Feast of St. Catherine

Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria – November 25

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.

Customs

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…