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On the Kalendar: Catherine of Alexandria, Martyr

November from Les Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne

“November”, kalendar page from Les Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Little Hours of Queen Anne of Bretagne), by the Maître des Triomphes de Pétrarque. From Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (France).

Catherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandria during the reign of Emperor Maximian. She was a studious child, and a vision of Mary and the child Jesus persuaded her to become a Christian.

When Maximius’s successor Maxentius started to persecute Christians, Catherine boldly went to the Emperor and rebuked him. Maxentius set up a debate: fifty of the best pagan philosophers and orators agains Catherine. The were unable to refute her arguments, and, in fact, several of them, conquered by her eloquence, became Christians on the spot. (They were summarily put to death.)

Maxentius then proceeded to have Catherine tortured. She was scourged mercilessly and then imprisoned without food so that she would starve. She survived the torments, and was visited in her cell by scores of visitors, all of whom converted to Christianity. (Once of these visitors was Maxentius’s own wife, Valeria Maximilla, who was also martyred.)

Maxentius then took completely different approach and proposed to Catherine, but she refused him. The emperor then condemned her to be killed on a spiked breaking wheel, but the wheel broke. Finally, as happened with many martyrs of the era, she was condemned to be beheaded, and beheaded she was, although only after Catherine herself consented to the execution.

Catherine’s feast day is 25 November.

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