Catherine of Alexandria vs. Catherine of Siena

If your name happens to be Catherine (or Katherine or Cate or Katy or even Katharine -- like  a certain Presiding Bishop of a certain mainline denomination) this is your day. No matter which Catherine emerges victorious -- of Alexandria or of Siena -- you win! Of course after 24 hours one Catherine will be discarded onto the Lent Madness heap of irrelevance. But that's okay because this is your special day!

In yesterday's action, Lydia defeated Moses the Black 60% to 40% and will advance to face the winner of Nicholas Ridley vs. John of the Cross.

And if for some (inexcusable) reason, you missed yesterday's edition of Monday Madness with Tim and Scott, you can watch it here. Basically we DVR it for you so you can watch in peace without pesky commercial interruptions for saintly products like St. John's Wort or Yves Saint Laurent.

512px-Catherine_of_Alexandria_PacherCatherine of Alexandria

Many legends surround the life and death of Catherine of Alexandria. Tradition tells us Catherine was born at the end of the third century to Roman rulers in Alexandria, Egypt. An incredibly beautiful and intelligent woman, with every privilege at her disposal, Catherine excelled in her studies and developed renown for her ability in the arts and sciences, especially philosophy. As a young woman, she converted to Christianity after a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary giving her in mystical marriage to Christ.

Some years later, during the persecution under the Roman Emperor Maxentius, Catherine scolded the vicious ruler for killing Christians and for his own idolatry. In response Maxentius gathered together fifty philosophers to engage her in debate. Impressed by her erudition and the force of her arguments, the philosophers converted to Christianity and were summarily burned alive by the humiliated despot. Maxentius jailed Catherine for her insolence. While she was in jail, Maxentius offered to release Catherine if she would marry him. She refused, claiming that she was married to Christ. Later, Catherine converted many in his household, including his wife. The furious hegemon executed his wife and 200 servants and condemned Catherine to death.

The executioners put her to the spiked wheel, but at her touch the wheel shattered and instead killed many of her assailants. Maxentius commanded his soldiers to behead Catherine. When the blade sliced through her neck, milk, not blood, flowed. Legend has it that her body was taken by angels to the Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai, which today is commonly referred to as Saint Catherine’s Monastery. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the same monastery that until the late nineteenth century housed one of the oldest, complete manuscripts of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus.

Saint Catherine of the Wheel, as she is sometimes called, was for centuries an important saint in popular piety. She appeared to Joan of Arc, who believed Catherine had been appointed as her advisor. Today she is seen as a patroness to philosophers, girls, librarians, and ironically, people who work with wheels (such as potters, spinners, and mechanics).

Collect for Catherine of Alexandria
O God, by your Holy Spirit you give to some the word of wisdom, to others the word of knowledge, and to others the word of faith: We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Catherine, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- David Creech

catherine of sienaCatherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena is one of the foremost mystics, reformers, and politicians of all saintly history. Born Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa on March 25, 1347, she was five or six years old when she had her first vision and seven when she vowed to give her life to Christ.

But before she could take any vows, her older sister, Bonaventura, died in childbirth, and her parents wanted her to marry the widower. Catherine said no. She stopped eating and chopped off her hair (in order to thwart her mother’s wishes that she look attractive in order to catch a husband). Successfully staving off marriage, Catherine basically formed a one-woman Dominican order, living an active, prayerful life devoted to quiet service to the poor, while still living with her family.

This irritated her parents, but Catherine was immovable, especially after receiving an encouraging vision from Saint Dominic. Eventually, she prevailed on her parents to let her join a tertiary order of the Dominicans; she remained in quiet contemplation and service to the local community until she was about 21.

Then, there was a turning point. Catherine had a vision of a “mystical marriage” to Christ, and an overpowering sense of God’s love and closeness to all creation. This vision compelled her to join public life and leave her life of solitude.

No longer content to live quietly at home, Catherine became more involved in aiding people, not just through charity but through politics and advocacy. She gained a reputation for wisdom, fairness, and mercy, and her opinion was widely sought. She travelled around northern Italy, advocating for clerical reform and renewal of the church in every place, asking that people themselves, as well as the institution, renew the Body of Christ through the “total love of God.” She organized against the anti-pope—an illegitimately elected rival pope. Catherine urged Pope Gregory XI not to give in to schism but to move the papacy back to Rome from Avignon. She badgered Gregory with letters until he eventually gave in. We might say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, if this didn’t appear to be an endorsement of Catherine of Alexandria.

Pope Gregory XI came to rely on Catherine so much that he sent her as a peace emissary to the warring states of Florence and Rome. Gregory unexpectedly died soon after Catherine arrived in Rome, and riots broke out. In the ensuing chaos, Catherine was nearly assassinated. But she was undeterred and achieved a peace deal a few months later.

The new Roman pope was a fan as well, and Urban VI soon brought her to the papal court in Rome to be his personal adviser. She helped calm the waters during the Western Schism—a split within the Roman church with rival popes claiming to be the true leader. She argued for the legitimacy of Urban in Rome until her death at age thirty-three of a stroke.

Collect for Catherine of Siena
Everlasting God, you so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena, as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior, that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church: Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ’s death, and rejoice in the revelation of his glory; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Megan Castellan


Catherine of Alexandria vs. Catherine of Siena

  • Catherine of Siena (61%, 3,419 Votes)
  • Catherine of Alexandria (39%, 2,191 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,602

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184 comments on “Catherine of Alexandria vs. Catherine of Siena”

    1. It must be Catharine of Alexandria in honor of the fabulous Rubens, "The Crowning of St.Catharine", gracing The a Toledo Museum of Art. I feel lucky to see this masterpiece regularly.

  1. Ah, the voting boxes are wrong, neither box are for either Catherine. A little too much St. Patrick's day revelry maybe?

  2. Help! Please avert this crisis of voting. I need to vote for a Catherine this morning, but am faced with Ridley and John.

  3. Patiently waiting for the correct voting choices to appear before I vote for my favorite Catherine. Of Siena.

    1. Thanks for the fix - so good to know that we all watch out and eagerly anticipate our Catherines - and have such energy for voting in LM. Thanks for being the brainchild of this and bringing it to such a wide audience!
      Talk about Evangelism!

    2. Maybe what we need here is Lent Madness Prime, where people can pay triple what they do now and get almost error-free interweb tech support 7/24, unlimited kvetching, and a free pass to the International House of Virgins.

    3. Hahahahaha! So true. That's why I wait until the bugs are found by the early risers before I vote! BTW, Catherine of Siena wins my vote, and if we didn't already have Stephen, she would make a great patron saint for deacons!

    4. We'll pay! I am happy to ship some sunshine from California to snowbound Ohio. 😉

    5. I revoted in today's cotest, but I'm wondering...will the vote I cast earlier today for tomorrow's contest be counted tomorrow, or should I revote? I don't want to fall under your wrath.

    6. "You get what you pay for"

      Set of Saintly Score Cards: $25
      Bracket showing who is going to win: $5
      Second bracket so I can vote for the saints I want: 5$
      Large Lent Madness bracket: $10

      Talking Saints instead of College Basketball at coffee hour: Priceless

    7. I bought the Saintly Scorecard! And it has been really helpful. Thanks for fixing the ballot.

  4. Please correct the voting choices on the website so that we can vote for the Catherine of our choice.

  5. Same name, similar greatness in two ladies. For the patroness of philosophers and librarians .. a vote for Catherine of Alexandria.

  6. I have lots of Katherines, Katharines and Katys in the family. Strong women all and very determined,

  7. Two great, women, without a doubt, and a tiny bit hard to tell them apart... but in honor of my bookaholic, and intelligent daughter (who is not a Kate, et al), my vote is for C. 0f Alexandria, the patron saint of girls and librarians.

  8. Given Catherine of Siena's wisdom, and the trust placed in her by not one but two popes, perhaps she should be the patron saint of philosophy and girls! I love the crazy miracle story of Catherine of Alexandria, but choose to vote for the Catherine whose miracle was being taken seriously by the powerful men of her day.

  9. I have voted for Catherine of Siena. Sometime ago I was the chair of governors at a new C of E primary school. We agonised over the choice of a name and the head suggested Catherine of Alexandria. I protested on the grounds she was not historically well attested and that as a role model for young women she left a lot to be desired. In spite of my protestations my views lost out in the voting. The Head teacher bought a copy of a painting of Catherine by Raphael for the school hall. Whilst undoubtedly a lovely image, Catherine looked like a week of wet Wednesday's. Give me Catherine of Siena any day. She combined mysticism with activism, a devotion to the poor and wasn't above knocking heads together in the cause of peace.

  10. It was Catherine of Sienna's call to ''''renew the Body of Christ through the “total love of God.”' that made me able to choose. Even today, we are called to renew the Body of Christ through the total love of God.... So, a message that is eternal to the followers of Jesus.

    1. That strikes me to the core. I would love to meditate on that one sentence today, live it out tomorrow, and proclaim it to the world.

      Was worrying that I made a flip choice with CofA, then remembered, "It's Lent Madness. It doesn't really matter who wins, in a sense."

  11. Tough choice again!!!! I finally decided on Catherine of Siena. She began her journey of faith very early in her life and never changed her mind, no matter what obstacles faced her!! Catherine of Alexandria did great things, but her journey seemed a bit easier than Catherine of Siena.

    1. How can being thrown in prison and having your head chopped off be an easier journey? Anyone who loses their life for Christ and spreading the gospel gets my vote over someone who dies of natural causes.

  12. Thank you so much for fixing this glitch so fast. I post the link to Lent Madness, along with other devotionals, to my church facebook page. As such I like giving the correct information. Tell us the truth, was there a little too much imbibing of the green ale yesterday?

  13. If anyone from Richmond, Va is participating in Lent Madness, Catherine of Alexandria is the namesake of St. Catherine's school.

    1. that's good to know -I'm not from Richmond however I am your neighbor down the street in Williamsburg

      1. Actually either way is OK. Namesake is defined as a person, place, thing, quality, action, state, or idea that has the same, or a similar, name to another; especially, one who is named after another or for whom another is named. That is the definition given by both the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary. I was named for my father, Philip, but it is perfectly acceptable to say that the Apostle Philip is my namesake or vice-versa. Both definitions are acceptable English usage.

  14. Catherine of Alexandria all the way! I am a spinner (handspinner, on a spinning wheel) and she is the patron saint.