MS H.8, fols. 188v–189r

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St. Catherine: Catherine Rescued from the Torture Wheels

Hours of Henry VIII
Illuminated by Jean Poyer

France, Tours
ca. 1500
256 x 180 mm

Gift of the Heineman Foundation, 1977

MS H.8, fols. 188v–189r

St. Catherine: Catherine Rescued from the Torture Wheels
Border: Decapitation of Catherine (fol. 188v)

According to the Golden Legend, Catherine was the daughter of King Costas of Cyprus. Renowned for her noble birth and education, she attracted the interest of the early- fourth-century Emperor Maxentius (r. 306–12) who wanted to marry her. She refused him, having chosen instead to become the "bride of Christ."

Catherine's steadfast refusal of the emperor led to the order for her execution. Two spiked wheels, which were to grind against each other, were constructed, and the saint was placed between them. She prayed to the Lord for the machine to fall to pieces so that his name would be praised and those who stood by might be converted. Instantly an angel struck thedevice with such violence it broke apart, killing her tormentors.

Believing he could force the young woman to apostatize, Maxentius gathered fifty prominent pagan philosophers in Alexandria to convince her of the errors of Christianity. Shesuccessfully refuted them and even converted the philosophers, who were subsequently executed. Catherine, however, was unharmed, as the emperor still lusted after her.

The spurned emperor ordered Catherine beheaded, the subject depicted in the margin. Maxentius, holding a staff, looks on as the executioner prepares to do his job (his sword is hidden by the text).

At her death, Catherine prayed to Jesus that "whosoever shall celebrate the memory of my passion, or shall call upon me at the moment of death or in any necessity, may obtain the benefit of thy mercy," increasing the popularity of her cult and ensuring the efficacy of her intercession. After Catherine's death, angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where it is preserved in the famous monastery that bears her name. (Feast day: formerly November 25)