Catherine of Alexandria, Saint


Catherine of Alexandria, Saint
   The legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria is believed to have been invented to provide the faithful with an exemplar of Christian moral virtue. According to this legend, Catherine was born in Alexandria to a pagan patrician family related to Emperor Constantine the Great. She converted to Christianity after experiencing a vision, and she denounced Emperor Maxentius, Constantine's rival, for persecuting Christians. Maxentius called the greatest thinkers to Alexandria, where they debated St. Catherine on the existence of God and his incarnation. Not only did she convince them to convert to Christianity, but she also managed to convert Maxentius' wife Faustina, his army commander, and soldiers. Maxentius condemned her to death on a spiked wheel, but an angel delivered her from her martyrdom. Finally, she was beheaded. One of the most spectacular depictions of St. Catherine of Alexandria is by Caravaggio (1598; Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection). Here the saint is shown as a heroic figure who leans on the broken wheel and holds the sword of her decapitation. Catherine's life was depicted by Masolino in the Castiglione Chapel in the Church of San Clemente,
   Rome (c. 1428-1430), in five scenes, including her disputation with the sages. The saint was immensely popular in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, as she is supposed to have weakened Maxentius' power, facilitating Constantine's victory and establishment as sole emperor. Since he converted to Christianity, St. Catherine is considered to have played a key role in effecting the triumph of the faith over paganism.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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