San Domenico Church in Siena is an obligatory stop for devotees of Saint Catherine. It is in fact the resting place of the saint’s head. A macabre testimonial to medieval religious zeal, and a chance to get to know more about the patron saint of Italy.

This massive red brick Gothic building on the top of the hill of Camporegio has been home to the Dominican order in Siena since 1226. The edifice itself might not have a great appeal with its severe lines and lack of decorative interest, but it’s a must if you want to know more about Saint Catherine. And there’s the bonus of some fine views over the city.

For the perfect day in Siena, check our Siena in a day itinerary.

Who was Saint Catherine?

Consecrated herself to God as a little girl, Catherine refused to get married and in 1363 received the Dominican habit. She became a member of the “Mantellate” (coated) or Third Order Dominicans who used to meet every day in this Basilica. It was here the San Domenico Church that she used to spend hours absorbed in prayer and receive her mystical visions and ecstasies. Right above the church’s roof, she had her first vision of Christ dressed as a king, when she was still a child. In Siena you can also visit the house where Saint Catherine was born.

Discover all the top things to do and see in Siena!

What to see in San Domenico Church:

Chapel of Saint Catherine – Halfway down the right wall, is an altar with a gilt reliquary case containing the saint’s head. Enclosing it, are two of the best works by the Renaissance painter Sodoma: the “Ecstacy of Santa Caterina”, and the “Fainting of Santa Caterina” after receiving the stigmata (1526). Works that are at once elegant and highly dramatic. On the right wall Francesco Vanni painted “Catherine performing an exorcism” (1596).

san domenico church siena
Chapel of Saint Catherine

For a more lifelike rendition of Catherine’s face, the raised chapel Cappella delle Volte off the west end preserves the only genuine Portrait of St. Catherine, painted by her friend Andrea Vanni. This chapel occupies the spot where the saint and her sisters used to meet and pray.

In the left transept is a richly decorated chapel with the “Maestà” by Guido da Siena in the centre. On the lateral walls there are works by Benvenuto di Giovanni (1483) and Matteo di Giovanni (1493).

⇒ Discover some unusual and mysterious places to visit in Tuscany.

Your friendly online guide to Florence and Tuscany. Get our insider travel tips delivered to your mailbox every month.

Share your love of Tuscany!

Explore more of Tuscany

  • Tuscany is famous for its charming small towns, Medieval hilltop hamlets and scenic walled towns rich with atmosphere. Here you’ll find some of our favourite towns that we recommend adding to your itineraries. We’ve chosen...
  • Here are a few ideas for a Tuscan holiday in 2019. A year that we think should be dedicated to slow travel, cultural curiosity and savouring every moment. For us its the best way to...
  • Storybook villages in Tuscany are not in short supply. Small towns in enchanting locations, full of turreted towers, romantic archways, secret passageways and plenty of magical atmosphere. Go there and you feel you’re walking around...
  • In this 5 day itinerary travelling around Tuscany, we whisk you from the awe-inspiring Piazza dei Miracoli, to some of the world’s Medieval treasures and, of course, through some of the best scenery that Tuscany...
  • Love is always in the air in Florence. Maybe because there’s no shortage of romantic things to do here. From watching the golden sunsets on the river Arno, and strolling in the Bardini gardens to...