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St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr

February 5, 2013



St. Agatha at Holy Spirit in Two Harbors

St. Agatha was born in Sicily during the Third Century, and she spent her entire lifespan during the time before Christianity was legal in the Roman Empire.

Youthful Zeal for the Lord.  As a young lady Agatha decided to dedicate herself totally to God.  She considered herself to be a bride of Christ and reserved herself totally to him as a virgin.  Previously St. Paul had written, “An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit” (1 Cor 7:34a).

The Assault on Her Virtue.  A young, influential, Roman consul named Quintian met Agatha, came to desire her, and insisted that she marry him.  He threatened her with torture if she refused him.  Agatha was faithful to her promise to God and flatly rebuffed his advances and proposal.

Persecution and Torture.  Outraged, Quintian sent Agatha to a house of prostitution to ridicule her.  Steadfast in virtue, Agatha was subsequently tortured.  She was stretched out on a rack, and then both of her breasts were brutally hacked off.  According to tradition, St. Peter appeared to Agatha in a vision and she was miraculously healed.

Cruel Martyrdom.  Agatha subsequently was sent to prison.  A few days after her confinement, she was stripped naked and rolled over burning coals and sharp broken shards, and as she died the witnesses overhead her hand over her spirit to God as both Jesus (Lk 23:46) and St. Stephen (Acts 7:59) had done.  Her death occurred in 251 AD during the persecution of the Roman emperor Decius (249-251).

Symbols.  St. Agatha is often shown with a crown on her head, the crown of martyrdom; palms, the symbol of the martyrs; a pair of pincers, a knife, or a meat cutters blade, sharp instruments that were used to cut off her breasts and torture her; or a platter with her two breasts.

Patronage.  Because Agatha’s breasts were painfully removed, she is the patron saint of women with breast cancer and other breast ailments.  Because she was healed, she is the patron saint of nurses.  Because she lived a chaste youth, she is the patron saint of young people who wish to adhere to high moral standards.  Because she was faithful to her promise to be a bride of Christ, she is the patron saint of married couples who wish to be faithful to their marriage vows and want to reserve themselves exclusively for their spouse.  Because she lived in Sicily, she is the patron saint of Palermo and Catania.  There was an eruption of the volcano on Mount Etna, and it is believed that through her intercession the volcano subsided, so she is the patron saint of those who want protection from volcanoes and fires, as well as the patron saint of firefighters.  She is the patron saint of bell makers and bell ringers for a variety of reasons:  possibly because bells were rung when the volcano erupted, or some lava solidified in the shape of a bell, or, and in a few cases when St. Agatha was depicted with her breasts on a plate, there were mistaken to be bells.  Finally, because her breasts were sometimes mistaken to be loaves of bread, it has been customary to bless bread on her feast day.

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