Located adjacent to the Church of the Nativity is Bethlehem’s Catholic parish, Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. You may have seen it before when Christmas Eve services are televised from Bethlehem around the world.
This beautiful church shares a wall with the Church of the Nativity. The current structure was built in 1882 on top of the ruins of a Crusader church and monastery that belonged to the Augustinians.
While we did not see it, the church also stands atop a two-room cave where St Jerome, a Dalmatian-born priest (c.347-420), translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. His translation was called the Vulgate, the authoritative version of the Bible for Catholics until the 20th century.
Who Was Saint Catherine?
I had not ever heard of Saint Catherine before my visit to Bethlehem. With the beautiful church that honors her built right beside the Church of the Nativity, I wanted to know more about her.
Apparently, Saint Catherine was a 4th-century Christian martyr hailing from Egypt. She was said to have been well-educated and a princess who became a Christian at around the age of 14. From that time until she was martyred at the age of 18, she is believed to have won many people over to Christianity.
Legend has it that she challenged the emperor Maxentius for persecuting Christians and for worshipping false gods. Enraged, the emperor threw her into prison where she was beaten until blood ran from her in streams.
Catherine steadfastly refused to show that she was in pain. Instead, she is said to have stood her ground with her eyes raised to Heaven, celebrating her Lord. In prison, legend says that angels rubbed her wounds with salve while a dove from Heaven fed her. It is believed the Christ visited her in her cell, encouraging her to keep up the brave fight.
While she was in prison, hundreds visited her and were converted to Christianity, including the wife of emperor Maxentius. They were all put to death for their newfound faith.
Oddly, after Maxentius was unable to break Catherine’s will by torture or starvation, he proposed marriage to her. She refused, telling him that her spouse was Jesus Christ to whom she had consecrated her virginity.
Furious, Maxentius ordered her to be tortured using an execution wheel. Usually reserved for murderers or robbers, execution by the wheel was slow and excruciatingly painful. The convict was first tied down to the floor, then a wheel that had spikes in it, designed to mutilate the body, was dropped on them.
However, when Catherine touched the wheel, it broke. Spared of dying the long and painful death by the wheel, she was instead beheaded. Rather than blood, it is said that a milk-like substance flowed out of her neck. Legend says that her body was subsequently carried by angels to Mount Sinai.
Both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics honor Saint Catherine as a saint. She is considered a Great Martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church and one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers by Roman Catholics.
(I relied on information found here to tell the story of Saint Catherine.)
Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel
Journey to Israel … Sea of Galilee