Who was Agatha of Sicily?
Agatha of Sicily is revered as a Christian saint across the globe. According to Christian faith, she committed herself to a life devoted to Jesus Christ at a tender age and thus took the vow of virginity. However, the then-governor of Sicily, Quintianus, laid his eyes on her and made several attempts to coerce her into having an immoral relationship with him. The prevailing circumstances, which witnessed the Christians being persecuted, aided his intentions. He abused the position and power he possessed and tortured her rigorously. However, she suffered through these trials and tribulations and emerged victorious. Christians believe that her immense faith and devotion to Christ helped her endure the severe pain. She was defiled in a brothel and severely tortured in prison. Her breasts were severed, and she was sentenced to be burnt on a stake. However, a miraculous encounter with St. Peter, an apostle of Christ, helped her recover from the wounds. It is presumed that she passed away in prison. In recognition of the suffering and pain she endured and the miracles that followed due to her intercession, Pope Gregory raised her to the position of a saint. She is a patron saint of breast cancer patients, wet nurses, bell-founders, martyrs, bakers, and many disasters.
Childhood & Early Life
Agatha was born into a wealthy noble family in Sicily, Italy, in 231 CE.
She was a pious and devout Christian since a tender age.
As mentioned in the 'Golden Legend' by Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, she took the vow of chastity at the age of 15 and dedicated her life to Jesus Christ and the Church.
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During the period of Decian Persecution, a lot of Christians were persecuted for disobeying Roman Emperor Trajan Decius's order of worshiping and offering sacrifices to the Roman gods.
Agatha was also not spared from the persecution. Quintianus, the governor of Sicily, tortured her for defying his lustful advances and his intention to marry her.
However, he did not give up and coerced her to reconsider her position and break her vow of celibacy. Nevertheless, she was determined to keep her promise and did not give in to his threats.
Spurned by the rejection, Quintianus brought her to his court, where he was the judge. He presumed that she would surrender when faced with the possibility of punishments such as imprisonment, torture, and death. However, she was undeterred because of her faith in Christ.
He was enraged by her stubbornness and decided to send her to a brothel to be abused. There, her modesty was outraged. She was defiled and violated for about a month. She remained firm, both in her faith and resolve, and was stubborn not to give up her vow.
While Agatha confided more in her God, Quintianus grew impatient and resorted to gory methods in his desperate attempts to compel her to abandon her faith and yield to his wishes.
She was summoned before him. He realized that she was adamant and stood firm on her decision. Hence, she was imprisoned and subjected to severe torture.
She was stretched on the rack, torn with iron hooks, and burned with torches. Her breasts were whipped and ripped off with a breast spider. She endured all the pain to please her God, Jesus Christ.
Learning that Agatha would not accept his terms, Quintianus decided to execute her. He sentenced her to death by burning.
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However, before she could be burned, an earthquake struck Sicily, and she was sent to prison.
It is believed that St. Peter, an apostle of Christ, appeared to her in prison and miraculously healed her.
According to the faithful, she passed away in prison and was buried at the Badia di Sant'Agata, Catania.
According to Maltese beliefs, she had escaped to Malta and had stayed there for a brief time, teaching Christian values to children. However, she soon returned to be martyred in Catania.
It is believed Agatha's intercession prevented the volcanic eruption of Mount Etna the year after her death.
According to Maltese traditions, a Benedictine nun interceded to her for preventing the Turkish invasion on Malta in 1551.
She is one of the seven women revered by name in the ‘Canon of the Roman Mass,’ also known as the ‘Eucharistic Prayer I.’
She is the patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer patients, wet nurses, bell founders, bakers, and single laywomen.
She is also a patron saint of disasters such as fire, earthquakes, volcanoes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.
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Different regions, such as Catania, Molise, and Palermo in Italy; Sorihuela del Guadalimar in Spain; and countries such as Malta and San Marino, regard her as their patron saint.
She is the patron saint for fire and emergency services in Switzerland.
Agatha was canonized by Pope Gregory I.
She is one of the most highly revered virgin martyrs, and her feast is observed on February 5 every year.
The ‘Cathedral of Catania’ has been named after her.
The ‘Festival of Saint Agatha’ in Catania is held annually on the first 5 days of February and is an important celebration in the region.
The crypt in which she stayed in Malta is now an underground basilica, and the Maltese have been worshiping there since long.
There are a lot of churches across the globe named after her, especially in England and Italy.
Many paintings depict her holding a plate containing her severed breasts.
Minne di Sant'Agata, Minni di Virgini, Agatha Buns, and Agatha Bread are different names of a dish prepared in Sicily during her feast, representing her severed breasts.
She has been mentioned in 'Martyrologium Hieronymianum,' a book compiled by St. Jerome, which lists Christian saints in chronological order.