St. Agatha of Sicily

St. Agatha is one of the many early virgin martyrs, and one of several who is mentioned by name in the eucharistic prayer. In classic hagiographic humor, she is a patron saint of wet nurses, owing to her breasts being torn off as part of the tortures she underwent.

Lifetime: ~231 to ~251
Region: Sicily
Patronages: Breast cancer; natural disasters; jewelers; Wet nurses
Iconograpy: Tongs; Severed breasts; Palm of martyrdom
Feast Day: February 3

Agatha was a beautiful girl, but very early in her life she consecrated herself to God, vowing that she would have no husband other than Christ. However, because of her beauty, many men continued to try to woo her despite her vows.

One of these men was a high-ranking diplomat who thought that because of his political power he could force Agatha to marry him. He proposed to her many times, but Agatha always said no, and that she had dedicated herself only to God. The diplomat grew increasingly angry that his advances were rejected.

Eventually he got so mad that he decided to punish her. At this time, it was illegal to be Christian, and Agatha had made no secret of her faith. So the diplomat had her arrested for her faith, to be brought before a judge for her crime. And it just so happened that he was also the judge.

He thought that surely now Agatha would agree to his proposal. All she would have to do was to marry him and she wouldn't have to be arrested, tortured, tried, and possibly killed. Surely she wasn't so obsessed with this God of hers to throw her life away over Him. 

It should come as no surprise that the judge was very wrong. Agatha refused to turn from her faith. As punishment, the judge sentenced her to a month in the brothel where she was assaulted repeatedly. He thought that maybe if her virginity was taken from her, she would finally give in. But Agatha continued to maintain her vow.

The judge couldn't believe it. He had her arrested again, and this time he tortured her in every way he could think of to try to get her to give up her faith. She suffered all of it with cheer, from being stretched, pierced with hooks, burned with torches, and whipped. Her calm demeanor grated on the judge and he finally demanded that her breasts be torn off with tongs. The judge was going to have her burned at the stake, but an earthquake prevented this, so he instead had her imprisoned with no food to suffer from her wounds.

But Agatha's faith was so strong that God sustained her. She had a vision of St. Peter coming into her cell and healing her wounds, and when the judge checked on her again, Agatha was indeed healed. The judge continued her tortures, stripping her naked and rolling her over hot coals and glass shards. No matter what he did, Agatha just continued to pray.

Eventually, Agatha died of the tortures, but she never stopped praising God.

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