By Don Brophy
BlueBridge, $14.95, 296 pages
Catherine of Siena lived in the latter half of the fourteenth century, when Europe was stricken with famine, the bubonic plague, and the Hundred Years War. Although the political divisions of Italy were in disarray, the nation was beginning to see prosperity and the first signs of the Renaissance to come. The Catholic popes lived in Avignon, where they functioned under the influence of the French king, and Catherine herself was a remarkable anomaly when she emerged as a passionate, mystical, classically uneducated, but immensely spiritual and driven young woman who demanded change. Catherine argued before citizens, monarchs, and popes alike for peace, reform, and the return of the popes to Rome, and in her lifetime she was both adored and reviled for her passions.
In his biography Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life, biographer Don Brophy clearly is enamored with the strength and fortitude of this intense young woman. Brophy’s biography is comprehensive and readable, and he writes for both believers and nonbelievers, historians and general readers. Brophy’s own engagement with his subject is enticing: “If she was not beautiful there was still something about her looks and manner that attracted people. It was not so much her features but her liveliness and spirit that seemed to captivate those who met her,” he writes in an early chapter.
Reviewed by Jennie A. Camp