Not much is known about the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria, due to the popularity of her devotions and the legends that she inspired. Many accounts say she was a member of a noble family, a convert to Christianity, a virgin by choice, and a martyr for the faith.
Catherine is said to have been born and educated in Alexandria, which was a center of learning in the ancient world.
It is said that Catherine received a vision of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, which led her to convert, and to become a virginal “spouse of Christ.”
During Catherine’s lifetime, the Emperor Maxentius ruled Egypt, and launched a persecution against Christians. Catherine came before him to protest his brutal campaign. Maxentius originally tried to persuade her to renounce her faith, but in a debate, Catherine’s skillful apologetics converted a number of pagan philosophers.
Maxentius next tried to make her his mistress, but she rebuffed him, and allegedly convinced his wife to convert to Christianity. The emperor was enraged, and tortured Catherine on a spiked wheel. According to tradition, Catherine was miraculously freed, either before or during torture, and was finally beheaded.
Young women in many Western European countries were once known to seek the intercession of St. Catherine in finding their husbands. She also inspired the nickname for the device on which she was tortured, the “Catherine wheel.”