Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Memorial: November 25
According to the Legend of St. Catherine, this young woman converted to Christianity after receiving a vision. At the age of 18, she debated 50 pagan philosophers. Amazed at her wisdom and debating skills, they became Christians—as did about 200 soldiers and members of the emperor’s family. All of them were martyred.
Sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel, Catherine touched the wheel and it shattered. She was beheaded. Centuries later, angels are said to have carried the body of Saint Catherine to a monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
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 visiting scholars.