Original Research - Special Collection: Scholarly Voices

Catherine of Siena’s crusade letters: Spirituality and political context

Diana L. Villegas
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 2 | a6499 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i2.6499 | © 2021 Diana L. Villegas | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 January 2021 | Published: 29 April 2021

About the author(s)

Diana L. Villegas, Department of Historical and Constructive Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa



Catherine of Siena has been credited with original views regarding the crusade as political policy and with influencing Gregory XI to carry this out. In this article, I argued that while Catherine of Siena did not succeed in furthering the crusade – nor did she initiate this policy – her crusade correspondence leaves us a legacy that reveals significant aspects of her spirituality. Over 40 letters to ecclesiastical authorities, Kings, Queens, leaders of city states, knights and her own followers reveal a religious intent, although addressing a policy with both religious and political consequences. The latter were important to Catherine because she considered political-cultural context vital for salvation and transformation; she advocated for the crusade because she considered that the crusade pilgrimage and holy war to recover the Holy Land would be critical for the salvation of many. Her epistles further witness to the prophetic, missionary nature of Catherine’s spirituality, and we see how she crafted her own version of crusade spirituality out of the wisdom on transformation learned through her union with God, fused with early Christian martyr spirituality and early crusade spirituality preached in medieval Europe. This thematisation of Catherine’s crusade letters is based on textual analysis of all crusade related letters in the 2002 critical text, on the most complete dating of Catherine’s letters (finished in 2008); and in dialogue with literary and other historical advances, making it an innovative study.

Contribution: Catherine of Siena’s crusade letters reveal significant aspects of her spirituality rather than contributions to crusade politics. The letters evidence her prophetic-missionary spirituality and her conviction that socio-political context is significant for a journey of transformation; as well, this analysis details the importance of early Christian martyr spirituality for Catherine’s crusade spirituality.


Catherine of Siena and crusades; crusade spirituality; spirituality and politics; Catherine of Siena letters; spiritual transformation and cultural context.


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