St. Agatha the Virgin
Martyr A.D. 251
THE cities of Palermo and Catana, in Sicily, dispute the honor of her birth; but they
do much better who, by copying her virtues, and claiming her patronage, strive to
become her fellow-citizens in heaven. It is agreed that she received the crown of
martyrdom at Catana, in the persecution of Decius, in the third consulship of that
prince, in the year of our Lord 251. She was of a rich and illustrious family, and
having been consecrated to God from her tender years, triumphed over many assaults
upon her chastity. Quintianus, a man of consular dignity, bent on gratifying both his
lust and avarice, imagined he should easily compass his wicked designs on Agatha's
person and estate, by means of the emperor's edict against the Christians. He
therefore caused her to be apprehended and brought before him at Catana. Seeing
herself in the hands of the persecutors, she made this prayer: "Jesus Christ, Lord of
all things, you see my heart; you know my desire; possess alone all that I am. I am
your sheep, make me worthy to overcome the devil." She wept, and prayed for
courage and strength all the way she went. On her appearance, Quintianus gave
orders for her being put into the hands of Aphrodisia, a most wicked woman, who
with six daughters, all prostitutes, kept a common stew. The saint suffered in this
infamous place assaults and stratagems against her virtue, infinitely more terrible to
her than any tortures or death itself. But placing her confidence in God, she never
ceased with sighs and most earnest tears to implore his protection, and by it was an
overmatch for all their hellish attempts, the whole month she was there. Quintianus
being informed of her constancy after thirty days, ordered her to be brought before
him. The virgin, in her first interrogatory, told him that to be a servant of Jesus Christ
was the most illustrious nobility and true liberty. The judge, offended at her resolute
answers, commanded her to be buffeted and led to prison. She entered it with great
joy, recommending her future conflict to God. The next day she was arraigned a
second time at the tribunal and answered with equal constancy that Jesus Christ was
her life and her salvation. Quintianus then ordered her to be stretched on the rack,
which torment was usually accompanied with stripes, the tearing of the sides with
iron hooks, and burning them with torches or matches. The governor, enraged to see
her suffer all this with cheerfulness, commanded her breast to be tortured, and
afterwards to be cut off. At which she made him this reproach: "Cruel tyrant, do you
not blush to torture this part of my body, you that sucked the breasts of a woman
yourself?" He remanded her to prison with a severe order, that neither salves nor food
should be allowed her. But God would be himself her physician, and the apostle St.
Peter in a vision comforted her, healed all her wounds, and filled her dungeon with a
heavenly light. Quintianus, four days after, not the least moved at the miraculous
cure of her wounds, caused her to be rolled naked over live coals mixed with broken
potsherds. Being carried back to prison, she made this prayer: "Lord, my Creator, you
have ever protected me from the cradle. You have taken from me the love of the
world and given me patience to suffer; receive now my soul." After which words she
sweetly gave up the ghost. Her name is inserted in the canon of the mass, in the
calendar of Carthage, as ancient as the year 530, and in all martyrologies of the
Latins and Greeks. Pope Symmachus built a church in Rome on the Aurelian way,
under her name, about the year 500, which is fallen to decay. St. Gregory the Great
enriched a church which he purged from the Arian impiety, with her relics, which it
still possesses. This church had been rebuilt in her honor by Ricimer, general of the
western empire, in 460. Gregory II built another famous church at Rome, under her
invocation, in 726, which Clement VIII gave to the congregation of the Christian
doctrine. St. Gregory the Great ordered some of her relics to be placed in the church
of the monastery of St. Stephen, in the Isle of Capreæ, now Capri. The chief part,
which remained at Catana, was carried to Constantinople by the Greek general, who
drove the Saracens out of Sicily about the year 1040; these were brought back to
Catana in 1127, a relation of which translation, written by Mauritius, who was then
bishop, is recorded by Rocci Pyrrho, and Bollandus. The same authors relate in what
manner the torrent of burning sulphur and stones which issue from Mount Aetna, in
great eruptions, was several times averted from the walls of Catana by the veil of St.
Agatha (taken out of her tomb), which was carried in procession. Also that through
her intercession, Malta (where she is honored as patroness of the island) was
preserved from the Turks who invaded it in 1551. Small portions of relics of St.
Agatha are said to be distributed in many places.

The perfect purity of intention, by which St. Agatha was entirely dead to the world
and herself and sought only to please God, is the circumstance which sanctified her
sufferings and rendered her sacrifice complete. The least cross which we bear, the
least action which we perform in this disposition, will be a great holocaust, and a
most acceptable offering. We have frequently something to suffer -- sometimes an
aching pain in the body, other times some trouble of mind, often some
disappointment, some humbling rebuke, or reproach, or the like. If we only bear these
trials with patience when others are witnesses, or if we often speak of them, or are
fretful under them, or if we bear patiently public affronts or great trials, yet sink
under those which are trifling and are sensible to small or secret injuries, it is evident
that we have not attained to true purity of intention in our patience -- that we are
not dead to ourselves and love not to disappear to the eyes of creatures, but court
them and take a secret complacency in things which appear great. We profess
ourselves ready to die for Christ yet cannot bear the least cross or humiliation. How
agreeable to our divine spouse is the sacrifice of a soul which suffers in silence,
desiring to have no other witness of her patience than God alone, who sends her
trials; which shuns superiority and honors, but takes all care possible that no one
knows the humility or modesty of such a refusal; or which suffers humiliations, and
seeks no comfort or reward but from God. This simplicity and purify of heart; this love
of being hidden in God, through Jesus Christ, is the perfection of all our sacrifices and
the complete victory over self-love, which it attacks and forces out of its strongest
entrenchments; this says to Christ, with St. Agatha, "Possess alone all that I am."

We have her panegyrics by St. Aldhelm, in the seventh, and St. Methodius, patriarch
of Constantinople, in the ninth, centuries -- also a hymn in her honor among the
poems of pope Damasus, and another by St. Isidore of Seville, in Bollandus, p. 596.
The Greeks have interpolated her acts. but those in Latin are very ancient. They are
abridged by Tillemont, t. 3, p. 409. See also Rocci Pyrrho, in Sicilia Sacre on Palermo,
Catana, and Malta.
Lives of the Saints