Saint Bernardine of Siena

Saint Bernardine of Siena
“Apostle of Italy” – Friar Minor – Missionary – Reformer
Our love story with St. Bernardine or San Bernardino, as we have known and loved him, began a long time ago – about the time we got to know St. Catherine of Siena and the Miracle of the Eucharist of Siena. For, you see, right adjacent to the Basilica of St. Francis is the Oratory of St. Bernardine. Each time, we would go to visit the Miracle of the Eucharist of Siena, we would see the sign of the Oratory; but along with it, the dreaded sign – the Oratory was being restored! Finally, one day, the door was open! and so we went in and took pictures. You could see the restoration had not been completed, if even started. That was over twenty years ago. But God has patience with us, and here we are twenty-three books later writing about our dear St. Bernardine.
We have so many memories of this fabulous Saint. One time, when we went to visit our loves in Siena, the Eucharist and St. Catherine of Siena, we just happened to land in the midst of a Festa[1] celebrating the Feast Days of Saints Bernardine and Catherine, co-patrons of Siena. With all the pageantry of medieval Siena, the flags of their sixteen regions, twirling and blowing in the wind, young men, dressed as knights and pages, processed in the streets, carrying relics of Siena’s and our two beloved Saints. It was an awesome sight – Church in all its pomp and glory giving praise and honor to Our Lord and His Mother, through the memory of these two faithful Saints, who colored the lives, and continue to color the lives of all who learn about them!
Siena is a land of contrasts – the holy and the worldly! It is truly a Renaissance city, echoing days past, you think at first glance. But then your eyes and hearts travel upward to the tops of buildings everywhere, and you see niches with the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus on almost every government building, home, palace and etc., as well as a plaque of the Holy Name of Jesus. (But more on that later!)
As you drink it all in, the tiny elegant shops, the ancient churches nestled in between them, the cobble stone streets where our two Saints walked, you find yourself keeping pace with the proud of Siena as they stroll and take time to renew old acquaintances and acquire new ones. And before you know it, you are enveloped in the Siena of yesterday and you are lost in awe and wonder. Every time, we think of our returning to Italy, our hearts beat a little faster for part of our Pilgrimage will most certainly be in Siena.
September 8, 1380 – an Apostle of Italy is born
To share with you the life of this electrifying Saint, we need to go back to the Tuscany of the 15th Century, puffed up by its ancient Etruscan[2] history, and its involvement in the birth of Renaissance. As we walk through the narrow streets and glance at the age old walls that still surround Siena, we find ourselves in the 15th Century, our souls soaring. This is where it all happened, where God would take the impossible and make it miraculous. Siena and the Sienese are a proud people – set aside by their antiquity and culture. Amongst all this grandeur and pride, how will we find one from this class, who will embrace the life of the Poverello![3]
Our Story begins on the 8th of September,[4] 1380 in the village of Massa Marittima, one of Siena’s seventeen contrade, or districts, in the home of the governor, a descendant of the nobility of the Albizeschi. Into this opulent[5] setting a new life will begin – Bernardino, future Friar, Missionary and Reformer. The joy of bringing a new life into the world will not last for this couple. Before their little boy would reach his seventh year on earth, his parents would go to the Father.
But God does not leave us orphans. Bernardino would have the loving care of his devout aunt and her equally holy daughter, who would provide him with the tools, which would turn him into a future Saint. Not only did they nurture him, as if he was their very own son, they gave him an invaluable religious education which would fare him well later on in life. He continued to grow into a fine youngster, when at around eleven years old, he was sent by his uncles to a school in Siena, to receive the education required of people of his class – that of civil and canon law. The boy excelled in his studies. Not only that, but he was charming and handsome, a joy to be around, always the life of the party, very like his predecessor, his future father in Faith – St. Francis. But although he was fun to be around, he could not bear to hear profanity or crude jokes. That is when his good humor would evaporate and he would most sharply protest, taking exception with those engaging in this vulgar behavior. One time, a member of the upper class thought it would be a good idea to lead the young pious Bernardino into a life of immorality and depravity. That earned him a good beating at the hands of Bernardino, who, when the culprit tried again, asked his friends to aid him in discharging mud and stones at the would be tempter. Except for those rare times, you would find Bernardino engaging and loving, calm and gracious.
He felt strongly about living a life worthy of His Mother Mary, of whom he had a great affection. At age seventeen, in 1397, having completed his studies, he enrolled in the Confraternity of Our Lady, which was connected to the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital. He spent the next three years, removed from the world, in quiet meditative contemplation, when, in 1400, a plague struck Siena, and he came out of his solitary life to aid the suffering masses. He not only tended their fever-racked bodies, he addressed their fears of dying. And when they succumbed to the fever, he prepared them for their final journey to the Father. Not only that, but with the aid of ten companions, he took upon himself the entire supervision of the hospital for the next four months. And this was at age twenty! Needless to say, he was quite up to the task.
But a price had to be paid! Some of his companions were infected with the deadly fever and died. But God was not finished with Bernardine, yet. The unrelenting, night and day, care of the plague-stricken masses did not kill him, but so debilitated his health, he contracted a fever, and never quite regained his strength. But that did not stop him! He had many more years to serve his Lord and Lady, and he would not let weakness of body stop him from his appointed task.
After the plague was over, Bernardine returned home, only to find his favorite aunt blind and confined to her bed. He spent the next fourteen months compassionately caring for his aunt, as he had for the victims of the plague. This gentle soul spoke quietly to his aunt and one night, she gave up her spirit to the Lord, nestled in her nephew’s arms.
[1] Festival

[2] Etruscan civilization dating back to 800 B.C – It is purported these were tribes from Lydia, an ancient country in Asia Minor. They invaded much of Italy and ruled Rome from 6th Century B.C. till about the 3rd. Century B.C. They had a loosely structured religion, with many deities. They would meet once a year at the Shrine of Voltumna, overlooking Lake Bolsena and discuss religion.
[3] “The Poor One” as St. Francis was called
[4] Mother Mary’s birthday
[5] affluent, prosperous, rich, wealthy
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