Giovanni di Paolo
St. Catherine of Siena Beseeching Christ to Resuscitate Her Mother

Circa 1461
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.1.33, Lehman Collection

This depicts an episode from Raymond of Capua's Life of St. Catherine of Siena:

I am about to tell a story that may seem beyond belief in our day, good reader, but nevertheless it was quite possible to Him to whom all things are possible.

Although the holy virgin's mother Lapa was a woman of great simplicity and uprightness of life, at the same time she had never been much concerned with the goods of the spirit; as a result of which she hated the thought that she would one day die, as will be seen clearly from the following story.

After her husband's death she was attacked by an illness that grew worse every day; whereupon the virgin consecrated to God had recourse to prayer, pleading with the Lord to deign to succour her who had brought her into the world and brought her up, and to bring her back to health. The answer she got from heaven was that it would be providential for her mother to die at this time, as this would prevent her from seeing the misfortunes that would otherwise befall her.

Having had this reply, Catherine went back to her mother and told her as gently as she could that if the Lord was disposed to call her to Himself she should resign herself without any feelings of sadness to His will. But Lapa, attached to life as she was, was horrified by the idea, and begged her daughter to pray to the Lord to get her better, and implored her never to mention the word death to her again

The bride of Christ, saddened, indeed agonized, by this, fervently implored the Lord not to allow her mother to die until she herself was sure that her mother's soul was prepared to do the divine will. God in a way heeded the virgin's words, for, though the illness seemed to get worse from time to time, death did not dare to strike. Catherine thus became a mediator between the Lord and her mother. She begged the Lord not to take Lapa out of the world against her will, and at the same time urged her mother to consent to the Lord's designs. But though the virgin's prayers had succeeded to a certain extent in restraining the divine Omnipotence, her exhortations had no effect on her mother's weak soul. So the Lord said to His bride, "Tell your mother, who does not want to depart from the body now, that the time will come when she will ask for death with a great longing and will not be able to have it."

I, and many others with me, know that these words proved to be absolutely true, and there is no use trying to hide the fact. Right to the very end of her life misfortunes befell Lapa, with respect to both people and things, to all of which she was so firmly attached; so that she used to say to everyone she spoke to, "But why has God put my soul into my body askew, so that it cannot get out? So many of my sons and daughters, and nephews young and old, have died before me. Am I alone not to be allowed to die, despite the torture and affliction of all these miseries?"

To get back to our subject: Lapa remained true to her nature and did not confess or pay any attention to her soul. The Lord wanted to shine in His bride, and for her sake denied her things that earlier if she had prayed for them He would have granted. In fact, after delaying Lapa's death for to show how much merit the holy virgin had in his eyes. For Catherine raised her eyes to heaven and said, weeping, "Lord my God, are these the promises you made to me, that none of my house should go to hell? Are these the things that in your mercy you agreed with me, that my mother should not be taken out of the world against her will? Now I find that she has died without the sacraments of the Church. By your infinite mercy I beg you not to let me be defrauded like this. As long as there is life in my body I shall not move from here until you have restored my mother to me alive." There were present at this death, and these words, three women of Siena whose names are given further on; they saw Lapa breathe her last, touched her dead body, and would even have started to do the things that always have to be done when someone dies, if they had not wanted to wait for the virgin, who was praying. As those who were once carrying the corpse to the sepulchre stopped when the Lord touched the bier, so, by inspiration of the same Saviour, those present did not move anything while the virgin was praying.

The virgin prayed, and the cries of her heart ascended to highest heaven; all her grief – united with her humble, copious tears, rose up before the eyes of the Most High; and then it was impossible that she should not be heard. And in fact the Lord of all comfort and mercy did hear her. Before the eyes of the three women present, Lapa's body suddenly began to move; her soul was restored and she again made the movements of a living person; and she lived to the age of eighty-nine, encompassed by many sorrows that came upon her – poverty, and the other misfortunes she suffered, as by the Lord's command had been foretold her by her daughter.

Eye-witnesses of the miracle were Caterina di Ghetto and Angela di Vannino, now members of the Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic, and also Lisa, the virgin’s sister-in-law and Lapa's daughter-in-law, all of whom are still living and resident in Siena. All three saw Lapa expire after a serious illness lasting many days, saw her inanimate body, and the virgin praying, and also clearly heard Catherine's words when she said, "Lord, these are not the promises you made me." After a short time they then saw Lapa's body begin to move and return to life, and all its members perform their accustomed movements. Of the time she lived after that, there are a whole host of witnesses.

From Lamb, 218-221

More of St. Catherine of Siena

Photographed at the Metropolitan by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.