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Saint Bernardine of Siena

Saint Bernardine of Siena
  • Century: 14th & 15th Century
  • Patronage: Advertisers, Chest Problems, Gambling Addicts, Public Relations Personnel, Italy, Bernalda – Italy
  • Feast Day: May 20th

St. Bernardine of Siena was born on September 8, 1380, in Aquila, Italy.  He was an Italian Priest, and a Franciscan Missionary.  He is known in the Roman Catholic Church as “The Apostle of Italy” for his efforts to revive the country’s Catholic faith during the 15th century.  His preaching was often directed against gambling, witchcraft, sodomy, and usury.  Two hagiographical lives of Bernardine were written by two of his friends, one the same year he died.  

He was born to a noble family in Tuscany, a Sienese town of which his father was the Governor.  He was left orphaned at the age of six, and a pious aunt raised him.  He took a course in civil and canon law in 1397, and joined the Confraternity of Our Lady attached to the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.  Three years later, when the plague hit Siena, he ministered to the ill, and assisted by ten companions, took over the entire hospital.  He escaped the plague but was so exhausted that a fever confined him for several months.  In 1403, he joined the Observant branch of the Order of Friars Minor, with a strict observance of St. Francis’ Rule.  He was ordained a Priest in 1404 and was commissioned as a Preacher, in 1405.  Instead of remaining cloistered and preaching only during the Liturgy, Bernardine preached directly to the public.  

For more than 30 years, he preached all over Italy, and played a great part in the Religious revival of the early fifteenth century.  He had a weak and hoarse voice, but was one of the greatest preachers of his time.  His style was simple, familiar, and abounding in imagery.  He was an elegant and captivating preacher, and his use of imagery and creative language drew large crowds to hear his reflections.  He traveled from place to place, never remaining in one place more than a few weeks.  These journeys were all made by foot.  In the towns, the crowds assembled to hear him were at times so great, that it became necessary to erect a pulpit at the market place.  He generally preached to the crowds at dawn, with his sermons lasting three to four hours.  He preached often of excess in luxury, and immodest apparel.  He also spoke out against gambling, much to the dissatisfaction of the card manufacturers and sellers.  His success about preaching against these things were so remarkable, that they became known as “Bonfires of Vanities”, where people would bring items such as mirrors, high-heeled shoes, perfumes, locks of false hair, cards, dice, chessmen, and other vices to be burned.  

His Sermons were unapologetic, and of severe moralizing temperament, basically fire and brimstone.  He preached against various classes of people, he believed were particularly responsible for the moral corruption of Christendom.  He was especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and he devised a symbol, IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek.  The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in Churches, homes and public buildings.  

He became Vicar General of the Observant branch of the Franciscans in Italy in 1438.  When he took over the Observance, there were 150 members in all of Italy.  Shortly before his death, there were well over 4,000.  He also reformed in excess of 300 convents of Friars.  He also sent missionaries to Asia, and he is credited with helping ensure that many ambassadors from different schismatic nations attended the Council of Florence.  Worn out from years of preaching and of being Vicar General for the Franciscans, he died in 1444 in L’Aquila.  According to tradition from his area, his grave continued to leak blood from it, until two thirds of the city achieved reconciliation.  

Practical Take Away

St. Bernardine of Siena was born on September 8, 1380, in Aquila, Italy.  He was an Italian Priest, and a Franciscan Missionary.  He is known in the Roman Catholic Church as “The Apostle of Italy” for his efforts to revive the country’s Catholic faith during the 15th century.  His preaching was often directed against gambling, witchcraft, sodomy, and usury.  He was especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and he devised a symbol, IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek.  The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in Churches, homes and public buildings.  Most Catholic Churches use this symbol to this day in its décor.   For more than 30 years, he preached all over Italy, and played a great part in the Religious revival of the early fifteenth century.