CATHARINE, SAINT, THE MARTYR (SAINT CATHARINE OF ALEXANDRIA): One of the most honored saints both of the Eastern and the Western Church. Many modern hagiographers identify her with a wealthy and noble Christian lady of Alexandria who, according to Eusebius (Hist. eccl., VIII. xiv. 15), resisted the licentious advances of the emperor Maximinus, and was consequently


deprived of her estates and banished. This identification, however, does not agree with the statement of Rufinus (Hist. eccl., viii. 17) that this lady was named Dorothea, nor does it harmonize with the legend of St. Catherine as given both by Simeon Metaphrastes and the Roman martyrology. According to these sources, St. Catharine was a maiden of royal birth (the daughter of King Konstos, in the Greek Officium), and of extraordinary wisdom and beauty. At the age of eighteen, she engaged in a controversy, at the command either of Maximinus or Maxentius (although the latter never ruled Alexandria), with fifty pagan philosophers, whom she converted so signally that they remained faithful to Christianity even to martyrdom. In prison, a few days before her own execution, she converted the empress, the general Porphyrius, and his 200 soldiers, all of whom suffered death by the sword for their faith. Resisting both the pleadings and the threats of the tyrant, Catharine remained unharmed by torture, even on a machine of sharp-pointed wheels, until she was finally beheaded by the command of Maximinus.

The day of St. Catharine is celebrated either on Nov. 25 or on Mar. 5. Her body is said to have been borne by angels to Mount Sinai, where Justinian I. built a cloister in her honor and where her bones were said to have been discovered by Egyptian Christians in the eighth century, thus giving rise to the feast of the discovery of the body of St. Catharine on May 13 or 26. About 1027 Simeon, a monk from Sinai, is said to have carried a portion of the relics of St. Catharine to Rouen, and her monastery on Mount Sinai now retains only her head and one hand. [These are enclosed in a marble sarcophagus.] Inspired by the tradition of her victory over the philosophers of Alexandria, the philosophical faculty of the University of Paris later chose her as their patron saint. According to Occidental tradition, she is one of the fourteen "helpers in need," the only other feminine members of this band being SS. Barbara and Margaret. See HELPERS IN NEED.

In Christian art, both of the East and the West, St. Catharine is an important figure. Her usual attributes are a sword and a wheel (either entire or broken), through which curved knives are thrust. To these are frequently added a palm of victory, a book in token of her learning, and occasionally a crown, or, more often, a bridal ring which the Christ-child himself is said to have placed on her finger in emblem of betrothal. The oldest Oriental picture of this saint is a mosaic over the apse of the basilica of the Transfiguration in the monastery on Sinai, which represents simply a female head without attributes. In a picture by Simon of Sienna (d. 1344) she bears in her hand a palm and a book. Among the numerous representations of St. Catherine in Western art, special mention may be made of the works of Altichiero da Zevio (c. 1380) in the frescos of the chapel of St. George at Padua, the frescos of Masaccio (c. 1420) in the upper church of St. Clement at Rome, eleven marble bas-reliefs (probably dating from the fourteenth century) in the church of Santa Chiara in Naples, nine pictures of 1385 in the cloister of St. Paul at Leipsic, and the miniatures in the Vie de Sainte Catherine d' Alexandrie by Jean Mielot, secretary of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy (c. 1462). After the middle of the fifteenth century the most noteworthy artists of Italy, Flanders, and Germany, such as Fiesole, Raffael, Carlo Dolce, Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Lukas Cranach, vied with one another in the production of pictures of St. Catharine, and the medieval Christian drama repeatedly represented the legend of the saint in mysteries, the earliest being that of the Norman Geoffrey, abbot of St. Albans, which was played at Dunstable about 1120.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Legend of St. Katherine, ed. from a MS. in the Cotton Library by J. Morton for the Abbotsford Club, London, 1841; Life and Martyrdom of St. Katherine of Alexandria, Roxburghe Club publications, no. 99, ib. 1884; Life of St. Katherine, ed. E. Einenkel for Early Text Society, ib. 1884; The Life Metrical, by J. Capgrave, ed. F. C. Hingeston, is in Rolls Series, no. 1, pp. 337-354, ib. 1858. Consult: C. Hardwick, Historical Inquiry Touching St. Catharine of Alexandria, Cambridge, 1849; H. Knust, Geschichte der Legenden der heiligen Catherina, Halle, 1890. On the art side, consult: Mrs. Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art, ii. 74-97, Boston, 1893; J. Wipfli and J. J. von Ah, Das Leben der heiligen Katharina von Alexandrien, Einsiedeln, 1898.


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