Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria
Happy Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria! My patron saint.
Entymology for word geeks (like me!): M.L. Katerina, from Gk. Aikaterina. The -h- was introduced 16c., a folk etymology from Gk. katheros "pure." The initial Gk. vowel is preserved in Rus. form Ekaterina.
There are few verified facts about St. Catherine. So few, in fact, that she was removed from the Calendar of Saints from 1969-2002. A major bummer for my alma mater, the College of St. Catherine (Alexandria) in St. Paul, MN. I attended St. Kate's (really, in this case, shouldn't it be St. Cathy's with a C?) during her banishment period. I remember a lot of agitation that St. Catherine was no longer on the Saints Calendar. You could still celebrate her, but she did not have a designated Feast day. I was born in 1968, so for most of my life St. Catherine did not have a Feast day. St. Catherine of Alexandria was reinstated in the Calendar of Saints in 2002.
Because of the lack of historical facts, some people have taken it upon themselves to assign fantastical speculation to her life. For example, I have heard that some are trying to claim St. Catherine of Alexandria was a lesbian. I can no more prove that she was not a lesbian, then they can that she was. However, I see this attempt to assign lesbianism to St. Catherine as an consequence of the radical lesbian feminism that afflicts our society today. I let them have Batgirl (grudgingly) but leave my Catholic saint alone.
Devotion to St. Catherine of Alexandria reached its zenith during the Middle Ages. St. Catherine is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The Fourteen Holy Helpers are 14 saints that have proven themselves to be tremendous helpers to believers in times of adversity. The Fourteen Holy Helpers used to have a collective feast day on August 8. However, their feast day was removed in 1969 and has not been reinstated.
Most lives of St. Catherine of Alexandria agree on the following in common:
*She was a virgin and martyr.
*She was born in Alexandria around 287 A.D.
*She was a Christian convert.
*She was martyrd in Alexandria around 305 A.D.
*She spoke out against the persecution of Christians by Emperor Maxentius.
*Her intelligence converted many to the Faith, including members of the Emperor's family and staff.
*Because of her defense of Christians and the conversions she caused, she was sentenced to death on a spiked wheel (called the catherine wheel after her martyrdom). When she touched the wheel it broke. As a result, she was beheaded.
St. Catherine's Monastery near Mt. Sinai contains some of her relics. Some belive that angels carried her body there after her death. The site is now under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Church. For much of its history it was under the patronage of the Russian Orthodox Church. St. Catherine is venerated by both the Eastern and Western churches
St. Catherine is one of the Saints who spoke to St. Joan of Arc. Historically, the French had a strong devotion to St. Catherine. St. Catherine's Day in France is a day where unmarried women who reach the age of 25 years old pray for a husband.
Sainte Catherine, soyez bonne
Nous n'avons plus d'espoir
Vous êtes notre patronne
Ayez pitié de nous
Nous vous implorons à genoux
Aidez-nous à nous marier
Pitié, donnez-nous un époux
Car nous brûlons d'aimer
Daignez écouter la prière
De nos cœurs fortement épris
Oh, vous qui êtes notre mère
Donnez-nous un mari
They also used to wear yellow and green hats on November 25th. The yellow symbolizes faith, the green, knowledge. Alas, like most Catholic traditions, this one has gone away.
In England, Catherine (kattern) Cakes were baked on November 25th. Here's a recipe. (castor sugar is superfine sugar)
Bedfordshire Kattern Cakes
2 pounds bread dough
2 oz lard or butter
1 oz caraway seeds
2 oz castor sugar
1 large egg
Prepare the dough, then knead in the lard or butter, caraway seeds, sugar and egg. When the ingredients are well mixed, divide in two, kneading one piece to fit into a 2 lb greased loaf tin. Divide the second piece into two and knead each half to fit a 1 lb loaf tin, then cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise until the dough reaches the top of the tins.
Bake 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.
Serve sliced and buttered.
Why St. Catherine of Alexandria?
*She is the patron saint of my alma mater.
*She was a martyr for the faith.
*She was a defender of the faithful.
*She was an unmarried virgin at a time when at her age she should have been married already.
*She is a strong female role model.
*She was responsible for many conversions to the Faith.
*She is a (St. Jerome is another) patron saint of librarians (my profession).
*I feel in my heart that she lived. I don't need reams of proof.
Catherine (Alexandria) will be my Confirmation name.
P.S.: Today is also the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am, by no means, suggesting that St. Catherine is more important then the Blessed Mother. I'm just using the opportunity to say it is also St. Catherine's Day.