Saint Catherine of Alexandria
For six centuries, Saint Catherine was one of the most venerated of women saints in Christendom alongside saints Agnes, Barbara and Lucy. Saint Catherine’s was one of the voices Saint Joan of Arc said she heard. She is famous for her extraordinary gifts to evangelize and exercise stewardship of her faith.
Born in the late 3rd century C.E., Catherine was the daughter of a wealthy governor of Alexandria, Egypt, the renowned Christian center of scholarship, and at the time, second only to Rome in size and wealth. She possessed a great love for learning and became exceptionally well educated in philosophy and science. She also showed a keen interest in religion and while still a teenager became a Christian.
In early 4th century Rome, Christianity was growing but continued to endure persecution. Eager to share the faith she had embraced and lobby for religious freedom, Catherine was granted an audience with the Roman Emperor Maxentius who was not much older than the young scholar.
Impressed by her boldness and taken by her beauty, the emperor arranged a debate between Catherine and some fifty of Rome’s philosophers and orators who promoted the official state religion. Reportedly, Catherine prevailed and succeeded in converting them all to Christianity. Maxentius ordered his pagan advocates executed, and then tried to make Catherine his mistress. When she rebuffed him, he had her imprisoned.
The emperor’s wife, however, was fascinated by Catherine; and while her husband was away on military matters, she went to visit this extraordinary young apostle in her prison cell. The result was that Catherine converted the empress and eventually two hundred of the palace soldiers. News of these recently baptized Christians infuriated the emperor, and he had his wife and soldiers executed as well.
Maxentius tried yet again to win Catherine over by proposing marriage to make her his new queen. When she again refused him, the emperor had her tortured and beheaded. Not long after, he himself would die in an historic battle against Constantine in October 312. It is Constantine, who, upon becoming the new Roman emperor, made Christianity the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
Saint Catherine is the patroness of Christian philosophers and her Feast day is November 25.
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