St. Catherine of Alexandria
The “Legendary” Catherine of Alexandria
St. Catherine of Alexandria had her popularity in its peak in the medieval age. Her story might be perceived as bizarre for others. Some would also think that she did not even exist. But traditions and stories about this martyr-saint became the foundations of a devoted following of this saint.
It is believed that Catherine was born to a noble family. She was described as a woman of exceptional beauty and intelligence. Her place of origin explains the brilliance of this saint. The city of Alexandria was a center of learning in the ancient world. Tradition depicts Catherine as a highly educated daughter of a noble pagan family. It is very likely that she was a convert to Christianity and a virgin by choice, since organized monasticism was not yet existing at that time.
Battling the Wisest
When she was 18 years old, Catherine was horrified by the cruel arrest, oppression, torture and execution of Christians ordered by the Roman Emperor Maximinus II. Determined by a fiery zeal to put a stop to the suffering of her brethren, Catherine presented herself before the emperor. With utmost courage, she rebuked the emperor for his misbehavior and condemned the growing persecution. She demanded that he stop the persecution. Armed with intelligence and wit, she concluded her defiant speech with a defense of Christianity.
Maximinus grew furious at being addressed by the boldness and resolve of the young woman. He brought forth the most known intellects in his court to disprove the propositions and arguments of Catherine. Fortified and guided by the Holy Spirit, Catherine was undeterred. She stood her ground and even managed to convert many of the amazed sophists as they saw the strength and truthfulness of her arguments. Enraged by this, the emperor immediately executed the new converts.
A Martyr for Christ
Attempting to silence Catherine, the emperor proposed marriage with him. He offered her immense wealth and power with the condition that she renounce and give up her faith. Catherine refused the emperor’s offer, and she was thrown into prison to be tortured. She suffered terrible torments, but she still kept her faith. Even when she was in her cell, Catherine received a steady stream of visitors and compelled as many as 200 conversions among them. Each of these converts she won for Christ was martyred.
At last, determined to put an end to the young Catherine, Maximinus sentenced her to be executed on the breaking wheel. However, when Catherine touched the wheel, it shattered before the eyes of the stunned guards. Unwilling to be defeated, the emperor had Catherine beheaded. She was martyred around the 4th century. Her feast day is celebrated on November 25.
Catherine’s story is an unusual one, and perhaps one that is not well known. However, Catherine’s story inspires us to be courageous witnesses of our faith. Her brief but amazing life reminds the Church that She was built upon the blood of fearless men and women whose courage and faith undermined even the strongest empires on earth.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Catherine of Alexandria
- St. Catherine of Alexandria is the patron saint of young girls, students, philosophers, and craftsmen working with wheels.
- It is said that Catherine of Alexandria’s conversion was spurred by a vision of the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus. This story inspired works of art which depict her decision to live as a virgin and spouse of Crist.
- Popular legends say that angels carried St. Catherine of Alexandria’s body to Mount Sinai and buried it there.
- Pope Paul VI issued a revised liturgical calendar in 1969. This new calendar removed dozens of saints, among them were popular saints like St. Barbara, St. Ursula, and yes, even St. Catherine of Alexandria. The reason was the relative meagerness of existing authentic biographical materials.
- In 2002, something quite rare in history happened. Pope John Paul II restored the celebration of St. Catherine of Alexandria’s memorial.
Prayer to St. Catherine of Alexandria
Almighty ever-living God,who gave Saint Catherine of Alexandria to your peopleas a Virgin and an invincible Martyr,grant that through her intercessionwe may be strengthened in faith and constancyand spend ourselves without reservefor the unity of the Church.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,God, for ever and ever. Amen.