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Saint Catherine of Alexandria – Patron saint of students

St. Catherine of Alexandria is depicted on the left-hand side of the University of Padova seal; to the right, there is Christ the Redeemer who is giving a blessing with his right hand, with a banner featuring a cross on his other side. The saint is depicted with the symbols used to represent her in Catholic iconography: the palm of knowledge and the victory of spirituality, the crown to remember her noble origins and the wheel that made her a martyr. Christ and St. Catherine of Alexandria were the two respective patron saints of Padua’s two universities, the artists’ university and the jurists’ university which were home to the “Studio Padovano” from 1399 until the second half of the 18th century.

According to tradition, the saint had very noble origins and was dedicated to her studies from a very young age. She surrounded herself with experts and scholars and became incredibly well-read in philosophy and religion.
Out of the many patronages given to Catherine, the one relating to theologians and philosophers is therefore very important as they led to her being worshipped in cultured environments such as universities and study centres. Even the Sorbonne named her patron saint.

The 25th of November was considered the official “Celebration of Study” day: on this day, the saint was celebrated with “debates” held specially for the occasion, based on the model of the ancient theological ‘disputation’. During these events, professors and students demonstrated their knowledge spanning various fields of culture in front of an expert audience.