ABSTRACT

I have already drawn attention to the way in which the early centuries of the cult of St Katherine are characterized by an absence of any primary relics to provide a focal point for her veneration. The cult spread solely through her inclusion in liturgical and hagiographical works with the only ‘physical’ manifestations of the saint being artistic representations of Katherine derived from the hagiographical tradition. However, the lack of relics was a limiting factor in the growth of the cult. Katherine’s Passio confronts the problem by specifically allowing the saint to ask God to hide her body so it could not be divided up for relics, but this was never more than a temporary solution. The cultural pressures for saints to have relics were such that if Katherine’s cult was ever going to grow beyond minor status, then relics were required. 1 In Chapter 2 I discussed the non-historical nature of Katherine. Logically, if she did not exist then she cannot have left any physical remains. But, in the Middle Ages, belief in her existence was strong and so there was always the assumption that relics might exist. Katherine’s Passio, with its tale of angelic burial on Mount Sinai, created the presumption that if there were any relics, they would be found on Sinai and, conversely, that if any remains were found on Sinai, they were likely to be those of Katherine. So, when bones were duly uncovered, in an ultimate act of ‘construction’ Katherine achieved physical existence. Yet the origins of Katherine’s relics on Sinai are extremely obscure.