Tomorrow is the feast of St. Agatha, virgin and martyr, a saint of great importance and relevance to our own times in so many ways.
Born in Sicily, to a wealthy family, and apparently of considerable beauty, she deicated herself to God from an early age, and resisted the advances of suitors. One of these men, the Roman Prefect, Quintianus, and so a man of great power (and evident spite and vindictiveness) reacted to her rejection of him by having her imprisoned in a brothel. When this failed to break her resolve, he had her subjected to torture, which apparently involved her breasts being torn off (she is often depicted carrying these, or the instruments with which they were removed), and then her body being dragged over shards of broken pottery and over hot coals. She died of her injuries, ending her life with a prayer:-
"Lord, my Creator, you have always protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Receive my soul."I recall that in the news over the last few months there have been a number of stories of women being murdered by vindictive men whom they have rejected, as well as many others being subjected to sexual humiliation and enslavement. I commend these to the prayers of St. Agatha.
Virgin martyrs like St. Agatha seem rather unpopular today - could it be because they highlight unpleasant things about ourselves and the society in which we live? Could it be that some people hate admitting that such saints actually possess the truth?
St. Agatha, pray for us.
As well as being the Patron Saint of a number of towns in Sicily, and of other places in Europe, St. Agatha is (for obvious reasons) Patron of breast cancer sufferers. She is also invoked for protection against fire (there is a legend that the veil covering her tomb held back the lava from eruptions of Mount Etna on a number of occasions. She is also Patron of bellringers - possibly because of the use of bells as fire alarms.