THE BEAUTIFUL CHURCH OF CHIESA della Santa, like many Italian churches, is filled with stunning architecture, art and decoration. Most visitors, distracted by the gilded fixtures and beautiful paintings would miss the nondescript wooden door near the left of the entrance entirely.
For those who notice it, the curious among them might be bold enough to investigate and even ring the easily overlooked doorbell found on the left side of the door. Those who do will find themselves suddenly buzzed in, and at the end of a corridor, will come face to face with the mummified relic of St. Catherine of Bologna.
Sitting eerily upright in a golden throne and wearing a nun’s habit, her black hands clutch a golden cross and a bible. Her tight, almost featureless skin is said to have turned black from the soot of centuries of candles. Alone in the room with the half-millennia old Saint suddenly a small door will snap open in the wall and a nun will hand through a little pamphlet regarding the Saint, and the door will snap closed again leaving you alone with the Saint, though presumably under the hidden but watchful eyes of the nuns.
Adorning the walls around Saint Catherine are fingers, toes, and a skull crowned with flowers; all from other saints or important figures of the church. St. Catherine was said in life to have been visited in visions by God and Satan alike, and was tormented by gruesome visions of the crucifixion, the last judgment, and the devil’s tricks. She was a talented painter and gifted musician (her beloved violin hangs on the wall to her right), and thus is the patron saint of artists and temptation.
When her sisters exhumed her body, 14 days after her burial, she was found to be, according the the church’s pamphlet, “intact, flexible, and sweet-smelling.” Since then she has been sitting in her Golden Throne in the small chapel of the Cheisa della Santa for over 500 years.