The monastery

«Historical relationship around the church and monastery of S. Caterina.

The foundation of the monastery of S. Caterina under the title of Illuminate goes back to the year 1528, who lived in private dwelling on the village of S. Croce.

Since the nuns grew in number, in 1538 they were moved to the district of Borgo Zucco towards S. Sofia, and they were called with the title of nuns and monastery of S. Maria Maddalena delle Illuminate di S. Sofia, in order to distinguish them from those of S. Maria Mater Domini who were also converted: but since it was that space taken inside the enclosure of the monastery of S. Sofia were the above mentioned nuns in the year 1627 transferred to the so called monastery of S. Caterina, having obtained from the parish priest of that church his house to enclose inside their compound, to which they corresponded an annual amount for rent.

The monastery was subjected to the general suppression by the imperial decree of April 25, 1810 and the church became a branch of the matrix of S. Sofia».

Collection of the writings contained in the Archive of the Crown in Padova... Compiled by Antonio Marchettani secretary of the agency MDCCCXII year corrected and expanded by the same in the quality of general archivist of the I.R. Direzione Demanio di Padova, year MDCCCXXII. Tome III.
Catastico Corona, Marchettani, b. 8, cc. 457v-458r)

As recounted in this brief 19th century report preserved in the State Archives of Padova, the history of the "Illuminate" nuns began a century before the construction of the Santa Caterina complex and in another part of Padova: it was 1528 and the congregation was based in a dwelling in Santa Croce, in the southern part of the city. It was probably a still unstructured community, but it soon grew in number: the nuns then moved near the church of Santa Sofia, "super angulo burgi Zucchi" (Baggio, 1999, p. 55), on the corner with the current via A. Gabelli. Here, under the name of S. Maria Maddalena of the Enlightened, they welcomed «many women who were deceived by the devil after having lost their virginity, or after having been whores, [who] repented of their sins and wanted to do penance» (Portenari, 1623, p. 479) and remained there at least until the following century, when the enlargement of the monastery of S. Sofia, then inhabited by Benedictines, forced the nuns to move again.

Brochure of the church and monastery of St. CatherineBrochure of the church and monastery of St. Catherine (ASPd, Notarile, b. 8476A/dis 111)

So it was that in 1627, on August the 13th, with the ducal authorization of the Doge Giovanni Cornaro, they arrived at the site that would house them for two centuries, built next to the church of Santa Caterina: from that moment on, the religious building would serve as much for the Illuminate mothers as for the faithful of the village, generating not a few problems of cohabitation between the nuns and the parish priests involved in the administration of the Sacraments.

Doge's authorization of August 13, 1627Doge's authorization of August 13, 1627 (ASPd, Ducali, b. 9,cc. 162v-163r)

In spite of this, the religious family that had settled in Santa Caterina immediately met the favour of the population: the construction of their monastery was financed with the alms of noble Padovan families such as the Zabarella, the Orologio, the Speroni, the Camposampiero, the Frigimelica and the Mazzoleni, in particular through the three sisters Margherita, Elisabetta and Sister Caterina (Baggio, 1999, p. 56). Subsequently, on more than one occasion, the nuns were assigned real estate from wills, donations, bequests or other means, so that soon their estate was enriched with properties not only in Padova but also in the surrounding countryside: for example, on August 22nd 1569 Andrea Guidoni left "by bequest" to the monastery of the Illuminate some arable land planted with vines and trees, located in the villa of the Granze di Pernumia in the contrà (district) of S. Pietro Viminario, while with her will of May 9, 1591, Caterina Marchesina donated to the community a plot of land with a thatched house, located in Villa di San Fidenzio in Polverara. Among the localities in the county where the nuns of Santa Caterina owned real estate, the archival documents mention Abano, Brentelle, Campagnola, Creola, S. Fidenzio di Polverara, Pianiga and S. Pietro Viminario, which gave them the annual sum of 30,616 Venetian liras (ASPd, Catastico Corona, Marchettani, b. 8, cc. 452v, 457r, 458r). 

Houses owned by the monastery of Santa Caterina in PadovaHouses owned by the monastery of Santa Caterina in Padova (ASPd,Santa Caterina, b. 63/dis. 4)

Properties owned by the monastery of Santa Caterina in villa di PianigaProperties owned by the monastery of Santa Caterina in villa di Pianiga (ASPd, Santa Caterina, b. 63/dis. 3)

Yet this general situation of economic prosperity was destined not to last. At the dawn of Napoleon's suppression in 1804, St. Catherine's income was among the lowest among the Padovan monasteries: only 6 Venetian lira and 106 soldi per year for the maintenance of 23 nuns (Gloria, 1862, p. 267).