While the Roman Emperor Maxentius was on a war campaign at Alexandria, he is said to have committed shameful abominations, by carrying off the wives and daughters of the citizens.
According to one historian: His unbridled passion was defeated by the heroic firmness of one female only, who was one of the most distinguished and illustrious at Alexandria, and she was a Christian.
This remarkable woman of whom he wrote was St. Catherine of Alexandria. Although many of the details of her life have been lost with time, or blurred by legends, her courageous resistance to the pagan Maxentius nonetheless stands out clearly in Christian history.
Born in Alexandria some time during the third century A.D., St. Catherine is believed to have been the daughter of a king.
The great beauty and intelligence which distinguished her from her fellow Alexandrian women immediately caught the attention of Maxentius. From the beginning, he set out to make her one of his many conquests.
Infuriated by her resistance to his advances, Maxentius invited fifty pagan philosophers to contend with Catherine publicly. She promptly converted them all to Christianity.
Then, while the Emperor was away from Alexandria, Catherine convinced his wife Faustina to become a Christian. For this offense she was sentenced to die by a specially-constructed wheel set with razors. When the saint was placed on it, however, the wheel broke and the razors flew about.
In spite of her miraculous escape from death, St. Catherine prayed that she might be martyred, in order that the world be converted to Christianity. She was finally beheaded, in 305 A.D., and shortly afterward, Constantine defeated Maxentius, thereby making the world safe for the Christian religion.
It is believed that angels came and carried her body off to Mount Sinai, where the Monastery of St. Catherine stands to this day.
Represented in art with her wheel and crowned, St. Catherines feast day has traditionally been celebrated on November 25.