Short Lives of the Dominican Saints – Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, Protectoress of the Dominican Order

15th century wooden sculpture of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the Sankt Franziskuskirche, Zwillbrock, Germany; swiped off WikipediaArticle

Saint Catharine was born of noble parents at Alexandria in Egypt, and was richly gifted both in mind and body. She belonged to a pagan family, and at first studied the doctrines of Christianity merely out of curiosity. She was captivated by their purity and beauty, but still held back from submitting her understanding to the obedience of faith. A beautiful legend represents her to us as having been favoured with a vision of our Blessed Lady, who bore the Divine Infant in her arms. Catharine was enraptured with His charms; but, when she would fain have caressed Him, He refused to look at her and even drove her from Him, saying that He could not bear the sight of her because she was unbaptized. As a result of this vision, she at last embraced the faith; and, shortly afterwards, she again beheld the Virgin Mother and the Holy Child, who this time pressed her to His heart and mystically espoused her to Himself, placing a ring upon her finger. Thenceforth she gave herself wholly to His love and service.

When the Emperor Maximin began his persecution of the Christians in Alexandria, Saint Catharine, who was but eighteen years of age, boldly rebuked him for his impiety. The tyrant inquired into the history of the fair and modest maiden who stood so courageously before him; and, on learning that she was much given to the study of philosophy, he summoned learned men from all parts of his empire to come and dispute with her, and, if possible, induce her to renounce the faith. Fifty philosophers obeyed the imperial call; but Saint Catharine silenced them by her invincible arguments, and succeeded in winning them all to Christ, for whose Name they suffered a glorious martyrdom by fire.

The Emperor then had recourse to promises and flatteries in order to persuade the Holy Virgin to give up Christianity. Finding these of no avail, he caused her to be most cruelly scourged, and then shut up in a dark prison, and left without food. All were astonished at the fortitude with which this young and delicate maiden bore her torments. Moved by curiosity, the Empress herself came to visit her, accompanied by Porphyry, the captain of the guard, and two hundred soldiers. Such was the divine power imparted to the burning words of Saint Catharine that she persuaded her visitors to embrace the faith, and they all subsequently shed their blood for Christ. Our Lord miraculously supplied the Saint with food in her captivity, sent His angels to comfort her and cure her wounds, and even vouchsafed to come Himself to visit her. Hence when, at the end of twelve days, she was again summoned before the Emperor, he found her, to his astonishment, as beautiful and in as good health as when she had first presented herself before him.

As neither threats nor promises were of any avail to induce her to offer sacrifice to the idols, Maximin ordered her to be torn to pieces on an instrument of torture consisting of four wheels armed with sharp spikes. But no sooner was the Spouse of Christ fastened to it than an angel broke her bonds, and at the same time wrenched the wheels asunder with such force that they dashed against the pagans and killed several of them. Then the tyrant commanded that the Saint should be beheaded.

On hearing the sentence she exclaimed: “O Jesus, good King, I await the sword for Thy sake; do Thou deign to receive my spirit, and to show mercy to those who honour my memory.”

And a heavenly voice made answer: “Come, My chosen one, come; enter into the bridal chamber of thy Spouse. Thou hast obtained the grant of thy petition, and it shall be well with them that praise thee.”

After her death, which took place early in the fourth century, a graceful legend represents her body as having been borne by the angels to the summit of Mount Sinai and there buried by them. Some authors, however, assert that by “angels” we are to understand monks, who were regarded as earthly angels; and that Saint Catharine’s remains, after being first interred in Egypt, were translated in the eighth century to the celebrated monastery on Mount Sinai, which had been built by Saint Helen and enlarged and beautified by the Emperor Justinian.

In consequence of her extraordinary learning, Saint Catharine is regarded as the patroness of Christian philosophy; and this circumstance, taken in connection with her successful apostolate for souls, is doubtless the main cause of her being considered as a special Protectress of the Order of Preachers, which glories in the name of the Order of Truth and has ever been distinguished alike for its eminent learning and its zeal for souls. The Saint has herself deigned on several occasions to manifest a particular interest in the children of Saint Dominic, as the lives of their Saints testify. To mention but three instances. It was she who, together with Saint Cecilia, accompanied our Blessed Lady when she anointed Blessed Reginald and gave him the habit of the Order, which she is said to have taken from the hands of the Virgin Martyr of Alexandria. The same two Martyr Spouses of Christ were again in attendance on the Mother of God when she showed herself to our Holy Father in the dormitory at Santa Sabina, sprinkling the Brethren with holy water as they slept. Finally, it was Saint Catharine who, in company with the other holy Protectress of the Order, Saint Mary Magdalen, came with the Queen of Heaven to bring the miraculous picture of Saint Dominic to Soriano.

O God, who didst give the law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai, and didst by Thy holy angels wonderfully transport the body of Blessed Catharine, Thy Virgin and Martyr, to the same place, grant, we beseech Thee, that by her merits and intercession we may be able to come to the mountain which is Christ. Through the same Christ our Lord Amen.

MLA Citation

  • “Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, Protectoress of the Dominican Order”. Short Lives of the Dominican Saints, 1901. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 November 2015. Web. 27 October 2016. <>