Scenes from the Passion of St. Catherine of Alexandria

12th century
Wall painting
Church of Notre-Dame de Montmorillon, France

In the upper register, the Christ Child reaches out of the mandorla to the crown on Catherine's head. Walsh takes this to be possibly the earliest image of the saint's "mystical marriage" to Christ.1 Certainly the oil jars at the feet of the other saints could suggest the wedding ceremony in Jesus' parable of the five wise virgins who saved their lamp oil for the arrival of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). But the Christ Child's hand seems to be placing the crown on Catherine's head. In all other "mystical marriage" images the child reaches out to give the saint a wedding ring.

Walsh identifies the image on the right of the lower register as the martyrdom of the fifty philosophers converted by Catherine. Note the angels reaching down from the central margin to take the souls of the dying men. The enclosure in which we see the philosophers is not in Symeon Metaphrastes' account nor in those that derive from it; they all speak of the men being put upon "a pyre in the middle of the city"2 One possibility is that the enclosure could represent baptism. Before their deaths, the philosophers ask for baptism and Catherine explains that the fire itself will be their baptism. Traditionally, baptismal fonts are eight-sided, as the enclosure appears to be.3

On the left, Maxentius presides over one of the events in the passion, possibly Catherine's debate with the scholars or her own martyrdom.

Read more about images of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Source: this page at Wikimedia Commons.

1 Walsh, 4.
2 Symeon, 290 Migne's gloss to Symeon's Greek is rogum accendi in media civitate, "a pyre to be burned in the midst of the city." Western versions of the passion all adopt nearly identical wording.
3 Senn, 150.