St Catherine statue

25 November

It is St Catherine’s Day, the one with the wheel. The legend of St Catherine (pictured above) is probably the most fantastical of all improbable saintly stories. She is fed by a dove in prison, wins an argument with 50 philosophers, refuses to marry the emperor, survives an attempt to crush her on a spiked wheel, gets 200 Roman soldiers converted, and finally, when she is beheaded, bleeds milk and not blood, and is flown by angels to Mt Sinai, where a monastery still stands in her name. (The last bit, about the monastery, is actually true.)

Noah’s flood started today in 2348 BCE, according to those of our brothers and sisters who use their calculators more than their brains when reading the Bible.

Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, was excommunicated by the Pope today in 1555. Ten days later he was deprived of his archbishopric, and he was burned at the stake the following March.

Isaac Watts, the first great modern English hymn writer, died today in 1748. Watts was a Congregationalist minister, and his first book of hymns was published in 1707. At that time, nonconformist churches had been legal in Britain for only 18 years, and before that they had had to keep the noise down. Other dissenters had also published hymns, but Watts’s were the first that were any good.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.
Isaac Watts, ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’

Statue of St Catherine, 1470: Rijksmuseum

Time-travel news is written by Steve Tomkins and Simon Jenkins

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