Catherine of Alexandria
Memorial: November 25.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, also known as Saint Catherine
of the Wheel and The Great Martyr Saint Catherine (Greek: ἡ Ἁγία Αἰκατερίνα ἡ
Μεγαλομάρτυς) is, according to tradition, a Christian saint and virgin, who was
martyred in the early 4th century at the hands of the pagan emperor Maxentius.
According to her hagiography, she was both a princess and a noted scholar, who
became a Christian around the age of fourteen, and converted hundreds of people
to Christianity. Over 1,100 years following her martyrdom, St. Joan of Arc
identified Catherine as one of the Saints who appeared to her and counselled
The Orthodox Church venerates her as a Great Martyr, and celebrates her feast
day on 24 or 25 November (depending on the local tradition). In the
Catholic Church she is traditionally revered as one of the Fourteen Holy
Helpers. In 1969 the Catholic Church removed her feast day from the General
Roman Calendar; however, she continued to be commemorated in the Roman
Martyrology on November 25. In 2002, her feast was restored to the General Roman
Calendar as an optional memorial.
According to the traditional narrative, Catherine was the
beautiful daughter of the pagan King Costus and Queen Sabinella, who governed
Alexandria. Her superior intelligence combined with diligent study left her
exceedingly well-versed in all the arts and sciences, and in philosophy. Having
decided to remain a virgin all her life, she announced that she would only marry
someone who surpassed her in beauty, intelligence, wealth, and dignity. This has
been interpreted as an early foreshadowing of her eventual discovery of Christ.
"His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed
all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world." Though raised
a pagan, she became an ardent Christian in her teenage years, having received a
vision in which the Blessed Virgin Mary gave her to Christ in mystical marriage.
As a young adult, she visited her contemporary, the Roman Emperor Maxentius, and
attempted to convince him of the moral error in persecuting Christians for not
worshipping idols. The emperor arranged for a plethora of the best pagan
philosophers and orators to dispute with her, hoping that they would refute her
pro-Christian arguments, but Catherine won the debate. Several of her
adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were
at once put to death.
Torture and martyrdom:
Catherine was then scourged and imprisoned, during which time over 200 people
came to see her, including Maxentius' wife, the Empress; all converted to
Christianity and were subsequently martyred. Upon the failure of Maxentius to
make Catherine yield by way of torture, he tried to win the beautiful and wise
princess over by proposing marriage. The saint refused, declaring that her
spouse was Jesus Christ, to whom she had consecrated her virginity. The furious
emperor condemned Catherine to death on the spiked breaking wheel, but, at her
touch, this instrument of torture was miraculously destroyed. Maxentius
finally had her beheaded.
A tradition dating to about 800 states that angels carried
her corpse to Mount Sinai, where, in the 6th century, the Eastern Emperor
Justinian had established what is now Saint Catherine's Monastery in Egypt (which
is in fact dedicated to the Transfiguration). The main church was built between
548 and 565, and the monastery became a major pilgrimage site for devotees of
Catherine and the other relics and sacred sites there. Saint Catherine's
Monastery survives, and is a famous repository of early Christian art,
architecture and illuminated manuscripts that remains open to tourists and
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