Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HERALDRY: St Catherine's (Updated May 14, 2018)

Arms of St Catherine's
College, Oxford.

Blazon: Sable a Saltire Ermine between four Catherine Wheels Or.  

Authority: The arms, according to St Catz officials, were granted by the College of Arms in 1964, two years after St Catz opened. The Letter Patent, usually signed and sealed by all the three Kings of Arms on behalf of the College of Arms, is reportedly in a secure location at St Catz. A printed source (below left) confirms the granting of arms for St Catz, with the date of the grant June 10, 1963, which could mean that there was a six-month delay from the internal grant to the preparation and signing of the Letter Patent.

This source confirms the St Catherine's Grant as of 1963.
Full Achievement: Below the shield is a motto: Nova et Vetera – "The new and the old." The grant of arms normally shows the full achievement with a crest as well and a mantle. This would be to the left of the Blazon on the grant.

Meaning: The name of the college and the "Catherine wheels" in the four fields created by the ermine saltire refer to St Catherine of Alexandria, Egypt, then a great center of learning. A saltire is associated with martyrdom. St Catherine's badge is a wheel.

Nominee of Arms: A virgin martyr, St Catherine was the daughter of non-believing parents but became a Christian at 18. She is one of the two saints that Joan of Arc a millennium later said talked with her. Emperor Maxentius (ruled 306-312) wanted her to marry one of his sons if she would give up her Christian beliefs. He brought her to Rome, but she publicly protested to the emperor against worshipping of idols. Confronted by 50 philosophers, she refuted them and they were burned alive for being unable to rebut her arguments. She refused to deny her faith and marry the emperor, who then had her beaten for two hours on end and imprisoned. Continuing to refuse Maxentius' proposals, she was sentenced to be broken on a spiked wheel. However, it fell to pieces at her touch. Maxentius had her beheaded instead. Maxentius was defeated by Constantine in 312. Catherine is today a revered Catholic and especially Eastern Orthodox saint, whose feast day is November 25 (24 in some Eastern Orthodox churches). A few crusty historians question whether she existed or was the product of centuries-later legend-creators. She is nonetheless embraced as their patron saint by female students, young women in the workplace, nuns, philosophers, preachers and, naturally, wheelwrights.

Similar Arms: St Hugh's also has a sable field with a saltire ermine. Where St Catz has a Catherine wheel or, St Hugh's has a fleur-de-lys or.

Institutional History: The College was originally formed as the Delegacy of Non-Collegiate Students, founded in 1868 to offer a university education without the costs of college membership. The social role of a college was created by the Delegacy's students, who met in a meeting room in a hall on Catte Street under the unofficial name of St Catherine's Club. The Club was officially recognized by the University in 1931 as St Catherine's Society. In 1956 the University Delegates formalized the change, offering the Society a path to college status. By 1960 Sir Alan Bullock matched some University funding with £1 million from Sir Alan Wilson and Sir Hugh Beaver. Having raised a total of £2.5 million, the college opened in 1962, while still under construction, as a men's college. It was the year that I came up to Oxford and I remember the tentative nature of the opening. By 1974 St Catz was in full operation and was one of the first five men's colleges to admit women as full members, the other four being Brasenose, Hertford, Jesus and Wadham.

St Catz Boat Club: The Catz Boats are housed in the Long Bridges Boat House. The blades of the college oars are decorated with Catherine Wheels. On the excellent Catz Boat Club website, the Boat Club historian Don Barton reports that six years after the University established a society for non-Collegiate students in 1868, members founded St Catharine’s Club, using the incorrect Cambridge spelling of the word. The following year, St Catharine’s Boat Club was created. The spelling was corrected to St Catherine's in 1919. At this time the society was given the name of the Boat Club. The Boat Club thus gave the name to both the original society and the College that it grew into. The Boat Club first took part in Torpids and Summer Eights in 1876, and produced the first crew to make seven bumps in the then six days of Summer Eights. Three crews made six bumps in Eights in 1949). The Women’s 1st Eight won Head of the River in Torpids in 2007. St Catz achieved its first Blue in 1967 and first women's Blues in 1976. International representation of St Catz began with the Commonwealth Games in 1958; since 1986 men and women rowers from the Boat Club have regularly filled places in national crews. Matthew Pinsent was the first St Catz Olympic Gold in 1992.

Physical History: Once offered the opportunity for college status, St Catz staked out and purchased from Merton College eight acres on part of Holywell Great Meadow, on the eastern side of Oxford looking over the Cherwell. Its glass-and-concrete buildings by the Danish architect Arne Jacobsen in 1993 received a Grade I listing as a "Building of Special Architectural or Historic Interest". The buildings combined modern construction materials with the traditional quadrangle layout, and the architect has followed through on his design to the furniture, lampshades and cutlery. The dining hall is distinctive for its Cumberland slate floor and its 350 seats, the largest capacity of any Oxford college. Jacobsen's plans for the college did not include a chapel; the college's December Christmas carol concert is held in Harris Manchester College's chapel. However, the college does have a prominent bell tower, rising above the other college structures, which top out at three stories because of a concern that the foundations are dug into marshland. St Catz has lecture theatres and seminar rooms, spacious common rooms, a music house, two student computer rooms, a small gym, squash courts and a punt house on the Cherwell.

Sources: St Catz: Web siteMaxentius: "A Topography of Death: The Buildings of the Emperor Maxentius on the Via Appia, Rome," in M. Carruthers et al. (eds) Eleventh Annual Proceedings of the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, 24-33, Oxford: Oxbow. St Catherine: Encyclopedia Britannica. Mateus Soares de Azevedo, Ye Shall Know the Truth: Christianity and the Perennial Philosophy, World Wisdom, 324.  Harold Thayer Davis, Alexandria: The Golden City, Principia Press of Illinois, 1957, 441.  Donald Attwater and Catherine Rachel John, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, 3rd ed, London: Penguin, 1995, p. 77.

Other Posts on the Arms of Oxford Colleges and PPHs: Original Article in Oxford Today . Heraldry as Branding . Heraldry as Fun .  Coat of Arms vs. Crest . Sinister Questions . Visit to the College of Arms . Windsor Herald Talks to New Yorkers . Shaming of Harvard Law Shield :: Rapid Expansion of Oxford's Colleges and Halls . Oxford Stars . HERALDRY SUPERLINK . Harris Manchester College . Linacre College . St Catherine's . St Cross College . St Edmund Hall . Trinity College :: Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall . 

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