Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For Saint Catherine’s day

As soon as I uploaded the post of yesterday, I received in the Hungarian version of the blog a name-day greeting from Ildikó. Thank you very much! I also wish a happy name-day to every Catherine. These are the pictures of this morning.

Acanthus hungaricusHowever, to tell the truth, I celebrate my name-day not today, but in the spring, as my patron saint is not Catherine of Alexandria, but that of Siena.

When I was baptized in 1989, my spiritual director István Katona told me to choose a patron saint. My namesake Saint Catherine will be OK, I said. Well, he replied, but which one? There are a number of saints of this name. I checked the Lives of Saints and I chose Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

Alexandria, the fabulous Orient, The Alexandria Quartet (nowadays I already have not so high opinion of it as then), Catherine of Alexandria who overcame the wise men with her great intellect and who was finally quickly and easily beheaded. That’s the man! (The Lives of Saints, obviously to spare the weak-nerved twentieth-century reader, did not explain in detail why she was always represented with a wheel and how many sorts of choice horrors had been done to her before being beheaded.)

I gloriously went to Katona to report the name of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. He gave some thought, and then told me ‘let it be rather Saint Catherine of Siena.’ Her fasts were far less attractive to me than the magic Alexandria – since then, having learned a lot about the brutal materialism of Italy, I already understand much better her asceticism as well – but I thought perhaps Katona knew something I didn’t, and I said all right.

Berberis thunbergii 'Erecta'And in fact he did. Saint Catherine of Siena belonged to the order of the Dominicans, just like Saint Thomas Aquinas. And there are very few things in this world that are more beautiful than a well built garden, but the theology of Thomas is surely among them.

Thuja occidentalis 'Malonyana'In 1995 we spent about eight months in Rome. This period had a determining impact on what I hold for beautiful, so it has quite directly influenced the way as I have shaped my garden.


The Santa Maria sopra Minerva was one of my favorite churches. I only discovered much later that this was the church of the Dominicans and that there was also the body of Catherine – I cannot say buried, because her body is intact and it can be seen through a glass coffin.

Some years later, in a very difficult period of my life I came across the famous book of Catherine, the Dialogs which helped me a lot, especially by showing me how one can get free from the pressure of materialism that enmeshes our life in so many ways.

I wanted to have a copy of my own, but it was an old edition which has never been published again. So I went to a shop selling Catholic devotional objects and old books to order it. They told it was absolutely superfluous to leave my address, because they had never received any copy of it. However, I insisted so much that finally they took a note of it. Three weeks later they called me to go in for a copy they had just got from somebody.

Having grown enthusiastic upon this success, I asked them to inform me by all means if they get a copy of the Letters of Saint Catherine of Siena. They promised it quite unconvincingly. Some years have passed and in fact nothing happened. I, however, thought that while the shopkeepers might forget about me, Catherine will certainly not.

So I have returned there from time to time to check whether my letters arrived. In this November I also had things to do in the downtown, and I dropped in there right after opening. The first thing I saw was a bulky volume, the Letters of Saint Catherine of Siena. I asked them when they had got it. The evening before, they said.

Cornus masPerhaps Catherine at this time, around the feast of her namesake wants to tell me something important again.

2 comments:

Anne Marie said...

Happy Feast Day!! from Illinois-
Your garden pictures are simply stunning with the blanket of snow.
Hope you are curled up by a fire and sipping some Hungarian coffee (one of my favorites)

Peace and Blessings.
Anushka

Hortus Carmeli said...

Dear Annuska,
I'm happy to see you.
Unfortunately I cannot drink coffee, although I love it, because my heart immediately goes out of rhythm. But we have very fine Chinese tea to drink at the fire in winter (and also without fire in the summer). You'd also love it.
With love, Kata