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St Katherine of Alexandria

Tradition has it that St Katherine of Alexandria was a Christian of noble birth, with beauty and brains, who lived in the 4th century. She declared herself a Bride of Christ, refused to marry the heathen Emperor Maxentius and successfully argued her case in public against 50 wise men sent to convince her of the error of her ways. Katherine made them look foolish in front of the watching crowd and in anger, Maxentius had them burned alive. Katherine herself was to be tortured on a spiked wheel for her act of defiance (hence the Katherine Wheel of firework displays). Miraculously the wheel broke apart as soon as Katherine touched it, with fragments flying into the crowd, killing many of her adversaries. Ultimately she was beheaded and her body carried by angels to the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, where to this day a monastery remains bearing her name. Although scholars have argued that none of this story is true (indeed she was removed from the revised Roman Calendar in 1969) Katherine enjoyed immense popularity throughout the centuries, thanks to the influences of the Crusaders and the widely distributed Golden Legend with its lives of saints. There were many chapels and churches devoted to her throughout Western Europe, and she was reported as one of the divine advisors to Saint Joan of Arc. Given her reputation for learning and wisdom, and her debating and persuasive language skills, St Katherine of Alexandria not surprisingly became the patron of, amongst others, barristers, educators, girls, lawyers, librarians, mechanics, millers, nurses, philosophers, preachers, scholars, schoolchildren, secretaries, students, teachers, and of course, wheelwrights. In England alone there are nearly 40 sets of medieval wall-paintings depicting her life.