November 25
Saint Catherine of Alexandria's Feastday

The legend of St. Catherine is the most outrageous addition to company of Christian saints due the dubious hagiography of the early Christian church.. In fact, there are enough preposterous facets of her alleged martyrdom to crete a prime time soap opera.

Catherine was exceptionally bright and beautiful, and reported to be the most beautiful young woman in Alexandria. She publically denounced the Emperor Maxentius for worshiping idols when she was only eighteen. Smitten by her beauty, Maxentius  tried to convert her to idolatry by having Catherine appear before fifty philosophers who were ordered to convince Catherine of her heresy. When Catherine was able to demolish all of the philosophers' arguments and convince them of the Christian religion, Maxentius  burned them to death.

Maxentius was so dazzled by Catherine's predominance before his philosopher that he ordered Catherine to many him. Catherine refused and Maxentius had her flogged and imprisoned for several days without food Fasting was not apparently a problem for Catherine who was fed daily by a dove that flew through her prison window. Maxentius then tried a more sophisticated torture. He had a spiked wheel constructed (the Catherine-wheel) on which Catherine was tied spread-eagle. The wheel was set in motion and as its speed was increased, the spikes began to be hurled off, impaling  the onlookers who had come to witness Catherine's torture.


Catherine of Alexandria
by Raphael

When Catherine came out of the ordeal unharmed, Maxentius' wife (whom the Emperor had planned on replacing with tCatherine) converted to Christianity along with 200 of the emperor's  personal guards, thus provoking poor Max to finally have Catherine beheaded. When her head was removed, milk flowed fran her veins instead of blood. Her body (and head) were then transported by angels to Mount Sinai where her alleged relics are revered at the famous monastery of St. Catherine's.

Although there is no historical evidence that Catherine ever existed, her cult has been very strong. Catherine was one of the "voices" that commanded Joan of Arc to save France and  is venerated as the patroness of philosophers and preachers.  

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. Pilgrimage is made to St. Catherine's statue, and she is asked to intercede in finding husbands for the unmarried 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.


In England, it is customary traditional Cattern Cake on her feastday *

*  Not to be confused with the Kattern cake , the persimmon cupcakes named after Catherine of Aragon    

Cattern Cake



1 pk yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup scalded buttermilk
1/ 4 cup melted butter

3 egg yolks
1 TB caraway seeds |
1 tsp grated orange zest
4 cups
+ flour
butter for bowl and pan
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water
  2. Beat melted butter and egg yolks. Beat in yeast and buttermilk mixture.
  3. Dissolve salt and sugar in the cooled scalded buttermilk.
  4. Beat in caraway seeds, zest, and flour.
  5. Knead dough (add more flour if necessary) on a floured surface. Place dough in a buttered bowl.. Cover with a damp towel and place in a warn place to rise until doubled.
  6. Place dough on a floured surface. Punch down. Place in a buttered round, deep cakepan. Cover with a damp towel and place in a warm place to rise until doubled.
  7. Preheat oven to 375º F. Bake for 30 minutes or until browned.

© 2010 Gordon Nary