In the early ages of the Church, when Christians were being terribly persecuted, the noble maiden, Catherine, dwelt in the city of Alexandria, when Maximinian was emperor.
Though only eighteen years old, she had made such great progress in the study of the Greek and Roman literature that she knew more than many clever men; she was also very retiring and humble, because those who have learned most are never conceited like those who have only learned a little.
But, better than all, Catherine loved to study the Christian faith, that she might be able to uphold it against those who would not believe, and in doing this her humble soul learned more and more of the love of God and the sweetness of sacrificing everything for Him.
The prisons in the city were filled with those who were suffering for the Christian faith, and in spite of the peril, this noble maiden felt it a happy duty to visit and comfort them, for it seemed as if Jesus was always whispering to her heart those words she had copied so carefully on a scroll of parchment, “I was in prison, and you came to me.”
The tyrant emperor had heard of her learning, and his whole mind was bent upon forcing her to believe in the gods of the heathen, and he issued commands that the greatest philosophers should assemble, before whom Catherine should appear and be compelled to give up the faith she professed for the worship of idols.
She was bending over her studies when the heavy tread of armed soldiers was heard in the portal, who entered her apartment roughly; but upon seeing her simple, holy face they were abashed and awkward, as the commander of the band delivered his message, ordering her to accompany him to the presence of Maximin.
Her women servants cried and tore their veils when they saw their young and gentle mistress placed in the midst of the rough soldiers, but Catherine was calm, for she trusted in God that He would take care of her and teach her what to say, as He had promised in the sacred words she knew so well, to those who for His sake should be brought before governors and kings.
Fifty of the most learned men of Egypt were waiting in the hall of Maximin’s palace for the Christian maiden, who stood in ber pure white tunic before them, meekly hearing and answering their arguments; but instead of their winning her back to their heathen worship, God’s truth was so powerful that many amongst them were converted by the earnest words of Catherine, and afterwards many of that number suffered martyrdom for love of Jesus.
The emperor was very angry then, and ordered the girl to be severely scourged and cast into prison, where, for eleven days, she was shut up without food; but during that time, Maximin’s own wife and the general of the army went to visit the captive, and were also led to a strong love for the Christian religion, for which they were soon afterwards martyred, but before that happened Catherine was brought out to die. A horrible wheel set with spikes had been prepared, upon which she was bound in such a way that her delicate body would be torn to pieces, but at her prayer, the wheel was suddenly broken to atoms and fell to the ground, and she remained uninjured. Then Maximin called upon one of his soldiers to take his axe and behead her, which was done immediately, and thus her soul was set free, whilst a bright band of angels bore away her blessed body and laid it to rest on Mount Sinai, where to this day the tomb is shown on the summit of one of the mountain peaks.
Saint Catherine is the special patron of the young who are pursuing their studies, for she teaches that the great end of learning is to be the honour and glory of God, and that the love of Christ surpasses all the knowledge which ever was, or will be, gained.
The 25th of November has been chosen for the festival of the young and pure martyr of Alexandria, and the collect for the Mass of that day commemorates the carrying of her body to the mountain, which was then calm and peaceful, like the heaven where her soul was dwelling with Christ, for whose love she had suffered and died.
“But swiftly away to a holy mount
The angels, rejoicing, Saint Catherine bore,
And now in the mansions above she dwells,
With our Lord and His Mother for evermore.”
– from , by Mary F Seymour