ST. CATHERINE of ALEXANDRIA:
Patroness of Philisophers, Maidens and Preachers
d. c. 310: November 25
A Saint Who Never Was
It is almost unbelievable that the feast day of a saint long venerated in the East and one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages so that she has been a favorite subject of canvases and icons through the ages has been erased from the calendar of the church. This came about as an aftermath of Vatican II, which reformed the universal liturgical calendar by dropping out what they considered in all likelihood to be nonexistent saints.
St. Catherine of Alexandria was one such saint demobilized from active service even if her cult had flourished since as early as the eighth century. Since the church could find little or no evidence to connect her to her supposed adventures in Roman times it was with great reluctance that the church concluded that no such person ever existed. Amazing!
While it is attested that it was Catherine’s voice that was one of the heavenly voices that Joan of Arc supposedly heard encouraging her to defend the faith in France and empowering the peasant maid to defy every authority, there is little historical proof of this.
And yet to this day her reputed “remains” located in a monastery on Mt. Sinai, still annually attracts great numbers of pilgrims to this holy site.
Whether she really actually existed or not her story remains till the present day a source of inspiration and she a model of fearless devotion that we can all very well emulate.
According to the legend, which exists in various versions Catherine (Aikaterine) of Alexandria, Egypt was an extremely learned young daughter of a noble family sometime in the third century during the Roman era. It was through her study of philosophy that she became so convinced of the truth of Christianity, that she converted to the faith even if it was illicit at that time and its believers persecuted.
Another version that dates from the late middle ages says that she became a Christian when immediately after her baptism she had a mystical vision of her marrying Christ.
Whatever the reason for her conversion she became an eloquent fearless preacher of the Word of God who by word and example inspired many to be baptized. After Catherine bravely denounced Emperor Maxentius for his persecution of the Christians he had her converts burned to death and had her seized.
At her trial the 18 year old highly educated virgin underwent intense examination by fifty of the leading philosophers of the court. She not only managed to confound them in a religious debate defeating the most eminent scholars in argument but also in fact persuaded all to convert. Consequently they too were burned to death.
As for Catherine because she so impressed the emperor with her beauty and brilliance the Emperor actually tried to persuade her to be his consort if only she would renounce her faith. Only Catherine staunchly declined. She would rather be imprisoned and tortured.
But she put her time behind bars to good use. She befriended the Emperor’s wife and managed to convince her along with many of her household to convert to Christianity. Even her jailer and two hundred of the imperial guards took up the Faith and became Christians.
On the Emperor’s return from a camp inspection he found what had happened and consequently put to death all the new converts including his wife.
Enraged the Emperor condemned dangerous Catherine to be starved and then tortured on a spiked wheel. This is why the spiked wheel is the famous emblem of Catherine and she is the patron saint of wheelwrights.
Once strapped to a wheel of spikes the machine miraculously broke apart killing many onlookers. In exasperation the Emperor or his son Maxentius had the unharmed virgin beheaded on November 24 or 25, 304.
Supposedly after her death angels took her body to Mt. Sinai where it was discovered about AD 800.
Veneration for Catherine extended to Rome by the 8th century and by the 11th century had become one of the most popular saints. However as earlier mentioned her feast on November 25 was dropped from the universal liturgical calendar in 1969 because of doubts about her existence.
But Catherine as I said earlier continues to “inspire and illumine us with her edifying story, like the light emanating from a distant star which no longer exists.”
She is one of the 14 auxiliary saints or Holy Helpers and served for centuries as “the patroness of maidens and women students, of philosophers, preachers and apologists, of wheelwrights, millers and others.”
SOURCES of REFERENCE
ST. CATHERINE of ALEXANDRIA
November 25; 28
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. IV pp. 420 – 421
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints – p. 112
The Book of Saints – p. 291
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – pp. 109
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – p. 49
A Calendar of Saints – p. 227
All Saints – pp. 513 – 514
A Year With the Saints – November 25
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. I pp. 528 – 529
Saint Companions – pp. 444 – 445
Saints for Our Time – pp. 241 – 242
Saint of the Day – pp 329 – 330
Children’s Book of Saints – p. 48
The Big Book of Women Saints – p. 355
Saints – A Visual Guide – pp. 142 – 143
The Everything Saints Book – pp 223 – 224
The Lion Treasury of Saints – p. 216; 134 – 13
Book of Saints – Part 7 – pp. 30 – 31