MS M.917/945, pp. 296–297

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St. Catherine

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963

MS M.917/945, pp. 296–297

Catherine, nobly dressed in a crown and a luxurious ermine-lined cloak, prays from a small book bound in green cloth. Her attributes, the spiked wheel and sword, sit behind and beneath her. The sword is held by the Syrian Emperor Maximinus who lies vanquished beneath her feet. Maximinus had ordered the torture and execution of the young virgin saint after she refused his hand in marriage. The bear cub (catulus in latin) who toys with a red, gold, and green ball in the border may be a pun on Catherine's name.


Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.


Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern