St. Catherine

Also known as St Catherine of Alexandria. Her best known attribute is the wheel on which it was intended she would be killed. Divine intervention caused the wheel to collapse. 

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

   Catherine was one of a number of 'virgin-martyrs', legendary women who were prepared to suffer torture and death rather than surrender their virginity or compromise their Christian faith. 
  As with St Margaret, such legends always involve a villainous male character. In this case is is the wicked Emperor Maxentius, (Quote: 'Offer sacrifice and live, or submit to exquisite torture and die!') who ruled from 306 - 312. Here is the entry on Catherine from the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

   Of noble birth and learned in the sciences, when only eighteen years old, Catherine presented herself to the Emperor Maxentius. She endeavoured to prove how iniquitous was the worship of false gods. Astounded at the young girl's audacity, but incompetent to vie with her in point of learning the tyrant summoned numerous scholars whom he commanded to use all their skill in specious reasoning that thereby Catherine might be led to apostatize. But she emerged from the debate victorious. Several of her adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were at once put to death. Furious at being baffled, Maximinus had Catherine scourged and then imprisoned. Meanwhile the empress, eager to see so extraordinary a young woman, went with Porphyry, the head of the troops, to visit her in her dungeon, when they in turn yielded to Catherine's exhortations, believed, were baptized, and immediately won the martyr's crown.

  The king  ordered that the empress's breasts be torn off, followed by her beheading. He then blamed Catherine for her death. The Golden Legend continues:

 'Even though you used magic to bring about the Queen’s death, if you end your foolishness you will be the next queen in my palace. This very day you will either sacrifice to the god – or suffer beheading.’
‘Do whatever you wish,’ Catherine replied.  ‘I am prepared for whatever you decide.’

And so she was sentenced to death, first by the wheel, then, when that failed, by beheading. As she was being led to the place of execution, she looked up to heaven and prayed.
‘Oh Jesus, hope and joy of virgins, look upon with kindness anyone who honours my memory, or who calls upon me when in need or at the point of death.’
A voice was then heard saying ‘My beloved, my spouse, Heaven’s gate is opened to you and to those who will honour you. Your prayers will be answered.’ 

   When the saint had been beheaded, milk flowed from her body instead of blood. Angels gathered up her body and took it from that place to Mount Sinai. Here they gave her an honourable burial. (Oil still issues from her bones and restores the limbs of the weak.)

   Magarito's scene shows Catherine being beheaded, then her body being carried off to Mount Sinai.

   A familiar renaissance image is the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine. This is described earlier on in the Golden Legend and we are reminded of it in the Golden Legend extract above. It is a confusing topic as more that one Catherine can be involved; it is claimed that St Catherine of Siena also had a vision of marriage with Christ. Early images show a marriage with an adult Christ, but in later versions an exchange of rings with Christ as an  infant was preferred.

Barna di Siena, c 1340
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Louvre, Paris

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