Catherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandrian Egypt during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-313). From a young age she had devoted herself to study. A vision of the Madonna and Child persuaded her to become a Christian. When the persecutions began under Maxentius, she went to the emperor and rebuked him for his cruelty. The emperor summoned fifty of the best pagan philosophers and orators to dispute with her, hoping that they would refute her pro-Christian arguments, but Catherine won the debate. Several of her adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were at once put to death
Born to pagan parents, and perhaps converted through the instrumentality of a Christian nurse, Cecilia was raised in a noble Roman home during a time of persecution. We are told that, according to custom, Cecilia’s parents arranged for her to marry a young patrician named Valerian. Cecilia, however, had already vowed her virginity to God, desiring to root herself even more deeply in her Baptismal consecration. On her wedding night, she resolutely explained her vow to Valerian, whose initial anger and confusion were transformed into conversion under the influence of his wife’s strong faith and the instruction of the Christian bishop. Valerian and Cecilia subsequently helped to convert Valerian’s brother Tiburtius, and the three became known for their works of charity and their lives of Christian virtue.
Though arrested and threatened with execution because of their practice of Christianity, Valerian and Tiburtius refused to deny their faith. They were cruelly martyred, but not before they had succeeded in converting their executioner, who had been profoundly affected by the steadfast example of the other young men. Cecilia’s arrest soon followed. Despite the fact that the Roman prefect attempted to persuade her toward more “politically correct” behavior, Cecilia refused to submit. After a failed attempt to suffocate her in a heated bath in her own home, an executioner was sent to behead her.
Three blows mortally wounded Cecilia, yet failed to kill her immediately, and she survived for three days. We are told that, even in her dying condition, she continued to offer the witness of a vibrant faith, hope and charity that would not die. Cecilia bequeathed her possessions to the poor and her home to the Church, to be used as a house of worship. More