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45 B o o k 2 The Marriage Parliament Prologue: Katherine’s Virtues (1–70) When you see fair and bright sparks flicker in the air, you can reasonably infer that fire is near; experience tells you so. It’s obvious that sparks don’t fly to and fro unless there’s a fire. The same principle applies to this lady. Her holy words and deeds were signs that her heart was seeking her spiritual spouse; she didn’t stop until she found the blessed lord. She didn’t yet know him personally, as she would later, but she had God’s signs. She knew neither the road nor the rood.1 She didn’t yet know Christ, nor had she heard his laws, and yet the flames of charity and love burned in her so strongly that her heart was entirely set on the one who sits above. I think the dove that hovered over Christ when he was baptized had made his nest in her.2 At any rate, I know this for sure: she couldn’t stop talking about the great virtue we call virginity. Who could have imagined that she would so earnestly desire a way of life that was not practiced in that land. No one wanted her to be a maiden: “She has got to marry,” they said. As anyone can see, the more fuel is on hand the greater the fire; take away the firewood and the flame will die. The more this lady’s virtues lived, the greater they grew. Indeed, they 46 The Life of Saint Katherine of Alexandria turned like a circle, each virtue following right after the other. When one has come, it summons its fellow. They live together as sister and brother. Each pulls as hard as it can until all have arrived. Start again as soon as you are through. That’s the way they’ve cast their circular course. This is why she hated all fleshly lusts: she was so inscribed in the circle that she resolved never to fall from the wheel. Her heart was so tied to virtues that they were joined forever, securely bound together. It only stands to reason, in my opinion, that vices should have had no place in her. These Latin books agree, I believe. Her name, they say, is so full of grace that it can destroy sinful life. This is what it means, beyond any doubt: the Greek word “cata” means “over all” or “all” in English; “ryne” means “falling” in our language.3 Thus, one can conclude that all the turmoil of sin and shame was vanquished—it couldn’t approach her. These holy virtues were so dear to her that the whole flock of vices was locked out! Oh noble lady who lives in heaven, allow our tongues, however unworthy, to recount your life, your yearning, and your­ secret love, and to recount the sorrow and the struggle with your lords that you suffered as a scholar. We’ll apply ourselves to that task straightaway. Chapters 1–31: The Marriage Parliament (1/71–154) There was nothing to do but ride, walk, and run. Messengers dashed out to summon all kinds of men to parliament , commanding that they come in their best attire. ­ Scholars must come, because they’re so wise, and lords, too, because they’re so strong. This gathering was not delayed long, for, as I read, within three weeks everyone had arrived—the Prince of Cappadocia with a great company, the Earl of Jaffa right by his side. People could clearly see whose horsemanship was best! The Prince of Paphos came there, too, and the Duke of Damascus , and many others. The royal Dukes of Salence and of The Marriage Parliament 47 Garacen were there, as well as the Earl of Limassol. These three royal lords had many noble lords with them. The powerful Admiral of Alexandria received them with due respect. The noble Duke of Tyre came, too. Finally, a worthy man, Katherine’s own close cousin, the Duke of Antioch, made his appearance. Everyone was sure that he would settle this matter, for he and Katherine were descended from the same line. He couldn’t fail to plant his will in her heart. The appointed day arrived. The lords were all assembled in a hall that was fully two hundred paces long. (Men who were there at the time measured it themselves—there aren’t many buildings like it in the...


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