Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Catharine of Alexandria

Nov. 25; A.D. 307

There were several brave Christian women who bore the name Catharine, and who in their lives and by their death showed themselves worthy to be counted among the saints of the Church. The Catharine I am going to tell you about was a princess of the ancient town Alexandria, at the mouth of the river Nile, in the north of Egypt.

You all know what is called a "catharine wheel." When you see a show of fireworks you notice this as one of the brightest and prettiest among them—one of your favourites. You little thought when first you saw it flashing round that it gained its name from the wheel, surrounded by sharp spokes, which was invented to put a Christian woman to death. Hear the story.

Catharine was the daughter of a king. She was beautiful and clever, and very fond of study. Her father built her a high tower with rooms full of books and everything that was needed for reading and for the study of the stars, a study in which she, like the philosophers of Egypt, took great delight. But when she was only fourteen years of age both her parents died, and she became queen over her father's lands.

Young as she was, Catharine was very wise. She governed well, but she liked to live simply and quietly, she hated pomp and show and fine dress, and all the state by which as a queen she was surrounded.

By-and-by it was thought right that she should marry. Catharine herself did not wish this. She was entreated to give way for the good of the State, and in order that there might be some one to lead out the armies in time of war. So she said if a very good and wise man could be found for her, hint she would wed.

The night after she had given this answer to her ministers she had a strange dream. She believed it was a vision. An old man seemed to come before her and give into her hands a picture of the Saviour. Catharine was not yet a Christian, though she had learned the history of JESUS, and had dwelt much upon it. But from this night her faith, before uncertain, became firm and unwavering, and she did not rest till she had received the Sacrament of Baptism. At the same time she said she could not now think of marriage.

It was no easy time at which to take up the Cross of CHRIST. The Emperor of Rome was hunting out and persecuting the Christians wherever they were to be found, and the tyrant Maximin came to Egypt, laying waste the country and calling upon all men to make sacrifice to the pagan gods.

Taking her people under her protection, the young Queen Catharine went before the tyrant, and asked to be allowed to plead for her GOD and for the Christian Faith. A great meeting was called. The most learned men were bidden come together to discuss. The heathen priests and doctors were to speak for the gods they worshipped, Catharine to plead the cause of CHRIST the LORD.

By prayer and fasting she prepared herself for the trial day. When it came, she spoke so well that more than fifty men among the heathen there were overcome by her words, and said they could no longer argue on the side of the Roman gods.

Maximin was furious. He ordered that every one who would not bow to the gods he adored should be slain. Against St. Catharine he was especially enraged, for when he had first come into Egypt, struck by her great beauty, he had wished to make her his friend. But besides being a heathen and a tyrant, Maximin was in every way a bad, wicked man. When Catharine would have nothing to do with him he tried all the means in his power to harm her, and now he thought of how he could most cruelly have her put to death.

So the dreadful wheel was invented—a great huge wheel with sharp spokes all round, to which she was to be fastened, and then the wheel set in motion. But when everything was ready, and the cruel machine about to be turned, the cords broke.

The people cried out that the GOD of the Christians had worked a miracle to save His faithful servant. At this the agents of the Emperor were only the more enraged, and by their order a soldier, quickly seizing a spear, cut off her head.

There are many beautiful old pictures of St. Catharine. Some of the most famous artists, touched by the beauty of her life, have made her the subject of their work. She is painted with a broken wheel near her, and sometimes also a spear.

St. Catharine was chosen in early times as the patron of Christian learning in schools.