Saint Catherine

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Saint Catherine of Alexandria, known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel and The Great Martyr Saint Catherine (Greek Αγία Αικατερίνη η Μεγαλομάρτυς) is a figure claimed to have been a noted scholar in the early 4th century who, at the age of only 18, is said to have visited the Emperor of the time, who could have been Maximinus II or Maxentius, and to have attempted to convince him of the error of his ways in persecuting Christians (and having succeeded in converting his wife).

Her story

According to legend, she also converted many pagans, who were subsequently murdered. The legend of Catherine continues that she was condemned to death on the breaking wheel (an instrument of torture), but that it broke when she touched it, so she was beheaded. Her symbol is the spiked wheel, which became known as the Catherine wheel, and her feast day is celebrated the 25 November in most Orthodox churches (her feast is celebrated on 24 November in the Russian Orthodox Church, because Empress Catherine the Great did not wish to share her patronal feast with the Leavetaking of the Presentation of the Theotokos.)

In an elaboration of the legend, angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where in the 6th century AD, the Eastern Emperor Justinian I established Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, the church being built between 548-565. Saint Catherine's Monastery survives, a famous repository of early Christian art, architecture and illuminated manuscripts. In another development of the legend, having rejected many offers of marriage, she was transported to heaven in vision and betrothed to Christ by the Virgin Mary, the ancient theme of the mystical marriage to the deity that is familiar in the ecstatic mythology of the eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia.


Historians believe that Catherine ('the pure one') may not have existed and that she was more an ideal exemplary figure than a historical one.[1] She did certainly form an exemplary counterpart to the pagan philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria in the medieval mindset; and it has been suggested that she was invented specifically for that purpose. Like Hypatia, she is said to have been highly learned (in philosophy and theology), very beautiful, sexually pure, and to have been brutally murdered for publicly stating her beliefs; 105 years before Hypatia's death (although first records mentioning her, or one of her variants, date much later).

In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed her feast day from its general calendar of saints published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, citing a lack of historical evidence for her existence. In 2002, she was reincluded in the calendar [2]. Between 1969-2002 concession was given by the Vatican to celebrate the feast just the same.


  • [1] See, for example, Harold Thayler Davis: "Alexandria: The Golden City" (Principia Press of Illinois, 1957).
  • [2] News

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