St. Katherine, from Speculum Sacerdotale
ST. KATHERINE, FROM SPECULUM SACERDOTALE: FOOTNOTES1 In siche a day, On such and such a day [to be inserted by the speaker].
3 Alexandre, Alexandria.
5 ilettryd, educated ("lettered"); concludyd, defeated by arguments.
6 sputyd, disputed.
8 mayster, commander.
9 infidelité, unbelief.
11 bete with scourges, beaten with whips.
12 sytte, remain; by, for.
15 passiones, sufferings.
17 scilicet, namely; acordyngly, in harmony.
18 other two, two others; contrarily, in the opposite direction.
19 daggyd alle abowte outeward, made to project outward all around their rims.
20 contrarily sette, set against each other.
21 rent, torn.
22 in alle these, i.e., in the midst of these perils.
23 turmentis, instruments of torture.
26 hedid, beheaded.
27 hedynge, [place of] beheading.
28-29 Helethe of the trowynge, Savior of those who believe.
30 memorie, commemoration.
31 worschepynge, honoring; askynge, petition.
33 angre, affliction.
34 famyschynge evel, the danger (punishment) of famine; evel eyre, unwholesome air; noye, injure.
35 plenteuous, fertile; eyre, air; heleful, healthful.
36 fruytes, crops/profits.
37 unnethe, scarcely.
40 Eius ergo festum, et cetera, Therefore her feast, etc.
ST. KATHERINE, FROM SPECULUM SACERDOTALE: EXPLANATORY NOTES16-22 This detailed description of the menacing wheels, which is even fuller and more vivid than the one in the stanzaic Life of St. Katherine (lines 450-64), stands in sharp contrast to the extreme brevity of almost everything else in the Speculum Sacerdotale's retelling of the legend. Presumably the wheels receive such emphasis because the author of this account wanted to explain the familiar emblem for Katherine, the wheel that was traditionally used in the visual arts to identify her and distinguish her from other virgin saints.
24-25 ten thousande men. Most versions of the legend, including the other two in this collection, use the somewhat less extravagant number of four thousand.
28-36 Compare the petitions in this version of Katherine's final prayer with those in the stanzaic Life (lines 709-16). Surprisingly, this otherwise restrained account of Katherine's life makes the most extreme, magical-sounding promises for the benefits her devotees will receive. Mirk's account completely omits Katherine's prayer and its response, perhaps out of uneasiness with the tendency to over-emphasize this aspect of the legend. The references to pestilence, venjaunce, famyschynge evel, and evel eyre (lines 33-34), however, remind us of the severe food shortages and visitations of plague which must have created an unusual demand in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for such promises of supernatural protection. Air was believed to be a carrier of disease, including plague; hence the fear of evel eyre. The term venjaunce could refer to any tribulation or series of tribulations inflicted as a punishment for sin, including fatal epidemics, floods, and other large-scale disasters.
39 mylke instede of blode. See explanatory note to the stanzaic Life of Katherine, line 754.
40 Eius ergo festum, et cetera. A fuller version of this closing formula, at the end of the Speculum Sacerdotale chapter on St. Stephen, calls on the faithful to keep the saint's feast day (by refraining both from earthly labors and from sins and by coming to church) and to pray for God's forgiveness and grace through the merits of the saint.
In siche a day ye schul have the feste of Seynt Kateryne, virgine and marter.
Sires, this holy and blessid virgine, Seynt Kateryne, was ibore in the cité of
Alexandre and doughtur of a kyng namyd Costus. And this yonge holy dameselle
was experte, wyse, and discrete bothe in Godis wysdom and in the prudence of
man, and wele was ilettryd. And sche overcome and concludyd fifty wyse phi-
losophers that sputyd with hire at the commaundment of the emperoure. And when
sche hadde overcomen hem alle, sche convertyd hem to the feithe of Crist. And
sche convertyd the queene with Porphorie, the mayster of the knyghttis, with two
hundred knyghtis that were under hym fro here infidelité unto the feith of Crist.
And alle they suffrid marterdom, for conversion of whome the emperoure was
highely wroth and dide commaunde the virgine to be bete with scourges and for
to sytte in prison by the space of twelve dayes. But Crist refresshid hire and fedde
hire yche day in the same prison by a white dowve. And oure Lorde aperide unto
hire Hymself with a grete multitude of aungels and comfortyd hire ageyn hure
passiones and turmentis.
And at the counsel of the emperoure and his juge it was ordeyned thus for hire
passion - scilicet, that two wheles schulde be sette togeder and renne acordyngly
togedre, and other two as cruel as they rennynge in another maner contrarily ageyn
hem, and alle these wheles were daggyd alle abowte outeward with scharpe nayles
made like to hokys so contrarily sette that when the mayde schuld be sette amonge
hem that sche schulde amonge hem be rent upward and downeward in the moste
cruellyst maner. But God dide save His spouse in alle these, for anoon He dyde
sende downe His aungel to the turmentis, the whiche smote hem asundre with
dynte of swerde everychone, that the fallynge of the wheles dyde kylle and sle ten
And then the tyrant dyde commaunde the virgine to be hedid. And when sche
was ibrought to the hedynge, sche prayed hem for a litel tyme to make certeyne
prayers. And then sche dide praye God in this maner: "O Lord God and Helethe of
the trowynge in thee, O good Jhesu, hope and joye of alle virgines, I beseche thee
and thy mercy that whosoever in tyme to come doth make mencion or memorie,
praysynge or worschepynge of my passion, that he mowe have his askynge
igraunted of thee, whether that it be made in the ende of his lyf or in eny other
angre or tribulacion in his lyf. And I beseche thee that no maner of pestilence,
venjaunce, famyschynge evel, and evel eyre do noye hym ne dwelle with hym,
but I beseche thee that his londe be to hym plenteuous, the eyre to hym heleful,
and that he have plenté of fruytes."
And unnethe sche hadde makyd hire prayers or there come a voys to hire and
sayde, "Virgine, God hath grauntyd to thee thyne askynge."
And then the virgine was hedid, and mylke instede of blode ranne fro hire necke.
Eius ergo festum, et cetera.