The church of Santa Caterina

V. Dotto, Padova circondata dalle muraglie vecchie V. Dotto, Padova surrounded by the old walls (1623), BCPd, RIP.VII.1056

The complex we have dealt with so far takes its name from the nearby church of Santa Caterina, a religious building of medieval age (its first mention dates back to 1239, when it was called oratorium) to which the structures destined to house the nuns of Santa Maria Maddalena delle Illuminate were attached in the seventeenth century.

Long before it was a monastic church, at the beginning of its history, Santa Caterina was a "neighborhood chapel" (Gallo 1999, p. 65), that is, a reference point for masses and daily prayer of the population of the neighborhood, being raised to the status of parish only later (1308). From that moment on, the church became more and more important among the parishes of Padova, also due to the fact that it was chosen as the seat of the Università dei Giuristi (University of Jurists) which, from 1377 onwards, carried out a solemn procession there every year on November 25, on the day of the liturgical feast of Santa Caterina, their patron saint.

From the seventeenth century, as already mentioned, the religious building performed the dual function of parish for the population of the district and monastic church for the Augustinian mothers of St. Mary Magdalene of the Enlightened: a condition that was maintained until the Napoleonic suppressions of 1810, when S. Caterina became a subsidiary of Santa Sofia. Currently it is an independent rectorate at the disposal of the  Padova University Centre.

Unfortunately, no artistic evidence of the oldest phase of the building has survived, except for a few fragments of fresco that are difficult to read, which appeared in 1992 under more recent repaints that simulate a colonnade with a textile wall, probably sixteenth-century.

Saint Maximus and client Painter of the second half of the 13th century, Saint Maximus and client, Padova, church of Santa Caterina, south wall

Among these, the oldest fragment can be recognized in the figure of a bishop, St. Maximus with a scroll in his hand and the patron kneeling at his feet, of the second half of the thirteenth century, present on the southern side of the nave  (Cozzi 1999, pp. 98-100).

Saint Painter of the beginning of the 14th century (?), Saint, Padova, church of Santa Caterina, south wall

Along the same wall is another Saint's figure, whose identity cannot be guessed: the photograph is interesting above all because it allows us to understand how further layers of plaster were superimposed on the medieval painting over time, destined to accommodate a more modern decoration.

On the opposite side there are other fragmentary details, to be dated to a later part of the fourteenth century: a crowned head, perhaps belonging to a Saint Catherine, a Saint Christopher with the Child Jesus on his shoulder and the group with Saint Anne, the Virgin and the Child, accompanied by two Franciscan saints, probably Saint Francis and Saint Anthony (Cozzi 1999, pp. 101-108).

Medieval frescoes Padova, Church of Santa Caterina, north wall: the medieval frescoes rediscovered under the sixteenth-century repainting, which simulates a colonnade with fabric

Saint's head (St. Catherine?)
St. Anne, the Virgin and Child and Saints Francis and Anthony

(left) Painter of the second half of the 14th century (1370–1380), Saint's head (St. Catherine?); (right) Painter of the second half of the 14th century, St. Anne, the Virgin and Child and Saints Francis and Anthony, Padova, church of Santa Caterina, north wall

PSaint Christopher Painter of the second half of the 14th century (after 1375), Saint Christopher, Padova, church of Santa Caterina, north wall

All these testimonies were not part of a unitary cycle, but were isolated panels made at the behest of individual faithful of the parish, who showed their attachment to the religious building embellishing it with pictorial decorations since ancient times.

[Foto di V. Baradel]