Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Great Martyr

Icon of Saint Catherine

Today is the feast of Queen St. Catherine of Alexandria, Great Martyr and Virgin, patron saint of philosophers, orators, teachers, jurists, theologians, librarians, scribes, schoolgirls, milliners, lacemakers, potters, wheelwrights, and virgins. Patronage always conveys a history of signs. She's the patron of so many intellectual professions because according to legend she argued with philosophers and rhetoricians, and refuted them all. As a result she became closely associated with university life in the Middle Ages. She's the patron of potters, because she was tortured on a wheel and has the wheel as one of her iconic symbols; wheelwrights make wheels and potters use wheels, so potters and wheelwrights share symbolism with her. And she is the patron of milliners and lacemakers because of an old custom in which unmarried women on St. Catherine's Day would have their own celebration, complete with finery, so those groups became closely associated with her festivities.


  1. MrsDarwin3:41 PM

    Catherine of Alexandria has always floated at the edge of my consciousness, being a name saint of mine, as it were, and yet always overshadowed by the more popular (in Catholic saint books for children, anyway) Catherine of Siena. So all I know about her is the name and the fact of the wheel, although I thought it had fallen apart at her touch. The wheel! With the spikes! And it's all the more mysterious because I don't know exactly how one is supposed to be executed on a wheel, but it sounds horrible. But I don't exactly want to google it, especially since I'm still traumatized by the oil of whelps (and I don't even like dogs).

  2. Ye Olde Statistician7:43 PM

    Think of it as an extreme form of chiropractic. The wheel broke, so they beheaded her, which is why she is shown often with broken wheel and sword as well as crown. Oldest surviving account quoted here:

  3. Itinérante2:58 AM

    It was one of the rare times I know who's the saint of the day and I wait eagerly for Brandon's post about it. So yes she is still big in the Eastern rites and she is still very remembered in France especially if you are still a Cathrinette.

  4. branemrys2:07 PM

    It's good to know that the Catherinette tradition hasn't died out in France.


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