This weekend will see a Dorset village mark the feast day of Saint Catherine with a candle-lit ceremony. Laura Hanton reports on how this tradition honours the saint who is supposed to help women find a husband.

SET high on a hilltop overlooking Chesil Beach and the Isle of Portland, St Catherine's Chapel is a little building with a big history.

Built by the Benedictine monks of the nearby Abbotsbury Abbey, the chapel dates back to the 14th century and was primarily used as a place of retreat and pilgrimage. Located outside the precincts of the monastery - and therefore amongst only a handful of chapels of its kind - its isolated location allowed monks to withdraw for private prayer and meditation.

The chapel draws its name from Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a young woman whose influence spread far and wide. Born in Egypt in the late third century, she is known for protesting the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Maxentius I. Upon her arrest and subsequent torture, she professed that Jesus Christ was her spouse and it was to him she had consecrated her virginity.

During her imprisonment, Catherine is reported to have met with more than 200 individuals, including the wife of Maxentius, all of whom converted to Christianity and were consequently martyred.

Catherine was eventually sentenced to death by means of the breaking wheel. Used for public execution in Europe until the early modern period - with the last known execution taking place in Prussia in 1841 - the breaking wheel worked by breaking a criminal's bones and bludgeoning them to death.

Yet upon Catherine's touch, the wheel miraculously broke to pieces. It was this alleged event that led to the naming of the Catherine wheel firework, which rotates as well as producing sparks and flame.

The breaking of the wheel was not the only supposed act of holy intervention. After Catherine was eventually beheaded, angels took her body to Mount Sinai, in Egypt, where, according to legend, it was discovered in about 800CE.

As well as of scholars and philosophers, Catherine went on to become the patron saint of virgins, particularly those in search of husbands. Until the late 19th century, young women of Abbotsbury would climb to the chapel to invoke her aid, placing one knee in a wishing hole on the south doorway.

Catherine is also named as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of Roman Catholic saints whose power of intercession was thought to be particularly effective. Catherine in particular was recognised as protecting against sudden death and diseases of the tongue. Other members of the holy group included Saint Christopher, still acknowledged today as protecting against dangers while travelling.

The Benedictine monks who constructed the chapel were housed in Abbotsbury Abbey, a monastery founded in 1044 by Orc, a house steward of King Cnut who ruled England, Denmark and Norway in the beginning of the 11th century.

Up to 30 monks lived in the abbey, which was dedicated to Saint Peter. They followed an orderly routine of prayer, study and manual labour which had been laid down for them in the rule determined by Saint Benedict, who lived from 480 to the mid sixth century.

In the centuries after his death, the rule of Saint Benedict spread throughout Italy and Western Europe, with the monasteries growing in size and influence. Benedictine monks today continue to combine education and missionary work with their monastic life of contemplation and prayer.

Due to its dissolution in 1539, there is very little known about the early monastery in Abbotsbury. The buildings were leased to Sir Giles Strangeways, and the ruins still visible date from the 13th and 14th centuries, with one small part now in the care of English Heritage.

St Catherine's Chapel, however, remains virtually unaltered. Its position overlooking the sea suggests it may have been used as a beacon or navigation point, which could have ensured its preservation. The chapel's rectangular structure is built entirely of local limestone and designed to withstand the elements, with four-foot thick walls and a roof. The interior of the chapel is almost completely bare, although stained glass windows would likely have adorned the building in medieval times.

The village of Abbotsbury celebrates the feast day of Saint Catherine with Candles on the Hill.

This year, the celebrations are taking place again on Sunday, November 24. Residents and visitors are being invited to buy and decorate a candle bag, before placing it on the hill leading up to the chapel. Participants can also return their decorated bags to the vendor for them to place on the day.

The aim is to create a circle of light representing the Catherine wheel and lighting the path to the chapel.

Candle bags are on sale now for £2 from all Abbotsbury businesses. There will also be a decorating workshop running from 1pm to 3pm on the day, at Strangways Village Hall in Abbotsbury.

A short service will take place within the chapel at 3pm on Sunday. All proceeds raised from the event will go towards supporting St Nicholas' Church in Abbotsbury, which overlooks the remains of the abbey.