Saint Agatha of Sicily

Born c. 231
Catania or Palermo, Sicily
Died c. 251
Catania, Sicily
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodoxy
Feast February 5
Attributes shears, tongs, breasts on a plate
Patronage Sicily; bellfounders; breast cancer; bakers; Catania, Sicily; against fire;earthquakes; eruptions of Mount Etna; fire; jewelers; martyrs; natural disasters; nurses; Palermo, Sicily; rape victims; San Marino; single laywomen; sterility; torture victims; volcanic eruptions; wet nurses; Zamarramala, Spain


Saint Agatha of Sicily (died traditionally 251) is a Christian saint. Her memorial is on 5 February. Agatha was born at Catania, Sicily, and she was martyred in approximately 251. She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

According to Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea of ca. 1288, having dedicated her virginity to God, Agatha, rich and noble rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect, Quintianus; she was persecuted by him for her Christian faith. She was given to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel, and her nine daughters, but in response to their threats and entreaties to sacrifice to the idols and submit to Quintianus, she responded
My courage and my thought be so firmly founded upon the firm stone of Jesus Christ, that for no pain it may not be changed; your words be but wind, your promises be but rain, and your menaces be as rivers that pass, and how well that all these things hurtle at the foundement of my courage, yet for that it shall not move.
She attacked the Roman cult images as idols with philosophical arguments that paralleled Arnobius:

And S. Agatha answered that they were no gods, but were devils that were in the idols made of marble and of wood, and overgilt. Quintianus said: Choose one of two; or do sacrifice to our gods, or thou shalt suffer pain and torments. S. Agatha said: Thou sayst that they be gods because thy wife was such a one as was Venus, thy goddess, and thou thyself as Jupiter, which was a homicide and evil. Quintianus said: It appeareth well that thou wilt suffer torments, in that thou sayst to me villainy. S. Agatha said: I marvel much that so wise a man is become such a fool, that thou sayest of them to be thy gods, whose life thou ne thy wife will follow. If they be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were.
Among the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts. An apparition of Saint Peter cured her.

After further dramatic confrontations with Quintianus, represented in a sequence of dialogues in her passio that document her fortitude and steadfast devotion, her scorned admirer eventually sentenced her to death by being rolled naked on a bed of live coals, "and anon the ground where the holy virgin was rolled on, began to tremble like an earthquake, and a part of the wall fell down upon Silvain, counsellor of Quintianus, and upon Fastion his friend, by whose counsel she had been so tormented."
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."

Saint Agatha is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter, as by Bernardino Luini's Saint Agatha (1510-15) in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, in which Agatha sweetly contemplates the breasts on a standing salver held in her hand. The shape of her amputated breasts, especially as depicted in artistic renderings, gave rise to her attribution as the patron saint of bell-founders and as the patron saint of bakers, whose loaves were blessed at her feast day.she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients also.

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.

Osbern Bokenham, A Legend of Holy Women, written in the 1440s, offers some further detail

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