Catherine of Alexandria (Katharine of Alexandria) is a woman about whom scholars differ. Some difficulties about her life and work come from the lack of ancient documents attesting to her work and the character of Christian hagiography over the centuries.
She was one of the most popular figures during the European Middle Ages. She was named the patroness of philosophers!
There are numerous churches with her name. Some view her as a model of someone facing political rulers and criticizing their unjust actions and policies.
When the Roman Catholic Church revised its calendar of saints during the 20th century, Catherine of Alexandria's feast which used to be celebrated on November 25 was dropped from the calendar. She joined a list of other saints whose existence was questioned. Was she just a subject of legends? Some think that she was 'invented' to provide a Christian counterpart to Hypatia of Alexandria, although the dates of Catherine's life are a full century before that of Hypatia, there are strong similarities between the accounts of their lives.
A respected source, the Catholic Encyclopedia states:
"Although contemporary hagiographers look upon the authenticity of the various texts containing the legend of St. Catherine as more than doubtful, it is not therefore meant to cast even the shadow of a doubt around the existence of the saint. But the conclusion reached when these texts have been carefully studied is that, if the principal facts forming the outline are to be accepted as true, the multitude of details by which these facts are almost obscured, most of the wonderful narratives with which they are embellished, and the long discourses that are put into the mouth of St. Catherine, are to be rejected as inventions, pure and simple. "
The article continues:
"An example will illustrate. Although all these texts mention the miraculous translations of the saint's body to Mount Sinai, the itineraries of the ancient pilgrims who visited Sinai do not contain the slightest allusion to it. Even in the eighteenth century Dom Deforis, the Benedictine who prepared an edition of Bossuet's works, declared the tradition followed by this orator in his panegyric on the saint, to be in a great measure false, and it was just at this time that the feast of St. Catherine disappeared from the Breviary of Paris. Since then devotion to the virgin of Alexandria has lost all its former popularity."
Life and Legend of Katharine of Alexandria/Catherine of Alexandria
Catherine of Alexandria is the Patronesses of Philosophers in the Christian Church. She is said to have been born in Alexandria to a noble family.
It is said that when she was 18 years she rebuked the emperor Maximinus (or Maxentius) for his persecution of Christians and tried to convince him that the worship of false gods was mistaken.
Unable to dispute with her, Maximinus sent fifty of philosophers and wise men of his realm to dispute with her. But Catharine of Alexandria came out of the debate victorious. Further her arguments and words converted many of those sent to dispute with her.
When Maximinus heard this he had the converted philosophers executed and Catherine scourged and then imprisoned.
When the Empress heard about this she went with the leader of the guards, Porphyry, to visit Catherine. The Empress and Porphyry were convinced by Catherine's words also and they were converted.
When Maximinus learned of this, he had them executed and he ordered that Catherine be broken on the wheel.
But it is said that the wheel, intended to be the instrument of death broke as soon as Catharine of Alexandria touched it. She was finally beheaded.
The year was 305 CE.
Paintings of Catherine often show her next to a broken wheel. There are no extant writings of Catherine of Alexandria.
Page updated: 10 January, 2015.