Neurological Sciences

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 939–940 | Cite as

St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380 AD): one of the earliest historic cases of altered gustatory perception in anorexia mirabilis

  • Francesco M. Galassi
  • Nicole BenderEmail author
  • Michael E. Habicht
  • Emanuele Armocida
  • Fabrizio Toscano
  • David A. Menassa
  • Matteo Cerri
Brief Communication


St. Catherine of Siena suffered from an extreme form of holy fasting, a condition classified as anorexia mirabilis (also known as inedia prodigiosa). Historical and medical scholarships alike have drawn a comparison between this primaeval type of anorexia with a relatively common form of eating disorder among young women in the modern world, anorexia nervosa. St. Catherine’s condition was characterised by a disgust for sweet taste, a condition also described in anorexia nervosa, and characterised by specific neurophysiological changes in the brain. St. Catherine’s case may be considered one of the oldest veritable descriptions of altered gustation (dysgeusia). Moreover, a more compelling neurophysiological similarity between anorexia mirabilis and anorexia nervosa may be proposed.


History of neurology Palaeopathology Anorexia Dysgeusia St. Catherine of Siena 



The authors wish to thank the Mäxi Foundation (Switzerland) for supporting this research.

Compliance with ethical standards

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia S.r.l., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Evolutionary MedicineUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.University of ParmaParmaItaly
  3. 3.Post-Graduate School of Public HealthUniversity of SienaSienaItaly
  4. 4.Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Division of Clinical NeurologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  5. 5.Department of Biomedical and Neuromotor SciencesUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly

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