The lives of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in French stained glass
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Catherine of Alexandria was one of the most popular saints in Europe between 1100 and 1600, with thousands of literary and artistic references to the saint dating to this time period. The saint and her cult have received significant attention from literary scholars, but her appearance in the visual arts has been scarcely studied. Art historians have analyzed images of Catherine in Italy, but her cult in France has received less attention. This is surprising because Catherine’s cult virtually exploded in popularity there after her relics were acquired at Rouen in the eleventh century. To contribute to the understanding of the development of Catherine’s cult in France, I examine mostly thirteenth-century narrative stained glass cycles of the saint’s life at the cathedrals of Angers, Rouen, Chartres, Auxerre, Le Mans, and Dol-de-Bretagne, and from the abbey churches of Fécamp and St. Père de Chartres. Some of these windows are among the earliest extant monumental representations of Catherine in France and spoke to diverse audiences of clerics and lay people. I argue that the designers of these windows employed a number of methods in the saint’s narrative to guide the viewer on the path to salvation through Catherine. This is done through a strong emphasis on Catherine’s divine and convincing speech, as well as through images of the tortures and trials undergone by the saint and those whom she converts. My analysis of these images suggests that they did not function to merely as illustrations of the text of Catherine’s life, but that they functioned in their own right as aids for teaching and facilitating personal contemplation.
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