St. Catherine of Alexandria
Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria (292 – 310), virgin and martyr.
Catherine was beautiful, brilliant, and extremely wealthy at the age of eighteen when she debated the Emperor Maximin (311-313) and harshly criticized him for his persecution of Christians who refused to worship pagan gods. Astounded by her wisdom, Maximin ordered her to be kept confined, and summoned fifty of his most learned philosophers, promising them great rewards if they could get Catherine to abandon her Christian faith. However, her arguments were so convincing that all fifty of the philosophers were converted to Christianity. Outraged by this, Maximin ordered all of them to be burned alive.
Then the Emperor attempted to win Catherine by flattery and by promises, but his efforts proved equally fruitless. Next, he had her thrown into a dungeon, without food and water. He ordered her whipped with rods, scourged with leaden nodules, and then left to languish eleven days without food in prison.
In the Emperor’s absence, his wife and Porphyrius, general of the army, visited Catherine in prison and both were converted to Christianity. Porphyrius then converted 200 soldiers. When the Emperor returned, he had them all executed, including his wife, and offered to make Catherine his new wife.When she refused, he designed a new means of torture.
Catherine’s next torture consisted of being placed upon a wheel with sharp and pointed knives, which was designed to tear her body into pieces, but when she was bound to it, a heavenly fire destroyed it. Finally, on November 25, Catherine was beheaded. By the hands of angels her body was carried to Mt. Sinai, where it was interred in the convent which bears her name.
Ranked with St. Margaret and St. Barbara as one of the fourteen most helpful saints in heaven, (that group of saints notable for answering prayers especially for cures from disease and at the hour of death) she was unceasingly praised by preachers and sung by poets. In several dioceses in France, her feast day was observed as a Holy Day of obligation up to the beginning of the seventeenth century. Saint Catherine became the patroness of young maidens and female students. Looked upon as the holiest and most illustrious of the virgins of Christ, it was but natural that she, of all others, should be worthy to watch over the virgins of the cloister and the young women of the world.
Her feast on Nov. 25 falls immediately before the beginning of Advent during which no weddings could take place during the Middle Ages and for years afterward. So it was a custom for unmarried women of that time to pray to St. Catherine saying,
“A husband, Saint Catherine,
A good one, Saint Catherine,
A handsome one, Saint Catherine,
A rich one, Saint Catherine –
And soon, Saint Catherine!
Patronage: Apologists; craftsmen who work with a wheel (potters; spinners; etc.); archivists; attorneys; barristers; dying people; educators; girls; jurists; knife grinders; knife sharpeners; lawyers; librarians; libraries; maidens; mechanics; millers; nurses; old maids; philosophers; potters; preachers; scholars; schoolchildren; scribes; secretaries; spinners; spinsters; stenographers; students; tanners; teachers; theologians; turners; unmarried girls; wheelwrights.
Symbols: Wheel set with sharp knives; broken wheel; sword; crown at her feet; hailstones; bridal veil and ring; dove; scourge; book; spiked wheel; woman strapped to the spiked wheel on which she was martyred; woman arguing with pagan philosophers.
A Prayer to Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Glorious Saint Catherine, virgin and martyr, help me to imitate your love of purity. Give me strength and courage in fighting off the temptations of the world and evil desires.
Help me to love God with my whole heart and serve Him faithfully.
O Saint Catherine, through your glorious martyrdom for the love of Christ, help me to be loyal to my faith and my God as long as I live.