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wood icon of St Catherine of Alexandria


Saint Catherine of Alexandria

There is no denying that Catherine of Alexandria is an obscure saint, and an also an uncommon name for an Episcopal church (I guess I must have some strange connection to obscure saints – the first church I served was St. Wilfrid of York in Huntington Beach, CA. Ever heard of him? Well, neither had I).
The veneration of “Catherine of Alexandria” has its historical origins in the persecutions of Christians that took place in the Roman Empire right at the beginning of the fourth century. There is really no hard evidence of Catherine herself being a “real” historical figure – rather, it is thought she may have been a composite drawn from memories of women who were persecuted by their faith.
That said, Catherine’s story is an inspiring one – a story of a woman remembered for her intelligence, her wisdom, her tenacity, and her faith. According to tradition, she was born of a patrician family of Alexandria and from childhood devoted herself to study. She learned about Christianity through her reading, and converted after receiving a vision of Our Lady and the Holy Child.
When the Roman Emperor Maxentius began his persecution, Catherine went to him and rebuked him boldly for his cruelty. It is said he couldn’t answer her arguments against his pagan gods, and that he then summoned fifty philosophers to confute her. They all confessed themselves won over by her reasoning, and were thereupon burned to death by the enraged Emperor! Then, even after she was beaten and imprisoned, she continued her efforts, managing to convert the Emperor’s wife, Faustina, a high official named Porphyrius, and many of the soldiers of the guard. They too were put to death, and Catherine was sentenced to be killed on a spiked wheel.
When she was fastened to the wheel, her bonds were miraculously loosed and the wheel itself broke, its spikes flying off and killing some of the onlookers. She was then beheaded.
Eventually, St. Catherine became known as the patroness of young women, philosophers, preachers, theologians, wheelwrights, millers, and other workingmen. She was said to have appeared with Our Lady to St. Dominic and to Blessed Reginald of Orleans, and was adopted her as their special protectress by the Dominican order. It is also said that hers was one of the heavenly voices heard by another unusual woman saint, Joan of Arc. In iconography, Catherine is often portrayed wearing a crown, or next to the wheel that represents how she was tortured; other emblems are a lamb and a sword.
So, after learning her story, I find myself glad to serve a church dedicated to her memory. The Christian world needs women saints like her, reminding us today that, even from times of antiquity, there are stories that remember and honor the lives and witness of women who are wise, brave, and faithful.


Written by The Rev. Patricia Millard, Previous St. Catherine's Vicar 

Sculpture by Charles Schweigert


Poem by Karin Temple

the base is the ark
where Noah cradled all creatures
the base is the barque
where Christ slept through the storm
anchoring a broken orb
of once rusty scrap metal
transformed by faith in beauty
the martyr’s wheel rises
the break beatified
by a fragrant halo
silvery traces of the soul’s flight
toward paradise
leaving behind
for our solace
a delicate blue flower

la base es el arca

donde Noé acunó a todas las criaturas la base es la barca

donde Cristo durmió durante la tormenta

anclando un orbe roto

de chatarra una vez oxidada transformado por la fe en la belleza

la rueda del mártir se levanta

el descanso beatificado

por un halo fragante

huellas plateadas del vuelo del alma

hacia el paraiso

dejando atrás

para nuestro consuelo

una delicada flor azul

amor en una niebla

Sculpture by Charles Sweigert
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