Catherine of Alexandria

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Saint Catherine of Alexandria, also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel and The Great Martyr Saint Catherine (Greek ἡ Ἁγία Αἰκατερίνη ἡ Μεγαλομάρτυς) is a Christian saint and martyr who is claimed to have been a noted scholar in the early 4th century. 1,100 years later, Joan of Arc said that Catherine appeared to her many times.[4] The Orthodox Church venerates her as a "great martyr", and in the Catholic Church she is traditionally revered as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Catherine was the daughter of Costus, a pagan governor of Alexandria. She announced to her parents that she would only marry someone who surpassed her in beauty, intelligence, wealth, and social status. This was an early foreshadowing of her eventual discovery of Christ. "His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world."[1]

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Life and legend

Catherine was born in Alexandria and raised a pagan, but converted to Christianity in her late teens. It is said that she visited her contemporary, the Roman Emperor Maxentius, and attempted to convince him of the moral error in persecuting Christians. She succeeded in converting his wife, the Empress, and many pagan philosophers whom the Emperor sent to dispute with her, all of whom were subsequently martyred.[5] Upon the failure of the Emperor to win Catherine over, he ordered her to be put in prison; and when the people who visited her converted, she was condemned to death on the breaking wheel, an instrument of torture. According to legend, the wheel itself broke when she touched it, so she was beheaded.

According to Christian tradition, angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where, in the 6th century, the Eastern Emperor Justinian established Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, the church being built between 548 and 565 in Saint Catherine, Egypt, on the Sinai peninsula. Saint Catherine's Monastery survives, a famous repository of early Christian art, architecture and illuminated manuscripts that is still open to visiting scholars.

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