Caterina Benincasa was born into a large middle-class family in Siena in 1347, at a time when the bubonic plague or Black Death was ravaging the town and her family. She began having religious visions at age five or six. At 16, Catherine went on a fast to protest her parents' wish that she marry, and cut off her long hair. She became a nun, joining the Dominican Order. As a so-called tertiary, she lived outside the convent, at home with her family as before, although she spent her time in almost total silence and solitude. She became a philosopher, mystic, and theologian, and tried to convince the Pope to return his office to Rome from the Great Schism in Avignon. Her letters and books are considered classics of the Italian language, written in the Tuscan vernacular of the 14th century. St. Catherine of Siena was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1461, and is called one of the two patron saints of Italy, along with St. Francis of Assisi.