St. Agatha

Feastday: February 5

Patron of Sicily, bellfounders, breast cancer, against fire, Palermo, rape victims, and wet nurses

Birth: 231

Death: 251

St. Agatha, also known as Agatha of Sicily, is one of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of the Catholic Church. It is believed that she was born around 231 in either Catania or Palermo, Sicily to a rich and noble family.

From her very early years, the notably beautiful Agatha dedicated her life to God. She became a consecrated virgin, a state in life where young women choose to remain celibate and give themselves wholly to Jesus and the Church in a life of prayer and service. That did not stop men from desiring her and making unwanted advances toward her.

However, one of the men who desired Agatha, whose name was Quintianus, because he was of a high diplomatic ranking, thought he could force her to turn away from her vow and force her to marry. His persistent proposals were consistently spurned by Agatha, so Quintianus, knowing she was a Christian during the persecution of Decius, had her arrested and brought before the judge. He was the Judge.

He expected her to give in to his demands when she was faced with torture and possible death, but she simply reaffirmed her belief in God by praying: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil.” With tears falling from her eyes, she prayed for courage.

To force her to change her mind, Quintianus had her imprisoned – in a brothel. Agatha never lost her confidence in God, even though she suffered a month of assaults and efforts to get her to abandon her vow to God and go against her virtue. Quintianus heard of her calm strength and ordered that she be brought before him once again. During her interrogation, she told him that to be a servant of Jesus Christ was her true freedom.

Enraged, Quintianus sent her off to prison instead of back to the brothel — a move intended to make her even more afraid, but it was probably a great relief to her.

Agatha continued to proclaim Jesus as her Savior, Lord, Life and Hope. Quintianus ordered her to be tortured. He had her stretched on a rack to be torn with iron hooks, burned with torches, and whipped. Noticing Agatha was enduring all the torture with a sense of cheer, he commanded she be subjected to a worse form of torture ? this evil man ordered that her breasts be cut off.

He then sent her back to prison with an order of no food or medical attention. But the Lord gave her all the care she needed. He was her Sacred Physician and protector. Agatha had a vision of the apostle, St. Peter, who comforted her and healed her wounds through his prayers.

After four days, Quintianus ignored the miraculous cure of her wounds. He had her stripped naked and rolled over naked over hot coals which were mixed with sharp shards. When she was returned to prison, Agatha prayed, “Lord, my Creator, you have ever protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul.”

Agatha is believed to have passed into Heaven around the year 251.

She is commonly featured in religious art with shears, tongs, or breasts on a plate.

St. Agatha is the patron saint of Sicily, bellfounders, breast cancer patients, Palermo, rape victims, and wet nurses. She is also considered to be a powerful intercessor when people suffer from fires. Her feast day is celebrated on February 5.

Prayer:
Saint Agatha, you suffered sexual assault and indignity because of your faith and purity. Help heal all those who are survivors of sexual assault and protect those women who are in danger. Amen

More about St. Agatha from Wikipedia

“St Agatha” redirects here. For communities named after St Agatha, see Sainte-Agathe (disambiguation). For churches, see St Agatha’s Church.

Saint Agatha of Sicily (231 AD – 251 AD) is a Christian saint and virgin martyr. Her memorial is on 5 February. Agatha[4] was born at Catania or Palermo, Sicily, and she was martyred in approximately 251. She is one of seven women, who, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.[5]

She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, San Marino, and Zamarramala, a municipality of the Province of Segovia in Spain. She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.

Contents

  • 1 Early history
  • 2 Life
  • 3 Veneration
  • 4 Patronage
  • 5 Iconography
  • 6 Legacy
    • 6.1 Agatha in art
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links

Early history

Agatha is buried at the Badia di Sant’Agata, Catania.[6] She is listed in the late 6th-century Martyrologium Hieronymianum associated with Jerome,[7] and the Synaxarion, the calendar of the church of Carthage, ca. 530.[8] Agatha also appears in one of the carmina of Venantius Fortunatus.[9]

Two early churches were dedicated to her in Rome,[10] notably the Church of Sant’Agata dei Goti in Via Mazzarino, a titular church with apse mosaics of ca. 460 and traces of a fresco cycle,[11] overpainted by Gismondo Cerrini in 1630. In the 6th century AD, the church was adapted to Arianism, hence its name “Saint Agatha of Goths”, and later reconsecrated by Gregory the Great, who confirmed her traditional sainthood.

Agatha is also depicted in the mosaics of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, where she appears, richly dressed, in the procession of female martyrs along the north wall. Her image forms an initial I in the Sacramentary of Gellone, which dates from the end of the 8th century.

Life

One of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of Christian antiquity, Agatha was put to death during the persecution of Decius (250–253) in Catania, Sicily, for her determined profession of faith.[7]

Her written legend[12] comprises “straightforward accounts of interrogation, torture, resistance, and triumph which constitute some of the earliest hagiographic literature”,[13] and are reflected in later recensions, the earliest surviving one being an illustrated late 10th-century passio bound into a composite volume[14] in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, originating probably in Autun, Burgundy; in its margin illustrations Magdalena Carrasco detected Carolingian or Late Antique iconographic traditions.[15]

Although the martyrdom of Saint Agatha is authenticated, and her veneration as a saint had spread beyond her native place even in antiquity, there is no reliable information concerning the details of her death.[7]

According to Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea of ca. 1288,[16] having dedicated her virginity to God,[17] fifteen-year-old Agatha, from a rich and noble family, rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect Quintianus, who then persecuted her for her Christian faith.[18] He sent Agatha to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel.

Saint Peter Healing Agatha, by the Caravaggio-follower Giovanni Lanfranco, ca 1614

The madam finding her intractable, Quintianus sent for her, argued, threatened, and finally had her put in prison. Amongst the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts with pincers. After further dramatic confrontations with Quintianus, represented in a sequence of dialogues in her passio that document her fortitude and steadfast devotion, Saint Agatha was then sentenced to be burnt at the stake, but an earthquake saved her from that fate; instead, she was sent to prison where St. Peter the Apostle appeared to her and healed her wounds.[19] Saint Agatha died in prison, according to the Legenda Aurea in “the year of our Lord two hundred and fifty-three in the time of Decius, the emperor of Rome.”

 

According to Maltese tradition, during the persecution of Roman Emperor Decius (AD 249–251), Agatha, together with some of her friends, fled from Sicily, and took refuge in Malta. Some historians believe that her stay on the island was rather short, and she spent her days in a rock hewn crypt at Rabat, praying and teaching the Christian Faith to children. After some time, Agatha returned to Sicily, where she faced martyrdom. Agatha was arrested and brought before Quintanus, praetor of Catania, who condemned her to torture and imprisonment. The crypt of St. Agatha is an underground basilica, which from early ages was venerated by the Maltese. At the time of St. Agatha’s stay, the crypt was a small natural cave which later on, during the 4th or 5th century, was enlarged and embellished.[21]

After the Reformation era, Agatha was retained in the calendar of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer with her feast on 5 February. Several Church of England parish churches are dedicated to her.

Patronage

Saint Agatha’s breasts sculpted in the fortification walls, Mons, Var

She is the patron saint of Catania, Sorihuela del Guadalimar (Spain), Molise, San Marino, Malta and Kalsa, a historical quarter of Palermo.

Saint Agatha is a patron saint of Malta, where in 1551 her intercession through a reported apparition to a Benedictine nun is said to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion.[21]

Agatha is the patron saint of bell-founders because of the shape of her severed breasts,[18] and also of bakers, whose loaves were blessed at her feast day. More recently, she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients.

She is claimed as the patroness of Palermo. The year after her death, the stilling of an eruption of Mt. Etna was attributed to her intercession. As a result, apparently, people continued to ask her prayers for protection against fire.[22]

Iconography

Saint Agatha is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter, as in Bernardino Luini’s Saint Agatha (1510–15) in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, in which Agatha contemplates the breasts on a standing salver held in her hand.

The tradition of Agatha Buns, Agatha bread, or so-called St Agatha’s Breasts or Minni di Virgini (or Vergine), served or blessed on her feast day, is found in many countries. The small round fruit buns are iced and topped with a cherry, intended to represent breasts.[23][24]

Legacy

Burial of St Agatha, by Giulio Campi, 1537

Basques have a tradition of gathering on Saint Agatha’s Eve (Basque: Santa Ageda bezpera) and going round the village. Homeowners can choose to hear a song about her life, accompanied by the beats of their walking sticks on the floor or a prayer for the household’s deceased. After that, the homeowner donates food to the chorus.[25] This song has varying lyrics according to the local tradition and the Basque language. An exceptional case was that of 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, when a version appeared that in the Spanish language praised the Soviet ship Komsomol, which had sunk while carrying Soviet weapons to the Second Spanish Republic.

An annual festival to commemorate the life of Saint Agatha takes place in Catania, Sicily, from February 3 to 5. The festival culminates in a great all-night procession through the city for which hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents turn out.[26]

St. Agatha’s Tower is a former Knight’s stronghold located in the north west of Malta. The seventeenth-century tower served as a military base during both World Wars and was used as a radar station by the Maltese army.[21]

Agatha in art

Agatha is a featured figure on Judy Chicago’s installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.[27

 

 

 

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