|That Catherine is not a historical figure is the polite way of saying she is not real and is really just a figment of our imagination. In the case of Saint Catherine of Alexandria this is true, as her body was re-rediscovered around the year 800 at Mount Sinai, with her hair still growing and a constant stream of healing oil issuing from her body. This was 500 years after her death. In the case of Saint Catherine of Siena this is not true, as she was born in 1347 as the daughter of a cloth dyer and his wife, herself the daughter of a local poet. The house where Catherine grew up is still in existence in Siena. However the imaginary Catherine of Alexandria became arguably the most important martyr saint in the religious culture of the late Middle Ages and the subject of her own cult.
A manuscript contained in the “Seinte Katerine” collection published by Oxford University Press in 1981, describes the pilgrimage to Mount Sinai and the discovery of her body still growing hair. The manuscript does not mention the length of her 500-year old constantly growing hair, but it attests to the magic power of hair growth as in the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale of Rapunzel, who is named after a Phyteuma, a genus of flowering plants. In the beginning of the Rapunzel tale, a woman who wants to become pregnant, fell ill and said to her husband “wenn ich keine Rapunzeln aus dem Garten hinter unserm Hause zu essen kriege, so sterbe ich." which roughly translates as: Give me rapunzel to eat or I die. However these very desirable rapunzels were located on their neighbor's property. The neighbor happened to be a magician that had great power and she was feared by the whole world. It seems likely that her status derived from a diet of rapunzels, because in old German this plant was also called “Teufelskrallen”, which means the devil’s claws. As a wild vegetable it supposedly tasted very good, but I can not verify this as ancient German wildflowers are hard to come by in Los Angeles, even in the Magic Castle in Disneyland.
All this points to the root of veneration for Catherine in the Middle Ages. According to the manuscript her body was discovered on Mount Sinai in the year 800 Anno Domine, with growing hair and body secretions. These Rapunzel powers of hers were still in existence 500 years after her death. She was not alive, but she was not dead either. When the hagiography of Catherine of Alexandria began, woman had little power.
Catherine of Siena experienced this first-hand. According to Franciscan Friar Don Miller, her older sister Bonaventura died in childbirth. Sixteen-year-old Catherine was now faced with her parents' wish that she marry Bonaventura’s widower. Absolutely opposed to this, she started to fast and cut off her long hair. Her actions are the exact opposite to the ones taken in the Rapunzel tale and given in Saint Catherine of Alexandria’s hagiography, but all point to the same interrelated magical powers: Indigestion and growing hair, in this context a form of ectoplasmic secretion. Catherine of Siena’s self-mutilation had the same effect: Her hair, cut off, can now grow to became her magic hair and the next food she will indigest can be her magic food as the power of the fast is in its end: Whatever it is you break the fast with, you will become.
I always wondered about that potential for the Italian Catherine. These days I find Italian cuisine to be almost magical, no matter what I cook. How can she refuse real Italian cookery? Well, they did not have any potatoes, tomatoes or even pasta back in the middle ages. So, I guess a good rapunzel was about as magic as it got. And it worked: She joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic, therefore could continue to live with her family almost like a free man, later becoming a diplomat, met the Pope and dictated (supposedly while in ecstasy) the remarkable mystic text “Dialogue of Divine Providence”.
Her real ingenious invention however was that she received the stigmata with all signs only visible to her, a claim that the self is the only witness to its own transcendence. I can not overstate the importance of this claim, especially today. Just to give some context: the stigmata has 5 points of contact, ectoplasmic secretions from the 5 wounds of the Christ figure on the cross. 5 points laid out on a circle make a pentagram, which is derived from the Greek πεντάγραμμον (pentagrammon), which is πέντε (pente), "five" + γραμμή (grammē), "line".
Thusly, the music of “Catherine Receiving the Stigmata” is scored for 5 instruments, on 5 lines.
|Title:||Catherine Receiving the Stigmata|
|Sound Artist:||Frank Rothkamm|
|Visual Artist:||Domenico Beccafumi
|Instruments:||Atari Cubase 2.0
|Score:||http://rothkamm.com/pdf/rothkamm-Catherine Receiving the Stigmata-score.pdf|