A Garner of Saints: Saint Agatha

[Saint Agatha of Sicily]Born at Catana in Sicily, of an illustrious family, she dedicated herself to God in her earliest year. As she grew in grace and beauty, the Roman consul Quintian became inflamed with a passion for her and seized upon a decree of the Emperor Decius against the Christians as a means of gaining power over her. But her resolution remained steadfast and her faith firm against his threats and attacks, so that at length he sent her to a place of ill-fame, where she resisted with success all attempts against her virtue. Brought once again before Quintian, she steadily refused to sacrifice to idols, though beaten, imprisoned and racked. At length he caused her breasts to be wrenched and then cut off, Agatha exclaiming, “Base and cruel tyrant, are you not ashamed to cut off from a woman what you have sucked in your mother.” She was then sent back to prison and all medical aid refused her. But at midnight a venerable man came to her, preceded by a boy carrying a light, and bringing various medicines, and he offered to cure her, but she refused his aid. And he said, “Be not abashed for I am a Christian,” and she replied, “Why should I be, for you are old and I am so cruelly lacerated that no one could desire me.” And as she protested that Christ would heal hear if He thought good, the old man declared himself to be Saint Peter, who had been sent to cure her wounds. Thus saying, he vanished, and Agatha found herself completely restored and her breasts whole. Her custodians, terrified by the blinding light, left the prison doors open and requested her to make good her escape, but she refused, declaring that she would not lose the crown prepared for her. After four days she was again brought before the consul, who perceiving his previous efforts to have been unavailing, ordered her to be drawn over sharp shards and live coals to be placed on her bosom. The execution of this order was followed by an earthquake in which two of those present were crushed, and as the people cried out upon Quintian as the cause of this disaster, he sent Agatha back to prison, where, having prayed the Lord to receive her soul, she expired in the year 251. 5th February.

Attributes: Breasts, and usually carries pincers. Sometimes wearing a crown of flowers.

Representation: Saint Gimignano, the Hall of Justice, by Lippo Memmi; Florence, Pitti Palace, painting by Sebastiano del Pimbo.

Authorities: Legenda Aurea; Peter by Natalibus.

- from A Garner of Saints, Allen Banks Hinds, M.A., 1900