Saint Catherine, Patron Saint of the Holy Monastery of Sinai
Saint Catherine was born in Alexandria towards the end of the third century, and was educated in philosophy, rhetoric, poetry, music, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. She was renowned for her beauty, her aristocratic birth, and her wide learning. Rejecting all offers of marriage, she was converted to Christianity through a Christian hermit who lived in the outlying deserts, and took Christ as the true Bridegroom of her soul. During the persecutions of Maxentius in the early fourth century, she confessed her faith in Christ and condemned the worship of idols. The emperor appointed fifty rhetoricians to argue with her, but her presentation of Christianity was so brilliant, and her condemnation of the pagan religion so devastating, that they were themselves converted to Christ. Saint Catherine resisted all the emperor’s promises, threatenings, and tortures, and was at last beheaded for her faith. Her memory is celebrated on November 25.
Following her martyrdom, angels bore her body to the peak of Mount Saint Catherine, where they rested until they were translated to the catholicon of the Holy Monastery of Sinai. Here they continue to emit a sweet fragrance, and many miracles are wrought to this day. The veneration of Saint Catherine spread throughout the West, especially after the translation of relics of Saint Catherine to Rouen by Symeon Pentaglosses, in the early eleventh century. The numerous pilgrims to the monastery from that time resulted in the gradual change of name from the Holy Monastery of Sinai to that of Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
Saint Catherine’s Reliquary
The marble chest containing the relics of Saint Catherine is located at the south side of the sanctuary in the catholicon of the holy monastery. It is the construction of Procopius the stonecutter, who took nine years to complete the shrine in honor of Saint Catherine. This shrine replaced the earlier marble chest, which is preserved today in the monastery’s treasury. Inside are to be found two precious reliquaries given by the Russian Empire for this purpose, the one enshrining the precious head of the martyr, and the other her left hand. The relics of Saint Catherine are brought out for the veneration of the faithful on special occasions, at which time each pilgrim is given a silver ring bearing the monogram of the saint, in honor of the ring that Saint Catherine received from Christ. These are preserved by pilgrims as a blessing from the saint.