|Saint Catherine represents the learned women of the Church.
Saint Catherine gained great fame for her oratory, which converted many pagans to Christianity. When she challenged the emperor Maximus II, he brought his best pagan philosophers and orators to refute her arguments. Her counter-arguments purportedly converted not only some of her captors but also the wife of Maximus II. Unable to best her intellectually, he ordered her to be tortured and killed. The depiction of Saint Catherine caused some of the greatest discussion between Mother Mary Cleophas and Mr. Willet. He originally proposed to depict her with “typical school maidens,” but Mother Mary Cleophas objected, noting that she was the patron saint of scholars, implying adults. The drawing that was originally meant to be Saint Ursula was used instead for Saint Catherine who is shown “conforming to what literature and art tell us about her.”
The predella contains a crown of roses, representing her martyrdom, while a Bible appears atop other books, representing her greatest source of wisdom.