Saint Catherine of Alexandria is a canonized saint in the Catholic Church who, per Christian tradition, was martyred around 305 in Alexandria, Egypt. Of course, the Church of the first Millennium was undivided. She is also recognized as the Great Martyr and Saint by the Orthodox Church. There are no surviving primary sources attesting to her existence, but the fact that her memory, and the stories about her, have been kept alive – and handed down in the tradition – certainly confirm her existence, and her life of heroic virtue and holiness.
The young saint was born around 287 in Alexandria, Egypt. At that time, Alexandria was one of the finest cities in the world, and a center of learning and culture as well as faith.
Christian tradition states she was of noble birth, possibly a princess. As a member of the nobility, she was also educated and was an avid scholar. Around the age of fourteen, she experienced a moving vision of Mary and the infant Jesus, and she decided to become a Christian.
Although she was a teenager, she was very intelligent and gifted. When the emperor Maxentius began persecuting Christians, Catherine visited him to denounce his cruelty.
Rather than order her execution, Maxentius summoned fifty orators and philosophers to debate her. However, Catherine was moved by the power of the Holy Spirit and spoke eloquently in defense of her faith. Her words were so moving that several of the pagans converted to Christianity and were immediately executed.
Unable to defeat her rhetorically or to intimidate her into giving up her belief, the emperor ordered her to be tortured and imprisoned.
This caused Maximian to become angry with St. Catherine, so he sent her to be imprisoned. He subjected her to numerous methods of torture, but she was cared for by angels and protected by Jesus. During this time, more than 200 people visited her in prison, and she chose to continue to teach these people about Jesus. The Emperor decided if he couldn’t sway her by torture he would convince her by marriage, so he came and proposed to St. Catherine. However, she refused to accept this proposal because she wanted to be consecrated to Jesus. This was a great offence, and so Maximian sent her to be executed on a breaking wheel. As soon as she touched the wheel, it shattered. The Emperor then ordered her to be beheaded, and she herself ordered it to begin. Rather than blood, a milk-like substance is said to have flowed from her neck.
A virgin and martyr whose feast is celebrated in the Latin Church and in the various Oriental churches on 25 November, and who for almost six centuries was the object of a very popular devotion.