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Saint Catherine of Alexandria


Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Painted and gilded linden wood
Gift of Ethel Morrison Van Derlip in memory of her mother, Julia Kellogg Morrison

Key Ideas
Discussion Questions

The Story that Developed Over Hundreds of Years
Catherine of Alexandria was the niece of a Roman emperor and an Egyptian queen. At her birth a halo of light danced around her head. An exceptionally smart youngster, she studied with seven great scholars. Catherine soon surpassed all others in nobility, beauty, wealth, and knowledge. Her father died when she was only 14, leaving her in charge of the kingdom. Catherine declined, giving up the kingdom in order to pursue her studies. When her loyal subjects begged her to reconsider and to marry, Catherine agreed, but insisted that she would only marry a man who was her social and financial equal. Furthermore, he must be so beautiful that angels would wish to see him, and kind enough to forgive all offenses. Her subjects feared that no one man could fulfill all of these criteria.

At this time a religious hermit saw in a vision that the Christian messiah, Jesus, was the husband Catherine sought. The hermit shared this divine message with Catherine and gave her a picture of the baby Jesus with his mother, the Virgin Mary. Upon seeing the child's face, Catherine knew she could love no one else.

When Catherine asked the hermit how she could become worthy of Jesus, he instructed her in the tenets of Christianity and baptized her. That night she had a dream in which the baby Jesus placed a wedding ring on her finger. When she awoke she found that the ring was still there. From that moment on Catherine considered herself the bride of Jesus.

In the meantime, the Roman emperor Maxentius (mak-SEN-chus) had come to Alexandria. Maxentius persecuted all those who refused to worship the idols that he worshipped. Catherine challenged Maxentius. He called in 50 of his greatest advisors to dispute with her, but they were no match for her wisdom and power of argument. She converted them to Christianity. The cruel Maxentius ordered his advisors burned to death, but he was so enchanted by Catherine's beauty that he spared her life. Although he was already married he tried to force Catherine to marry him. When she refused he tried to starve her into submission. Angels came to her dungeon cell and fed her. When Maxentius's wife begged him to have mercy on Catherine, he had his wife put to death and again tried to force Catherine into marriage.

Furious at her repeated refusals, Maxentius ordered Catherine tied to four spinning spiked wheels that would tear her apart. A great flame flashed down from the heavens and burned the wheels, and their hot fragments killed Catherine's executioners. Finally Maxentius had Catherine beheaded. Angels carried her body to the top of Mount Sinai. Maxentius soon died a horrible death.

Key Ideas Story Background Discussion Questions


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