Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Images of St Catherine

Yesterday was the feast of St Catherine of Alexandria Virgin and Martyr.

In The Golden Legend, initially compiled circa 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine, is an account of her life and death, including this passage about the origins of her emblem, the Catherine wheel:

"Thereupon a certain prefect commended the following plan to the furious king: in three days four wheels, studded with iron saws and sharp nails, should be made ready, and by this horrible device the virgin should be cut to pieces, that the sight of so dreadful a death might deter the other Christians. it was further ordered that two of the wheels should revolve in one direction, and two be driven in the opposite direction, so that grinding and drawing her at once, they might crush and devour her. But when the engine was completed, the virgin prayed the Lord for the praise of His name and for the conversion of the people who stood by, the machine might fall to pieces. And instantly and angel of the Lord struck the monstrous mill, and broke it apart with such violence that four thousand pagans were killed by its collapse." 

(Jacobus de Voragine Golden Legend, New York, 1969; p. 713 -
 quotation by Matthew Heintzelman on the Medieval Religion discussion group)

There does seem to be a sense of quiet satisfaction on the part of the writer in the thought of so many pagans being killed by the exploding infernal device.

After centuries in the devotion of the Church St Catherine disappeared in the 1970 Missal, on the basis of the then fairly widespread doubts as to her historicity. However in the 2002 edition she reappeared as an optional memoria.

At our meeting of Brothers of the Oxford Oratory last night Fr Jerome Bertram C.O. examined the case for her existence, basing his talk on the first edition of Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints. Fr Jerome concluded that the probability of St Catherine having lived and died as a witness to the Faith was not to be discounted, and that despite later corruption of her Acta the likelihood was of her existence and that the traditions about her, properly interpreted, were credible.

In past centuries St Catherine was very popular, and there is considerable surviving evidence as to the regard in which her cult was held. On the Medieval Religion discussion group there was a post from John Dillon today about images of her, together with photographs of medieval English and French stained glass and wall-paintings from the Rev Gordon Plumb. This can be seen with the appropriate links at  St. Catherine of Alexandria This is a wonderfully varied collection, and well worth perusing. It subsequently transpired that a couple of the links do not work, and in the second example the image is inaccurately attributed, and for that see the additional post here.

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