaining the pet name of "Euphrosyne" (Greek for "joy") from her family. The saint allegedly had her first vision of Christ as early as at the age of six; one year later, the young Catherine had already vowed not to marry and give her whole life to God. Despite this, the girl didn't seem interested in taking the veil and join a convent, as being confined did not quite suit her personality and her approach to religion: instead she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, taking simpler vows and thus being able to associate with a religious society while still living at home.
Her life was spent among the poor and the ill, whom she often looked after. Catherine was also known for her great mysticism, frequently having visions and ecstasies; during one of these episodes, Catherine reported that Christ himself had chosen her as his bride and gave her his heart. She was also allegedly given the stigmata, although she had explicitly asked God to make so that only she was able to see them. She slowly became very involved in politics, allegedly helping to start a Crusade, growing closer and closer to the Papacy, and eventually moving to Rome.
Although accustomed to extreme fasting since her early life, by 1380 Catherine had become ill and weak because of this practice. When ordered to eat and drink, however, she replied that she simply unable to do it: after losing the use of her legs, Catherine died on April 29, at the age of 33. Pope Urban VI celebrated her funeral and burial in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.
"Saint Catherine of Siena", illumination from the Book of Hours of Philibert Pillot, ms. 269, f. 170v, ca. 1480-1490, Bibliothèque Municipale, Autun.