The Life of St. Catherine (Excerpt)

Translated by Kirsten Lodge

And when the time came,
when the people had dispersed,
left for their rooms,
and lain down to sleep,
then the girl, hastening,
went at once into the chamber,
raised that holy image,
and knelt before it faithfully,
weeping, pleading, imploring,
praying to the Lord,
and always yearning only
that Mary, Mother of God,
should intercede with her child
to allow her to see him,
and to take her as his servant,
and to choose her as his bride.
In that prayer and in that languor,
in an instant a dream veiled her eyes,
and she entered into a vision
of unearthly rarity and charm.
That wise girl dreamed
that she stood in a hall more beautiful
than any that had ever been seen
with mortal eyes.
In it were rare wonders
made of precious metals and stones:
the floor of beryl, the walls
of diamonds set in gold;
many windows glowed richly
with emeralds and sapphires,
and in them, instead of glass,
manifold precious gems shone:
hyacinth, chrysolite,
chalcedony and jasper,
topaz, garnet, and turquoise,
sardonyx and pure spinel,
rubies, pearls, and amethysts,
polished to the rarest perfection.
On the vaulting of that hall a luminous
sun, moon, and stars with them
blazed on the same eternal paths
that, by the power of God,
they travel in the sky day and night,
continuously measuring time.
She saw more of those rare wonders,
engendering all beauty.
She saw two thrones, standing
side by side, towards the rising sun:
on one sat the powerful God of heaven
in his eternal glory,
on the other, with a crown on her head,
sat the most merciful Mother of God,
Empress of Archangels.
They both held scepters in their hands.
That joy and that blissful splendor
so comforted Catherine,
that in that hour the sadness
she had felt fled from her heart.
She thought to herself:
“I will have succeeded in my work,
if only I could see my groom of this moment
together with his mother.
I will suffer no longer,
once I set eyes on his face.”

Then Mary, the intercessor,
beckoned her to come.
Blushing in humility,
the girl stepped nearer,
and kneeling, bowed down.
Looking then at Catherine,
Mary said: “My son,
greet your bride, for you know
that, tarrying not,
she broke with the heretical faith,
and did everything
as you ordered some time ago.”
Christ said: “I too have already
decided that I wish to take
the bright and very beautiful
Catherine to be my bride.
And she shall reign with me
Kneeling, Catherine said
ardently: “My true king,
I pledge my chastity today
to your mercy,
and I sincerely promise,
with a faithful, earnest heart,
zealously, as best I can,
to serve you until I die.”
Here Christ appeared to this queen,
stunningly resplendent
before her eyes, so ineffably
beautiful in his true form,
that his bright resplendence filled
the girl’s heart in her body with harmony.
She imagined herself in such blissful
and joyous rapture, as from her youth
she had never read or heard of;
what she had been pining for,
she now saw before her eyes.
And he who sat in the hall
with his dear mother,
surrounded by the brightness
with which the walls shone,
rising, approached the girl,
and stopped in the middle of the hall,
arrayed in sumptuous attire.
Mary helped the girl rise
at once, saying to her:
“Fear no longer wrongs inflicted on you,
or suffering, or sadness,
for my son has really taken you
to be his bride and his servant;
so rejoice in peace,
and be delivered of all woe.”
When she had heard this, in the silence
the Son of God then began a song
with his kind, sweet, dear voice,
by which he healed her heart,
and, going to her, he solemnly
pronounced these words: “Welcome,
my dear! Welcome, my fair bride!
Come here, my chosen one,
come to me, sweet dove!
I have built an eternal residence,
I have kept a crown for you,
untouched, in my kingdom.”
When he had finished this song,
resounding so sweetly, before the girl,
he removed a ring from his right hand
and laid it upon her palm;
then Catherine loyally
clasped it gently in her hand
and from the depths of her heart began to sing
a new song in a sweet voice,
saying: “I am now the bride
of the groom who sustained me as a virgin,
who rewarded me with the ring
for which my heart was pining.
I now need no other mirror:
my groom is rarer
than anything and the most beautiful,
I want to look to him eternally,
to see myself continuously in him,
my heart belonging to him forever,
resisting with him all evil.”
Bestowing praise on him through this song,
the girl awoke, and, arising,
saw in her white palm,
in truth, and not in a vision,
a ring of heavenly gold.
And that holy maiden
was rewarded with all joys.
Filled with the Holy Ghost,
she ceased to yearn for the world,
and began to serve her spouse
through prayers, work, and fasting,
true to all Christian virtues,
always thanking the hermit,
following God with love,
and his most merciful mother.
She was truly a Christian queen,
living in chastity,
delighting in piety,
and earnestly entreating the holy Virgin
to lead her to the land
where she lives with her son,
the omnipotent Lord.

(Legenda o svaté Kateřině. Ed. Světová četba, n. 524, Odeon, Praha 1983.
The English translation is based on the contemporary Czech version, produced by Jiří Pelán from medieval Czech original.)