Catholicism, Catholic, Traditional Catholicism, Catholic Church

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of
St. Catherine of Alexandria

St. Catherine of Alexandria, by Michael Pacher, 1465-1470

St. Catherine -- one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers -- was a brilliant young woman of noble birth who went before the Emperor Maximinus to correct him for worshipping false gods and to upbraid him for his persecution of Christians. He sent some of his greatest scholars and philosophers to debate her -- but she ended up converting many of them, and they were put to death and Catherine was beaten and jailed. The Emperor's wife, intrigued by Catherine, went to visit her with the head of the Emperor's troops. They, too, were converted and put to death. Then came Catherine's turn; she was condemned to die on the wheel, but when she touched it, it shattered. She was then beheaded. Legend says that the angels carried her body to Mt. Sinai. She is the patron of unmarried women, students, philosophers, craftsmen who use wheels (e.g., potters), lacemakers, and milliners. It was she, along with St. Margaret and St. Michael, who visited St. Joan of Arc.


On St. Catherine's Day, it is customary for unmarried women to pray for husbands, and to honor women who've reached 25 years of age but haven't married -- called "Catherinettes" in France. Catherinettes send postcards to each other, and friends of the Catherinettes make hats for them -- traditionally using the colors yellow (faith) and green (wisdom), often outrageous -- and crown them for the day. Pilgrimage is made to St. Catherine's statue, and she is asked to intercede in finding husbands for the unmarried lest they "don St. Catherine's bonnet" and become spinsters. The Catherinettes are supposed to wear the hat all day long, and they are usually feted with a meal among friends. Because of this hat-wearing custom, French milliners have big parades to show off their wares on this day.

The French say that before a girl reaches 25, she prays: "Donnez-moi, Seigneur, un mari de bon lieu! Qu'il soit doux, opulent, libéral et agréable!" (Lord, give me a well-situated husband. Let him be gentle, rich, generous, and pleasant!") After 25, she prays: "Seigneur, un qui soit supportable, ou qui, parmi le monde, au moins puisse passer!" (Lord, one who's bearable, or who can at least pass as bearable in the world!") And when she's pushing 30: "Un tel qu'il te plaira Seigneur, je m'en contente!" ("Send whatever you want, Lord; I'll take it!"). An English version goes,

St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid
And grant that I never may die an old maid.

And there is this, a fervent French prayer:
Sainte Catherine, soyez bonne
Nous n'avons plus d'espoir
qu'en vous
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
  Saint Catherine be good
We have no hope
but you
You are our protector
Have pity on us
We implore you on our knees
Help us to get married
For pity's sake, give us a husband
For we're burning with love
Deign to hear the prayer
Which comes from our overburdened hearts
Oh you who are our mother
Give us a husband

... which is summed up more quickly in this, an English prayer:

A husband, St. Catherine
A handsome one, St. Catherine
A rich one, St. Catherine
A nice one, St. Catherine
And soon, St. Catherine

Another French saying is "A la Sainte Catherine, tout bois prend racine" -- "on St. Catherine's day, the trees take root." Gardeners know that today is a good day for planting trees...

Queen Catherine of AragonNow, because St. Catherine is the patron Saint of lacemakers, and because Queen Catherine of Aragon -- the first of Henry VIII's six unfortunate wives -- was also associated with lacemaking, it is a good day to think of the latter woman, too. The pious, Catholic Queen Catherine is said to have taught lacemaking to the poor of Ampthill while the divorce she fought all the way to Rome was pending, and she is also said to have burned all her lace only so she would have to order more, thereby keeping the poor lacemakers employed. In honor of the Saint and of the good Catholic Queen, "Cattern Cakes" 1 are eaten today:

Cattern 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.  

If you have a trained pyrotechnician in the house, the lighting of the firework known as a "St. Catherine's Wheel" would be a very showy thing to do. A Catherine's Wheel is a long tube filled with powder and coiled around a wooden center which is attached to a stationary pole of some sort. When lit, centrifugal force rotates the coil very quickly, and as it burns, a wheel of colored flames, sparks, and smoke is produced. Other pinwheel-shaped objects are described as "Catherine Wheels," -- e.g., rose windows are called such.

1 "Cattern Cakes" are also known as "Kattern Cakes" and by other spellings.

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