Saint Catherine of Alexandria was martyred around 305 in Alexandria, Egypt and is also recognized as the Great Martyr and Saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church. There are no surviving primary sources attesting to Saint Catherine ‘s existence, but the fact that her memory and the stories about her have been kept alive - and handed down in the tradition - confirm her existence, and her life of heroic virtue and holiness. Tradition states she was born around 287 in Alexandria, Egypt of noble birth. Receiving the benefits of nobility Catherine was educated and became an avid scholar.
Around the age of fourteen, Catherine experienced a moving vision of Mary and the infant Jesus, and decided to become a Christian. A few years later, when the emperor Maxentius began persecuting Christians, Catherine visited him to denounce his cruelty.
Rather than ordering her execution, Maxentius summoned fifty orators and philosophers to debate her. Catherine, however, moved by the power of the Holy Spirit spoke eloquently in defense of her faith. Her words were so moving that several of the pagans converted to Christianity for which they were subsequently executed.
Unable to defeat Catherine rhetorically or to intimidate her into giving up her belief, the emperor ordered her imprisonment and torture. Following her imprisonment, Maxentius made a final attempt to persuade the beautiful Catherine to abandon her faith by proposing marriage to her, but Catherine refused, saying she was married to Jesus Christ and that her virginity was dedicated to him.
The emperor, in a rage, ordered her execution on a breaking wheel. The breaking wheel was a form of torture where a person's limbs are threaded among the spokes and their bones are shattered with a heavy rod. It is a brutal punishment that results in a slow and painful death, normally reserved for the worst criminals. When Catherine was presented before the wheel, her touch caused the wheel to shatter. With the wheel unusable, the emperor simply had her beheaded.
In the sixth century, the Emperor Justinian ordered a monastery established in her name at the base of Mount Sinai, were tradition says the angels laid her body to rest. The monastery remains to this day and is one of the oldest in the world. During the medieval period, St. Catherine was one of the most famous saints of the Church. She was a popular subject in renaissance art and many paintings from the period are dedicated to her.
Catherine of Alexandria is the patron saint of students, unmarried girls, apologists, those associated with wisdom and teaching, as well as those whose livelihoods depend upon wheels.
St. Catherine of Alexandria’s feast day is Nov. 25.