One of only two patron saints of Italy, the other being St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine was ahead of her time. As a political powerhouse in late 14th century Europe, a time of war, social unrest and one of the worst natural disasters of all time--the plague, she worked for peace between Christians while campaigning for a holy crusade against Muslims. She was illiterate but grew into a great writer by dictating to assistants. She was frail and punished herself mercilessly, often starving herself, while offering moral guidance and inspiration to kings, queens and popes.
It's easy to see why feminists through the years have sought to claim the patronage of St. Catherine. From her refusal to marry to her assertion that her physical appearance was of no importance, the famous Saint is ripe for modern interpretation. She was a peacemaker during Siena's revolution of 1368, sometimes addressing thousands of people in squares and streets; she convinced Pope Gregory XI to return the papacy to Rome at a time when the Catholic Church was unraveling.
How did this girl, the second-youngest of 25 children of a middle-class dyer, grow to become one of the most beloved spiritual figures of all time, a theological giant to rank alongside the likes of Thomas Aquinas? InSetting the World on Fire, Emling gives an intimate portrayal of this fascinating and revolutionary woman.
SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE by Shelley Emling is a beautiful and moving portrait of a much beloved saint and mystic, Catherine of Siena. Born Catherine Benincasa in Siena, Italy on March 25th, 1347, Catherine eventually proved to be a woman before her time. At the tender age of 6, she received her first vision of Christ and the young child never looked back. As a teenage girl she became a member of the Mantellate, a lay ministry of older women. Soon after she spent 3 years in deep contemplation and prayer in a cell in her family home, leaving only to attend Mass and receive the sacraments. After 3 years she was sent out into the world by Christ to attend to social, political and church matters. In a time where women were to be seen and not heard she became a force to be reckoned with. She had many followers, all who loved her and wanted to imitate her ways. Amazingly enough she was able to capture the pope’s attention and was thought to be the voice of God speaking to his church and vicar on earth. Catherine’s spiritual accomplishments were many and made amid the fear of the plague, civil unrest, and a divided Catholic Church. Her own personal struggles made her persevere all the harder. She rarely ate and sustained herself for weeks on end with only the smallest amount of food and water, primarily taking only the Eucharist. She feared sin and looked at her own physical sufferings as a way to appease God for her sins and the sins of the world. Catherine worked endlessly and desperately in her 33 years of life to spread God’s love and mercy to the world and to accomplish 3 main goals; the return of the pope to Rome, a new crusade and the reunification of Italy.
Shelley Emling managed to capture the spirit and charismatic personality of Catherine during a dark and difficult period in European history. The book is filled with amazing facts about the political, social and economic unrest in Italy and surrounding countries. The reader was able to feel the spirit and fire of this young woman in a time where women did not have a voice, especially in matters of church and state. She was an uneducated genius, afraid of nothing but sin. In a book filled with historical facts and details, the reader is never bored, but swept away into another time and place left wondering how one could survive amid the rivalries and unrest of a church and country in crisis.
I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn more about the life of St. Catherine of Siena or anyone yearning to learn more about the difficulties of the Church and the Western Schism during the middle ages.
I appreciate being given an advanced copy of SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE for a fair and honest review.
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