St Catherine of Siena's incorrupt head, marble altar by Giovanni di Stefano, 1469, interior of Basilica of San Domenico, historic centre of Siena (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1995), Tuscany, Italy

Getty Images/DeAgostini

Basilica Cateriniana di San Domenico


St Catherine was welcomed into the Dominican fold within this huge and austere 13th-century basilica. Inside, the Cappella di Santa Caterina (halfway down the wall to the right of the altar) contains frescoes by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (aka Il Sodoma) and Andrea Vanni depicting events in the saint's life. Also here are 15th-century reliquaries containing Catherine's head and one of her fingers, as well as a nasty-looking chain that she is said to have flagellated herself with.

The Cappella delle Volte (Chapel of the Vaults) to the right of the main entrance was where the saint is said to have had many mystical experiences. It now houses a portrait of the saint by her contemporary Andrea Vanni. Other works of note in the basilica include a Nativity by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, a triptych of the Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome and St John the Baptist by Matteo di Giovanni and a Maestà by Guido da Siena.

Modern art in the basilica includes the stained-glass windows by B Cassinari (1982).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Siena attractions

1. Fontebranda

0.08 MILES

The largest medieval fountain in Siena, Fontebranda was built in the 13th century and features three wide Gothic arches, crenellations and water jets in…

2. Casa Santuario di Santa Caterina

0.11 MILES

St Catherine once lived here with her parents and 24 siblings (locals joke her mother must have been a saint too). Now a pilgrimage site overseen by nuns…

3. Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati

0.16 MILES

Occupying 13th-century buildings once used by the University of Siena, this municipal library was established in the 1750s. Its labyrinthine structure…

4. Battistero di San Giovanni

0.19 MILES

The baptistry is lined with 15th-century frescoes and centres around a hexagonal marble font by Jacopo della Quercia, decorated with bronze panels…

5. Libreria Piccolomini


Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, archbishop of Siena (later Pope Pius III), commissioned the building and decoration of this hall off the north…

6. Duomo


Consecrated on the former site of a Roman temple in 1179 and constructed over the 13th and 14th centuries, Siena's majestic duomo (cathedral) showcases…

7. Cripta


Remarkably, this vaulted space under the duomo's pulpit was totally filled with debris in the late 1300s and was only excavated and restored in 1999…

8. Porta del Cielo

0.21 MILES

To enjoy spectacular bird's-eye views of the interior and exterior of Siena's cathedral, buy a ticket for the 'Gate of Heaven' escorted tour up, into and…