Voices Young Writers Award
Writings of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
by Mira Ebersole
Mira Ebersole is in the ninth grade and will be fifteen in a few months. She has been home-schooled since the first grade and uses the Seton curriculum. Mira has three siblings and lives on an Angus beef cattle farm in Wisconsin. As an active member of 4-H, Mira enjoys working with animals and shows cattle at the county fair. She also enjoys drawing, playing piano and horseback riding. Her story is based mainly upon legends and the limited amount of historical information known about Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
[Details about the Young Writers Award.]
My name is Catherine, daughter of His Royal Highness, King Costus, governor of Alexandria. I am writing from an underground cellar and am forced to write on the ground since there is no table. Above my head are two guards who have been ordered to keep watch over me. They are growing restless and tired of standing. They know as well as I that it will not be long. The executioner shall arrive at any minute now and their task will be over. I have been condemned to death by the Emperor Maxentius. I feel no fear and am quite prepared to accept it as God’s holy will. Many people have been executed by the emperor, it is not an uncommon occurrence, but I am writing with the hope that my case may be recognized as different. The charges against me include being insane and committing treason against the emperor. But the true reason, that I am a Christian, will not be mentioned. To every story there are two sides and I wish to make mine known.
I think I should begin by writing about my parents. My beloved father came to Rome twenty years ago, was appointed king of Alexandria and has ruled it ever since. Shortly after his arrival, he met an Egyptian princess and was immediately enchanted by her. Her exotic beauty, which was so different from that of typical Roman women, and her undeniable goodness served as strong attractions. They were happily married and I was born two years later. My mother was raised Christian and fortunately my father is one of the few Romans who abhors the practice of persecuting Christians. Though my father is a pagan worshiper, he did not object to my mother practicing her faith and at her insistence, I too was raised as a Christian. However, my father did not want our religion known. It has not been easy to keep our religion a secret from the servants’ gossiping tongues. My father believes in the rather untraditional theory that girls should be brought up and educated just as well as the boys of a noble household. He has constantly kept at least one tutor employed so that I might receive the best schooling possible and I have him to thank for my education. To my mother I owe the most sincere gratitude for instilling in me an understanding and a love for Christ and also for the devoted companionship she has given me throughout my life.
The politics of this time period play a rather important part in my story. It is essential that you understand my father’s position, so I shall explain it. My father has the title of a king, which means that he is in charge of governing a certain region that is part of the Western Roman Empire. Therefore, this means that my father is under the command of the emperor of the west. Until six or seven months ago, our emperor was Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximian, but he was forced to abdicate by his son, Marcus Maxentius. How long Maxentius shall be emperor nobody knows. Many dislike him and are in favor of the emperor of the east, Constantine, the son of Constantius Chlorus. A war between them is inevitable and it could break out at any given moment. Anyway, we had been expecting a visit from the new emperor for some time, so it was no surprise when we received a letter telling us to expect him.
For the last few months, a rumor that the emperor was murdering Christians who would not sacrifice to pagan idols has been spreading. It aroused my attention, and through certain confidential ways and discreet questioning, I learned that the rumor in fact was quite true. Not wanting to start any more rebellions or upheavals, Maxentius has gone about it carefully and discreetly so as not to bring it to the public’s attention. With this in mind, three weeks ago, the emperor arrived in Alexandria to discuss political matters with my father and no doubt to learn if our loyalties stood with him or with his rival, Constantine.
My first meeting with the emperor was an event that has remained clear in my mind. The day after his arrival in Alexandria he came to our palace to speak with my father. Afterward, he was introduced to my mother and me. He spoke long and heedlessly in order to impress us. He himself led into the topic of Christians and began to boast of his campaign to exterminate them completely. I could not stand it any longer, and standing up I began a speech that rebuked Emperor Maxentius soundly for his persecution of Christians while he and my parents stared at me.
The words flowed from my mouth and I too was taken aback at the wisdom that they possessed. Though educated, I am only a naïve eighteen. I am convinced that it was not my own mind that told me what to say, but Christ speaking through me. We argued for nearly an hour and then the emperor invited me to come to his villa the following day to continue our conversation. My parents were terrified because they knew the consequences would be great. However, my mind was made up and they saw that they could not dissuade me.
The next day, one of the emperor’s soldiers met me outside the palace in order to escort me to the villa. The man was plainly disgusted with me and had no scruples about bringing it to my attention. It was obvious that he considered me a waste of time. I discovered him to be a typical pagan, meaning that his seeming devotion to the Roman gods was due more to the fact that he wanted to be kept in the emperor’s favor than any real sentimental reasons. When I voiced this, however, it was not received well, and his expression kept me silent until we reached the estate.
I was kept waiting for two hours. Looking back now, I can’t remember many details about the room that I was in but I do know that I was feeling unsure as to how to continue. Left alone, I knelt and prayed to the Lord for strength and courage in my upcoming battle with Maxentius. I was startled out of my reverie when the emperor entered, trailed by several guards. Motioning for me to follow, he led the way forward to a sitting room where he arranged himself comfortably on a settee. He asked me to restate all that I had said previously, since he could now devote all his attention to me. I stood before him and after admitting to being a Christian, told him how unjust it was to persecute a person for their beliefs especially when it was the one true Faith. His expression rapidly changed from mildly interested to utterly astounded. I was sent back home after Maxentius told me that he would give much thought to what I had said. I went home feeling weary but confident. Needless to say my parents were relieved to have me back alive.
Three days later, I was summoned back to the emperor’s villa. Upon entering I was momentarily taken aback by the many men who filled the house. Later I was to learn that the exact number was fifty, but at the time it seemed to be hundreds. They were the most intellectual scholars that Emperor Maxentius could find in Alexandria; they had no equals in knowledge. All were hired by the emperor for one purpose, to shame and humble me. Knowing I could not handle them alone, I knelt to ask God for assistance. Then our argument began.
No matter how intelligent their questions were, I was always able to have a reply to each of their criticisms. Hours later, they finally had spent themselves and had nothing else to say. Emperor Maxentius raged at them. He told them that it was disgraceful to let a girl humble them. After a lengthy discussion among themselves, the leader of the scholars announced that they admitted defeat, would say no more against me and that they were convinced Christianity was the true faith. I have never seen someone angrier than Maxentius when he received this news. At his orders, the men were burned at the stake and thus earned their way to heaven.
I have been told that I resemble my mother in looks and have inherited her beauty. I suppose this is the reason that Emperor Maxentius, now appeased by the killings, approached me and told me that if I would only sacrifice to his gods, he would make me his mistress. He promised I would be second only to himself and that he would raise a statue in my image so that the people might worship me. I refused, saying that I was a bride of Christ and that I would worship Him alone. At this, his anger returned as suddenly as it had vanished. He struck me with a blow that knocked me to his feet. At his order, I was beaten until unconscious then sentenced to be locked up in the cellar of his villa for twelve days without food or water.
During my imprisonment many of the emperor’s soldiers, who were interested to know more of Christ and His Church, came to see me. One of the most surprising visitors was the guard who had brought me to the throne room after my first meeting with the emperor. He came humbly, asking my forgiveness and begging me to teach him about the Faith. He has listened whole-heartedly to everything I’ve told him and was certainly the most frequent of my visitors. I was always kept very busy and hardly was there a time when I was alone. About this time, my parents were contacted and told that I had committed treason and was being held for questioning. They were not allowed to see me but I am sure that they knew that the whole truth was being withheld from them.
I was let out of the cell on the twelfth day of my imprisonment. All were amazed to see that I looked just as well as if not better than I had twelve days ago. Emperor Maxentius told me that I must either sacrifice to his idols or be killed. Firmly I told him that I willingly chose death. This angered him so much that he had me whipped until I was bruised and bleeding. Not being able to stand the sight of blood, the emperor had me thrown back into the cellar.
The following day I was led out to the courtyard where a crowd was waiting. My parents were there, looking very pale and sorrowful. In the middle of the pavement was a cruel device designed to tear through bone and limb with a spiked wheel that was fearsome to behold. My hands were untied and the guards prepared to place me on the wheel. Hardly knowing why, I reached out a hand and touched a finger to the wheel. Immediately, it shattered into tiny parts, as if a heavy object had struck it down. Splinters flew in every direction but though they struck many of the bystanders, I was not hit. I was quite ready to die then, but it became clear that it was not God’s will.
It was then decided that I would be beheaded instead. I have just been informed that the executioner has arrived at last. In front of me stands the very same guard who escorted me to the emperor’s villa the first time I came. When I finish writing he will lead me from this dark prison into an arena where thousands of spectators await, my parents among them. How they must be suffering at this moment. As he stands in the door of my cell before me I can see that he is sad, but he tells me that his heart is rejoicing for me. Perhaps he too will be called to follow the same path that I have been called to tread. There is but one more thought for me to express. At the moment my heart ceases to beat I shall be in the arms of Christ. Those who are watching will perhaps think that my life is over, but I know that it is but the beginning.
Christ’s humble servant,
Catherine of Alexandria
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