Age Ain't Nothing but a Number for this 600-Year-Old Saint

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
June 30 2014 1:55 PM

Meet Catherine of Bologna, the 600-Year-Old Saint

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Ring the bell next to the plain wooden door in the beautiful church of Chiesa della Santa, Bologna, and you'll be granted a meeting with a 600-year-old woman. The mummified body of St. Catherine of Bologna, born in 1413, sits upright in a golden throne, wearing a nun's habit, her black hands clutching a golden cross and a bible. The tight skin of her near-featureless face is mottled and dark brown, stained by the soot of ever-present candles.

Adorning the walls around St. Catherine are fingers, toes, and a skull crowned with flowers; all from other saints or important figures of the church. During her lifetime, St. Catherine was said to have been tormented by gruesome visions of the crucifixion, the last judgment, and the devil's tricks. She was a talented painter and gifted musician—that's her beloved violin hanging on the wall to her right—and is the patron saint of artists and temptation.

Advertisement

When she died in 1463, Catherine was buried in the nun’s churchyard without being embalmed or placed in a coffin. Although no flowers were placed around her grave, it was said that the smell of flowers pervaded the area for days. When suspicious nuns later exhumed her body, they were surprised to discover, in the words of the church pamphlet, that she was "intact, flexible and sweet-smelling."

Inspired by the absence of decay, the abbesses placed Catherine's body in the convent for the sisters to view. A few years later, a nun reported that Catherine had appeared to her in a vision asking to be placed in the chapel sitting upright. The nuns dressed her in a habit, placed a golden cross in her hands, and sat her in an elegant golden chair where she remains today.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Gives Fetuses Lawyers and Puts Teenage Girls on Trial

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Big Problems With the Secret Service Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 12:58 PM Why Can’t States Do More to Protect Patients From Surprise Medical Bills? It’s complicated.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 2 2014 1:05 PM What's Wrong With "America's Ugliest Accent"
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 2 2014 12:37 PM St. Louis Study Confirms That IUDs Are the Key to Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 2 2014 1:09 PM Are You Enjoying a Picnic on a Dumpsite?
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 12:56 PM My Year Without Flying I’ve stayed on the ground, to help fight climate change. Here’s what happened.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 2 2014 12:53 PM The Panic Virus How public health officials are keeping Americans calm about the Ebola threat.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?