- The Company She Keeps: The Medieval Swedish Cult of Saint Katherine of Alexandria and its Transformations
This book delivers exactly what its title promises: it documents the cult of St. Catherine of Alexandria (sorry, the spelling with C comes more naturally to me) in Sweden in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. It builds on and supplements recent scholarship on St. Catherine: Katherine J. Lewis's monograph on The Cult of St Katherine of Alexandria in Late Medieval England (2000), the collection St Katherine of Alexandria: Texts and Contexts in Medieval Western Europe, edited by Jacqueline Jenkins and Katherine J. Lewis (2003), to which Sands contributed, and Sands's own dissertation, Heliga Katarina och Liten Karin: The Cult of St. Catherine of Alexandria and its Resonances in Medieval and Post-Reformation Sweden (University of Washington, 1998).
The aim of the book is neither to trace the history of the cult of St. Catherine in Sweden nor to examine the Swedish versions of her vita, but it implicitly raises these questions and points to the need for further research. Sands notes tantalizingly in passing that there are just three manuscripts, containing two versions, of the vita of Catherine in Old Swedish (printed in George Stephens's Ett fornsvenskt legendarium as "Sancta Katerina-Sagan" and "Om Sankt Katarina") as well as a version in Latin and a rhymed Low German text. She remarks in passing that "Sancta Katerina-Sagan" is related to the Golden Legend tradition of the vita and "Om Sankt Katarina" to the so-called vulgate version but has nothing more to say about the texts. She provides convenient English translations of Stephens's edition in the appendices. How do these texts fit into the context of the pan-European cult described by recent studies? But that is matter for another project: the focus of this book is primarily on a variety of non-literary manifestations of Swedish devotion to St. Catherine and their implications.
The five chapters of the book investigate early manifestations of the cult, St. Catherine and the clergy, St. Catherine and the nobility, the cult on Gotland, and the cult among urban and rural non-nobles. The earliest documentation of a cult of Catherine in Sweden is a calendar from 1198, but naming traditions suggest devotion to Catherine a century earlier: Katerina, the daughter of King Inge the Elder "is the earliest known woman in Swedish history with a name of Christian derivation." Sands might treat this with more skepticism than she does: the evidence for the name of Katerina Ingesdotter comes from two thirteenth-century sagas of questionable historical reliability: Knytlinga saga and the fornaldarsaga [End Page 288] Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks. More convincing is her reference to letters from Gregory the Great to Inge that suggest that the early missionaries to Sweden came from Normandy, where the cult of Catherine was well established. Chapter 2 links the popularity of Catherine among the Swedish clergy to the University of Paris, of which Catherine was a patron saint. Sands argues convincingly that taking Catherine as a patron was a way for Swedish alumni of the university to associate themselves (and the cathedral at Uppsala) with their prestigious alma mater. It would be interesting to know if scholars from other countries practiced this custom when they returned home. Catherine was promoted especially by Dominicans and Franciscans in Sweden, and Sands suggests that the former associated the conversion to Christianity of the pagan Catherine with their baptism of Aristotelian philosophy, while the latter identified with her legendary rejection of earthly goods. Maybe, but I think that, as with the secular clergy, the Paris connection is the more likely explanation . Again, a comparative study of Dominican and Franciscan devotion to Catherine elsewhere might shed some light on this.
For her study of St. Catherine and the Swedish nobility, a revision of her chapter "Saint as...