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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

On Again Off Again

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Or not.

St. Catherine is one of those saints who was booted off the calendar in 1969 due to the fact that she didn't exist.

Or she did.

She was put back on the calendar in 2002.

So today you can honor her, or not. We won't encourage you. But we won't ask you to stop.

St. Catherine is not one of those saints like St. Christopher who flat out didn't exist. She likely did exist, it's just that her story is made up.

Embellished, let's say.

If you read the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, a Greek philosopher woman, you'd swear you're reading the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Beautiful, smart, pure as the driven snow, great speaker and teacher, killed for stating her beliefs.

St. Catherine however is preaching Christianity. Her converts are promptly killed and Catherine is thrown into jail. But now she is so famous that the Empress and her enclave visit her in jail and are converted, so they have to be promptly killed. Now Catherine is really in the soup. She is to be put to death on the wheel but when she touches it the wheel breaks. Sometimes it even explodes and kills bystanders. So they chop off her head.

(This is a common occurrence among the holy martyrs, the evil super villain torture fails due to some miracle, and then off with their heads. The beheading always works eventually. I say eventually because at least two saints finished what they had to say before they died, sans heads. St. Genesius, a pagan actor, was starring in a play mocking baptism when he suddenly saw the light and started preaching. To shut him up they chopped off his head, but he kept talking. What can I say, the show must go on. And St. Denis was beheaded in a nasty part of town so he picked up his head and walked to a nicer area and died there.)

Then the angels carry the body of St. Catherine to Mount Sinai. I guess they took her head as well. In art, she's in one piece again. I can tell you for a fact this never happened. Somebody would have seen it and made a comment.

St. Catherine's feast day was a huge big deal for a very long time. It was a Holy Day of Obligation in some places. Her popularity and her superpowers caused her patronages to grow. she is the patron saint of: wheels and wheel rights, students, teachers, unmarried girls, fireworks, people who work with wheels, like spinners and potters, archivists, lawyers, dying people, knife grinders and sharpeners, philosophers, preachers, stenographers, nurses, theologians, millers, mechanics, secretaries, people on juries and scholars.
And apologists...there are a lot of those these days.
In some places there is a bread called St. Catherine's Wigs (which has nothing to do with hair, wigs are a type of bun) that is made and eaten by maidens and spinsters who are looking for a suitable husband. They would say this:

"Sweet Saint Catherine, send me a husband,
A good one, I pray;
But arn a one better than narn a one.
O Saint Catherine, give me your aid!
Grant that I may never die an old maid!"

I think if one part rhymes the whole thing should rhyme, but that's just me.

Meanwhile St. Catherine herself was married. She married the Baby Jesus in a mystical marriage presided over by the Blessed Mother.

You may think I'm confusing her with St. Catherine of Sienna, but I'm not. St. Catherine of Sienna was also married to the Baby Jesus in a mystical marriage presided over by the Blessed Mother. It's mystical, so calm down.

St. Catherine is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, who also got the boot in 1969. The Fourteen Holy Helpers were invented ..not the saints, the list...to help victims of the Black Plague. Or more to the point, people who were not victims of the Black Plague yet. The Fourteen Holy Helpers are not to be confused with the fourteen most helpful saints, a sort of saintly top ten list. St. Catherine is in the top 14 list as well.

And for a girl who didn't exist but did, she sure gets around. She was one of the saints who counseled St. Joan of Arc.

It's up to you how you want to handle the St. Catherine situation. Here's my beef: St. Christopher is really, really just a story and yet he is still plastered everywhere, on medals and visors, on prayer cards and keychains. Even non-Catholic surfers wear him while they hang ten.

Good luck finding a St. Catherine of Alexandria anything.

St Catherine's Wigs (Not Hair)

You can make them. Or not.


owenswain said...

I didn't see her in my Liturgy of the Hours and would have known nothing about her apart from this post. In end it seems it doesn't matter. Or does it?

The Poor Blogger said...

Dear Sister,

I beg to differ regarding St. Christopher. It is true that his Western vita is apocryphal, but there is a much different version which exists in the Eastern churches where he is still venerated today as a military martyr.

Thank you for the information regarding the wigs and the tradition. Very interesting.


Anonymous said...

She appears in Dylan's "new" song, Ring Them Bells. It was fun researching all the details only to find that it was all made up except for the Emporer Maxentius. Or not.