The Gitanjali, Or: Song-offerings of Rabindranath Tagore May Sinclair writes the following aobut St. Catherine of Genoa:

She would at times, when in the garden, seize hold of the thorn-covered twigs of the rose-bushes with both her hands; and would not feel any pain while thus doing it in a transport of mind. She would also bite her hands and burn them, and this in order to divert, if possible, her interior oppression

I’m looking for the explanation of “divert, if possible, her interior oppression”. It is clear that spirituality is being talked about here, and St. Catherine’s love for God is what is intended to mean (I may be wrong) but I need a clear explanation.

1 Answer 1


Interior oppression here refers to the suffering caused by the fear of losing God, typically because of one's sins. For a similar usage of "oppression", see Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle, where one can read the following (emphasis added):

For her understanding is so dim that it is incapable of seeing the truth, but believes what the imagination (now mistress of the understanding) presents to it and the nonsense which the devil attempts to present to it, when Our Lord gives him leave to test her soul, and even to make her think herself cast off by God. For there are many things which assault her soul with an interior oppression so keenly felt and so intolerable that I do not know to what it can be compared, save to the torment of those who suffer in hell, for in this spiritual tempest no consolation is possible.

For Catherine of Genoa this suffering is so intense that she resorts to self-harm to distract (cf. "divert") from the psychological or emotional pain.

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