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Sigrid Undsetಙs Catherine of Siena is critically acclaimed as one of the best biographies of this well known, and amazing fourteenth-century saint. Known for her historical fiction, which won her the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928, Undset based this factual work on primary sources, her own experiences living in Italy, and her profound understanding of the human heart.
One of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, Undset was no stranger to hagiography. Her meticulous research of medieval times, which bore such fruit in her multi-volume masterpieces Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken, acquainted her with some of the holy men and women produced by the Age of Faith. Their exemplary lives left a deep impression upon the author, an impression Undset credited as one of her reasons for entering the Church in 1924.
Catherine of Siena was a particular favorite of Undset, who also was a Third Order Dominican. An extraordinarily active, intelligent, and courageous woman, Catherine at an early age devoted herself to the love of God. The intensity of her prayer, sacrifice, and service to the poor won her a reputation for holiness and wisdom, and she was called upon to make peace between warring nobles. Believing that peace in Italy could be achieved only if the Pope, then living in France, returned to Rome, Catherine boldly traveled to Avignon to meet with Pope Gregory XI.
With sensitivity to the zealous love of God and man that permeated the life of Saint Catherine, Undset presents a most moving and memorable portrait of one of the greatest women of all time.
"One of the most extraordinary writers of the 20th century combines her literary genius and her faith to compose the biography of one of the most extraordinary saints of all time. Sigrid Undset's beautiful, spare prose gives us a living St. Catherine of Sienna, gripping our imagination and expanding the soul's comprehension of the mysterious works of God."
— Michael D. O'Brien, Author, Father Elijah
Undset writes Catherine of Siena's biography as both an historian and a believer. Steeped in research on the Middle Ages through her writing of Kristin Lavransdatter, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, she views the fascinating Catherine in context of the many troubles in Italy and in the Church of the day. Like Joan of Arc a mysterious figure in many ways, Catherine was clearly raised up by God at a particular moment to mediate this strife and help direct the future of the Church. Truly a "mystic's mystic" as she has been called, Catherine can often seem too touched by the supernatural for us to relate to her. By placing her in her historic and cultural context, however, Undset's biography makes this otherworldly saint alive for us today.
—Mary Reichardt, Professor of Catholic studies, University of St. Thomas