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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spinning the Tale of St. Catherine

No, no, it's St Cattern who is the patron saint of lacemakers - I remember reading about her, there is even a Cattern's Day cake you can bake.

I can see I've got some s'plainin' to do.  To begin with, there is no "St. Cattern".  St. Cattern, as in the cake, refers to St. Catherine, specifically (as there is more than one St. Catherine), St. Catherine of Alexandria.

St. Catherine of Alexandria had nothing to do with making lace (although you are correct that she is listed as a patron saint of lacemakers....we'll get to that).  She was thought to be one of the most intelligent women of her time.  She was so well respected and her thoughts were heeded by so many, today she would be known as a trend setter and would no doubt have a blog and a web site.  This all proved to be her undoing.  Or doing, so to speak, since ultimately, martyrdom is a good thing.

When she converted to Christianity people followed.  So she was arrested.  But she was so well thought of and popular, no one really wanted to see her in jail.  It was as though someone threw Mother Teresa in jail.  So they sent people to go in there and talk her out of all this Christianity nonsense.  They all left converted.  This happened more than once.

She had to go. They brought in a wheel. The plan was to tie her to the wheel and just drive away with her until spinning on the wheel killed her. I guess. That or they would have had to hang the wheel on something and spin it like the wheel on "Wheel of Fortune" until she died. The statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria that we have in my childhood parish has spikes on the outside of it, so I always imagined that she would be tied to the outside of the wheel and stabbed and run over. But then you wouldn't really need to spikes to kill her, would you?

I finally found this explanation of the "wheel" that made some sense:
 She was placed in a machine, composed of four wheels, connected together and armed with sharp spikes, so that as they revolved the victim might be torn to pieces.

It doesn't matter anyhow, because as soon as they brought her over to the wheel (or the wheel machine, as it were) it miraculously smashed to pieces. So the wheel never did anything to her. She was then taken to the outskirts of town where she was beaten and beheaded.

But our lacemaking, cake making story does not end there.

St. Catherine's Day heralds the beginning of winter. On St. Catherine's day young girls and old maids pray for the intercession of St. Catherine to find a husband. The young ones say this:"Lord, give me a well-situated husband. Let him be gentle, rich, generous, and pleasant!"

If time marches on she prays:
"Lord, one who's bearable, or who can at least pass as bearable in the world!"

And finally, if the parade is really passing by:
"Send whatever you want, Lord; I'll take it!"

What does all of this have to do with lace? Deep breath and here we go. Catherine of Aragon was said to have burned all her lace so that the poor lace makers would have more work to do. Isn't that nice? And St. Cattern cakes are actually named for her. Somehow, St. Catherine of Aragon and St. Catherine of Alexandria's particulars got all stirred up together with cake and lace.

And wheels.  Wheels are used for spinning and products of spinners are used to make lace.

Which is why I would go with St. Clare, who actually did some tatting.

And one last thing.  St. Cattern cake is not cake unless you are British.  In the same way we have trunks on our cars and they have boots, they have cake and we have bread.  St. Cattern cake is actually a kind of bread.


Dawn said...

I didn't realize Catherine of Aragon is a saint. Who knew!? I'm kind of new at this saint stuff, so I have a lot to learn.

I think the Saint of the Day is two saints - St. Peter and St. Paul, which would make four feet, between them.

sam said...

I think this is why the firework is known as a Catherine Wheel. The real method is possibly even worse than described http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_wheel

Maureen said...

This has been a wonderful post! - thank you for explaining it so well - British to the bootstraps here........