Catherine is thought to have been a noble girl who lived in the 4th century. She was persecuted for her Christianity, and despised marriage with the Emperor because she was a ‘bride of Christ’. According to the legend, Catherine was no push-over intellectually, either: she disputed successfully with 50 philosophers who were called in to convince her of the errors of Christianity.
Catherine protested against the persecution of Christians by Maxentius, and then she herself was tortured: broken on a wheel (later called Catherine wheel), but the machine then broke down itself, injuring bystanders. Catherine was then beheaded.
This legend strongly appealed to the Middle Age imagination. Catherine became the patron of young girls, students, philosophers, nurses and craftsmen such as wheelwrights, spinners and millers.
In England 62 churches were dedicated to her, and 170 medieval bells still bear her name. ‘Lives’, poems, miracle plays, stained-glass windows, panels and paintings have all been done in Catherine’s honour.
Article originally posted in The Heath, November 2020