Of wheels and mystical marriages

Mystical Marriage of Catherine of Alexandria and Catherine of Siena by Ambrogio Bergognone (1524) – National Gallery, London

Today in the calendars of both sides of the Roman Rite is the Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin, martyr.  As a matter of fact, she is celebrated by just about all Christians (who have any doctrine and history).

In the 2005 Martyrologium Romanum we find this entry:

Sanctae Catharinae, quam virginem fuisse Alexandrinam et martyrem nrratur, ingenii acumine et sapientia non minus quam animi robore refertam.  Eius corpus in celebri coenobio monte Sina pia colitur veneratione.

It is said that angels bore her body to Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Law.

In an interesting coincidence, it is also today the feast of St. Moses, a priest and martyr in Rome in 251.  It is also the feast of Peter of Alexandria, a bishop and martyr in 311.  I’m just sayin’.


Catherine of Alexandria is depicted usually with a palm, since she is a martyr, and a spiky but broken wheel, the instrument of her agony.  She is also often depicted from medieval time onward as the subject of a “mystical marriage” with the Christ Child who is in the act of placing a ring on her finger.  Another Catherine who is depicted this way is Catherine of Siena, recognizable in her Domincan habit.  There are zillions of painting across several centuries of this popular theme for both saints.  The painting I embedded, above, show both saints at the same time, which is rare.

Catherine of Alexandria is also one of the Fourteen Helpers, saints to whom people have over the centuries turn most often for intercession.  Recourse to the Vierzehnheiligen was an especially popular tradition in German speaking lands.

Here is Catherine’s rather poetic Collect in the older, traditional Roman Rite:

Deus, qui dedísti legem Móysi in summitáte montis Sínai, et in eódem loco per sanctos Angelos tuos corpus beátæ Catharínæ Vírginis et Mártyris tuæ mirabíliter collocásti: præsta, quaesumus; ut, ejus méritis et intercessióne, ad montem, qui Christus est, perveníre valeámus:…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Viva Cristo Rey says:

    Woooow!!! I never tire of new/old and beautiful things to learn of glorious Church and her Saints! St. Catherine of Alexandria pray for us!

  2. St. Catherine of Alexandria is the nemesis to the noonday devil, according to Father Chad Ripperberger, learned from the experience of exorcists. Thus she may be a big help to those of us beset by procrastination [politically correct term for laziness, acedia, and sloth ;-) ] and despair and such things. After learning this, I looked her up – what a big saint she is! What a story!

  3. LB236 says:

    Sadly, in the Ordinary Form collect for St. Catherine, we don’t see any mention of Moses or Mount Sinai. Those sorts of legends couldn’t possibly be true; Modern Man™ couldn’t possibly be so naive as to think such superstitious nonsense actually took place.

    Instead, we get a rather vanilla Collect that reads thusly, in English:

    Almighty ever-living God, who gave Saint Catherine of Alexandria to your people as a Virgin and an invincible Martyr, grant that through her intercession we may be strengthened in faith and constancy and spend ourselves without reserve for the unity of the Church. . . .

    So . . . There’s really nothing in this prayer that isn’t already said in the common Collect of a Virgin Martyr; the “faith and constancy” part is nice, but it’s not nearly as unique as the Extraordinary Form Collect. Sigh . . .

  4. APX says:

    We have a patron saint of procrastination, St. Expeditus.

    I don’t think one can blanket procrastination as sloth or laziness, though. There are several causes of procrastination that have nothing to do with being lazy or slothful.

  5. Father G says:

    Blessed feast day!

    Her feast had been dropped initially following the revision of the liturgical calendar, but has been restored as an optional memorial in the Ordinary Form.

    Her relics are kept at the Greek Orthodox monastery named after her on Mt. Sinai. Here is the page from the monastery’s official website with images of the reliquary: http://www.sinaimonastery.com/en/index.php?lid=84

    Here is a photo of relics kept at the monastery (part of her skull and her incorrupt left hand): https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e7/2d/2b/e72d2b2314cd25bc436464029c7b0c16.jpg

  6. MarkJ says:

    Does anyone know when St. Catherine of Alexandria was added to the universal calendar? My 1980 edition of the Liturgy of the Hours in French does not have this feast for today… on a related note, there is a window in Chartres Cathedral that depicts St. Catherine and the wheel: http://www.vitraux-chartres.fr/vitraux/16_vitrail_vies_stes_marguerite_et_catherine/scene_15.php

  7. MarkJ says:

    @Fr G: Thanks for anticipating my question about St. Catherine’s feast day on the calendar…

  8. Father G says:

    @MarkJ: You’re welcome. The feast was restored in 2002.

  9. Priam1184 says:

    Gorgeous Collect! It seems to have a different character to most of the Collects one encounters. I wonder how old it is?

    “O God, who gave the law to Moses at the summit of Mount Sinai, and who by your holy Angels wondrously laid the body of the Virgin and Martyr Catherine in the same place: grant, we beseech Thee, that by her merits and intercession we be strong enough to come to the mountain who is Christ…”

  10. Pingback: Saint Catherine of Alexandria | CatholicSaints.Info

  11. Imrahil says:

    Die Barbara mit dem Turm,
    die Gretl mit dem Wurm
    und die Kathl mit dem Ràdl –
    das sind die drei heiligen Màdl.

    (“Barbara with the tower, Margaret with the worm/dragon, Catherine with the wheel – these are the three holy maidens” [from among the Fourteen Helpers, I guess]. But in affectionate terms.)

    Also, St. Catherine is the traditional day of the last dancing-party before Advent (the next one would be on St. Stephen.)

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