by Karen Winstead (translation Winstead)

Below is an extract from the mystical marriage in Book 3 of John Capgrave’s Life of St. Katherine of Alexandria (ed. Karen A. Winstead. TEAMS. Kalamazoo, MI:  Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), beginning just after the Virgin Mary has presented the newly baptized Katherine to Christ (lines 1198 ff.):

Our lord himself lifted Katherine up and said, “Welcome, daughter.”  Ten or twelve virgins surrounded her, beautifully dressed and gorgeous.  Our lady had appointed them to comfort and wait on this maiden.  Then this lord, this high judge, spoke:  “Ask what you will of me, Katherine, and you shall have it, here at your welcoming.  Since you have forsaken both castle and cavern for my love and at my request, I will give you your heart’s desire, for I am the bridegroom you chose you at the parliament, against the will of all your lords and commons.  What do you think?  Will you have me forever?”

Upon hearing these sweet words, she fell to the ground in a swoon before the good lord.  When he restored her wits, she said to that king:  “Oh sovereign, creator of everything—angels, men, beasts, and trees—if only I were worthy to be joined to your highness I would desire your excellence to forgive all my misdeeds.  Make me your servant and not your wife!  I’m not worthy of such an exalted life.”

Our lord said, “My mother wishes me to marry you—and so do I.  Therefore, I’m asking what your wish is in the matter.  If you consent to this marriage, I’ll shower you with joy.  Do you agree, Katherine?  What do you say?”

“Lord,” she said, “your wish is my own.  I forsake here, lord, for your love, crown and lands, castle and town, gold and silver, house and roof, brooches and rings, cloak and gown.  Lord, don’t allow me ever again to fall in love with worldly things.  Keep me yourself, lord, king of all kings.  I know that all I have comes from you, lord—from where else would it come?—my speech, my thought, my mind—everything—my bones, my body, my flesh, my skin!  Since the wells of plenty are within you, never let me part from you, for I desire never to leave your presence.”

Then our lord said, “It was ordained long ago that you should enter our service.  I will raise you above everyone but my mother.  You will be closest to me because of your chastity and your obedience.  For though all maidens who kept themselves pure for my sake and for my pleasure are my wives, you have a higher fortune.  You will proceed them all in the dance, right after my mother, for this reason: because, to put it briefly, you forsook emperor, king, and duke for my sake.  I will receive you, then, in a special way.  I’ll make you my wife forever because of your persistence in virginity.  In a little while, you will take on a new conflict for my sake, but don’t worry, for whoever offends you will pay dearly for it!”

Then our lady said, “Since this wedding must be performed, I give this maiden to you in marriage. . . . Here is the ring, lord, and here is she.” Our lord took that ring in his hand and put it on this pure virgin’s finger.  “This is a token,” he said, “that you wish to join your will to mine.  This token also bears witness that here I take you for my wedded wife.”