I’d like to place this blog under the special protection of Saint Catherine of Alexandria patron saint of librairies ;) Rich. I’m not Christian but I find it a delightful tradition and it is only fitting for a blog devoted to history. Besides, one is never too careful.
But then again why Saint Catherine? Here are 15 reasons:
- She was one of the most highly regarded saints during the premodern period. She married Jesus after all, meaning that she is God’s daughter-in-law. Nepotism here we come.
- She was a brilliant and groundbreaking intellectual but also the inspiration of strong-headed women such as Catherine the Great of Russia. So she is the perfect symbol of the importance of women in history.
- She had her own chivalry order which is pretty much the definition of cool.
- She talked the truth to power in order to save human lives. She even managed to infuriate a Roman Emperor nothing less.
- She is the patron saint of mechanics (due to her symbol, the wheel) which is of particular interest for economic historians taking into consideration the importance of the Industrial Revolution and of technology and innovation in general.
- Of course the wheel also evokes Fernand Braudel’s three cycles of history. But the fact that the wheel was broken also evokes the importance of discontinuities and innovations, and of course the escape from the Malthusian trap. But God’s miracle that saved her life also reminds us of the unexpected events that changed history for ever (Black Death, the discovery of America…).
- Her very existence is now denied by the Catholic church which gives her a sort of underground pre-Vatican II vibe and makes her a symbol of popular piety against centralized religion.
- She is though to be a Christian mirror of the Greek female philosopher Hypatia. So Catherine can be seen as a bridge between historical periods (longue durée here we come), but also religions (paganism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and even Islam since her remain are now in Egypt). A symbol of peace is always a good thing.
- She has one of the best and most plentiful iconography amongst the female saints (and she was a very attractive young woman which doesn’t hurt).
- She is also fittingly the patron saint of professors, scholars, libraries, archives, the University of Paris (my alma mater), the Balliol College (which has Adam Smith as an alumnus) as well as the patron of numerous crafts essential during the premodern period (millers, potters, spinners, tanners, milliners, etc.).
- Her relationship with spinsters and singlewomen also evokes the realities of early modern Europe when up to 40% of women never married. Such processes as proto-industrialisation and the first Industrial Revolution in the US relied heavily on these unmarried women’s labour.
- She was also a healing saint and we know the importance of diseases in the pre-industrial era. This also evokes health and medical history, an important and often overlooked discipline.
- She was from Alexandria which is such a historically rich town which has seen the likes of Alexander and Napoleon dwelling inside its walls and of course as a port town it proved commercially and geopolitically essential. A wonderful place to see the world from.
- As she is not recognized by the church anymore, she became some sort of fair game for non-belivers, she is more an idea of a patron saint than a real one.
- Finally she is also the patron saint of virgins which is unfortunately our fate if we keep behaving like nerds not going out at night because we want to read some extra articles.