Saint Catherine of Alexandria

The collect for a virgin or matron, on the Feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (4th century?), Virgin and Martyr, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

O GOD Most High, the creator of all mankind, we bless thy holy Name for the virtue and grace which thou hast given unto holy women in all ages, especially thy servant Catherine; and we pray that the example of her faith and purity, and courage unto death, may inspire many souls in this generation to look unto thee, and to follow thy blessed Son Jesus Christ our Saviour; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Burne-Jones, St. CatherineThe Lesson: Acts 9:36-42
The Gospel: St Luke 10:38-42

The cult of Saint Catherine arose in the Eastern Church in the 9th century and spread to the West at the time of the Crusades. She is not mentioned in any early martyrologies. No reliable facts concerning her life or death have been established. She is now generally considered to be a mythical figure.

According to her legend, St Catherine lived in Alexandria when Emperor Maxentius was persecuting the church. A noble and learned young Christian, Catherine prevailed in a public debate with philosophers who tried to convince her of the errors of Christianity. Maxentius had her scourged, imprisoned, and condemned her to death. She was tied to a wheel embedded with razors, but this attempt to torture her to death failed when the machine (later a Catherine wheel) broke and onlookers were injured by flying fragments. Finally, she was beheaded.

St Catherine is often portrayed, as here, holding a book, symbolic of her great learning. She is the patron saint of teachers and students.

Artwork: Edward Burne-Jones, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 1887-88. Stained glass, St. Paul’s Church, Irton, England. Photo taken by admin, 8 August 2004.

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