Agatha of Sicily

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Saint Agatha of Sicily
Martirio de Santa Agueda, por Sebastiano del Piombo.jpg
Martyrdom of Saint Agatha
Virgin and Martyr
Bornc. 231 [1]
Catania or Palermo, Sicily
Diedc. 251
Catania, Sicily
Venerated in
Canonized Pre-congregation by tradition confirmed by Pope Gregory I
Feast February 5
Attributes shears, tongs, breasts on a plate [2]
Patronage Sicily; bellfounders; breast cancer; bakers; Catania, Sicily; against fire; [3] 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, Malta

Saint Agatha [4] of Sicily (c. 231 – c. 251 AD) is a Christian saint. Her memorial is on 5 February. Agatha was born at Catania or Palermo, Sicily, and she was martyred in approximately 251. She is one of seven women, who, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. [5]

Memorial object which serves as a focus for memory of something

A memorial is an object which serves as a focus for the memory or the commemoration of something, usually an influential, deceased person or a historical, tragic event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or works of art such as sculptures, statues or fountains and parks.

Catania Comune in Sicily, Italy

Catania is the second largest city of Sicily after Palermo; it is located on the east coast facing the Ionian Sea. It is the capital of the Metropolitan City of Catania, one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in Italy. The population of the city proper is 320,000 while the population of the city's metropolitan area, Metropolitan City of Catania, stood at 1,116,168 inhabitants.

Palermo Comune in Sicily, Italy

Palermo is a city of Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Metropolitan City of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old. Palermo is located in the northwest of the island of Sicily, right by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Contents

She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, San Marino, Gallipoli in Apulia, [6] and Zamarramala, a municipality of the Province of Segovia in Spain. She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.

Molise Region of Italy

Molise is a region of Southern Italy. Until 1963, it formed part of the region of Abruzzi e Molise, alongside the region of Abruzzo. The split, which did not become effective until 1970, makes Molise the youngest region in Italy. Covering 4,438 square kilometres (1,714 sq mi), it is the second smallest region in the country after the Aosta Valley, and has a population of 313,348.

Malta island republic in Europe

Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km². The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

San Marino Republic on the Appenine peninsula

San Marino, officially the Republic of San Marino, also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, is an enclaved microstate in Southern Europe, on the northeastern side of the Apennine Mountains, completely surrounded by Italy.

Early history

Agatha is buried at the Badia di Sant'Agata, Catania. [7] She is listed in the late 6th-century Martyrologium Hieronymianum associated with Jerome, [8] and the Synaxarion , the calendar of the church of Carthage, ca. 530. [9] Agatha also appears in one of the carmina of Venantius Fortunatus. [10]

<i>Martyrologium Hieronymianum</i>

The Martyrologium Hieronymianum or Martyrologium sancti Hieronymi is an ancient martyrology or list of Christian martyrs in calendar order, one of the most used and influential of the Middle Ages. It is the oldest surviving general or "universal" martyrology, and the precursor of all later Western martyrologies.

Jerome 4th and 5th-century Catholic priest, theologian, and saint

Jerome was a Latin Catholic priest, confessor, theologian, and historian, commonly known as Saint Jerome. He was born at Stridon, a village near Emona on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia. He is best known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin, and his commentaries on the Gospels. His list of writings is extensive.

Venantius Fortunatus Italian saint-bishop; hymnwriter

Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus was a Latin poet and hymnodist in the Merovingian Court, and a Bishop of the Early Church. He has been venerated as Saint Venantius Fortunatus since the Middle Ages.

Two early churches were dedicated to her in Rome, [11] notably the Church of Sant'Agata dei Goti in Via Mazzarino, a titular church with apse mosaics of ca. 460 and traces of a fresco cycle, [12] overpainted by Gismondo Cerrini in 1630. In the 6th century AD, the church was adapted to Arianism, hence its name "Saint Agatha of Goths", and later reconsecrated by Gregory the Great, who confirmed her traditional sainthood.

A titular church or titulus is a church in Rome assigned or assignable to one of the cardinals, or more specifically to a cardinal priest.

Visigoths Gothic tribe

The Visigoths were the western branches of the nomadic tribes of Germanic peoples referred to collectively as the Goths. These tribes flourished and spread throughout the late Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, or what is known as the Migration Period. The Visigoths emerged from earlier Gothic groups who had invaded the Roman Empire beginning in 376 and had defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Relations between the Romans and the Visigoths were variable, alternately warring with one another and making treaties when convenient. The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome in 410. After the Visigoths sacked Rome, they began settling down, first in southern Gaul and eventually in Hispania, where they founded the Visigothic Kingdom and maintained a presence from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD.

Agatha is also depicted in the mosaics of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, where she appears, richly dressed, in the procession of female martyrs along the north wall. Her image forms an initial I in the Sacramentary of Gellone, which dates from the end of the 8th century.

Ravenna Comune in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. It was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until that empire collapsed in 476. It then served as the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom until it was re-conquered in 540 by the Byzantine Empire. Afterwards, the city formed the centre of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until the invasion of the Lombards in 751, after which it became the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards.

Procession organized body of people walking in a formal or ceremonial manner

A procession is an organized body of people walking in a formal or ceremonial manner.

Life

One of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of Christian antiquity, Agatha was put to death during the persecution of Decius (250–253) in Catania, Sicily, for her determined profession of faith. [8]

Decius Roman Emperor

Decius, also known as Trajan Decius, was Roman Emperor from 249 to 251.

Her written legend [13] comprises "straightforward accounts of interrogation, torture, resistance, and triumph which constitute some of the earliest hagiographic literature", [14] and are reflected in later recensions, the earliest surviving one being an illustrated late 10th-century passio bound into a composite volume [15] in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, originating probably in Autun, Burgundy; in its margin illustrations Magdalena Carrasco detected Carolingian or Late Antique iconographic traditions. [16]

Agatha in front of the judge as depicted in a stained glass window from 1515 in Notre-Dame, Saint-Lo Saint-Lo Eglise Notre-Dame Vitrail Baie 17 Jugement de sainte Agathe 2019 08 19.jpg
Agatha in front of the judge as depicted in a stained glass window from 1515 in Notre-Dame, Saint-Lô

According to the 13th-century Golden Legend (III.15) by Jacobus de Voragine, fifteen-year-old Agatha, from a rich and noble family, made a vow of virginity and rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect Quintianus, who thought he could force her to turn away from her vow and marry him. His persistent proposals were consistently spurned by Agatha, so Quintianus, knowing she was a Christian during the persecution of Decius, had her arrested and brought before the judge. He was the judge.

He expected her to give in to his demands when she was faced with torture and possible death, but she simply reaffirmed her belief in God by praying: "Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil." With tears falling from her eyes, she prayed for courage. To force her to change her mind, Quintianus sent Agatha to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel, and had her imprisoned there. Agatha never lost her confidence in God, even though she suffered a month of rape, assault, and efforts to get her to abandon her vow to God and go against her virtue. [18]

Quintianus sent for her again, argued, threatened, and finally had her put in prison and had her tortured. She was stretched on a rack to be torn with iron hooks, burned with torches, and whipped. Amongst the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts with pincers. After further dramatic confrontations with Quintianus, represented in a sequence of dialogues in her passio that document her fortitude and steadfast devotion, Agatha was then sentenced to be burnt at the stake, but an earthquake saved her from that fate; instead, she was sent to prison where St. Peter the Apostle appeared to her and healed her wounds. [19]

Agatha died in prison, probably in the year 251 according to the Legenda Aurea. Although the martyrdom of Agatha is authenticated, and her veneration as a saint had spread beyond her native place even in antiquity, there is no reliable information concerning the details of her death. [8]

Osbern Bokenham, A Legend of Holy Women, written in the 1440s, offers some further detail. [20]

Veneration

According to Maltese tradition, during the persecution of Roman Emperor Decius (AD 249–251), Agatha, together with some of her friends, fled from Sicily, and took refuge in Malta. Some historians believe that her stay on the island was rather short, and she spent her days in a rock hewn crypt at Rabat, praying and teaching the Christian Faith to children. After some time, Agatha returned to Sicily, where she faced martyrdom. Agatha was arrested and brought before Quintanus, praetor of Catania, who condemned her to torture and imprisonment. The crypt of St. Agatha is an underground basilica, which from early ages was venerated by the Maltese. At the time of St. Agatha's stay, the crypt was a small natural cave which later on, during the 4th or 5th century, was enlarged and embellished. [21]

After the Reformation era, Agatha was retained in the calendar of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer with her feast on 5 February. Several Church of England parish churches are dedicated to her.

Festival of Saint Agatha in Catania

The Festival of Saint Agatha in Catania is a major festival in the region, it takes place in the first five days of February. The Catania Cathedral (also known asCattedrale di Sant'Agata) is dedicated to the saint.

Patronage

Saint Agatha's breasts sculpted in the fortification walls, Mons, Var Mons Ste Agathe 919.JPG
Saint Agatha's breasts sculpted in the fortification walls, Mons, Var

Saint Agatha is the patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer patients, wet nurses, and bellfounders (due to the shape of her severed breasts). She is also considered to be a powerful intercessor when people suffer from fires. Her feast day is celebrated on February 5.

She is also a patron saint of Malta, where in 1551 her intercession through a reported apparition to a Benedictine nun is said to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion. [21] She is the patron saint of Catania, Sorihuela del Guadalimar (Spain), Molise, San Marino, Malta and Kalsa, a historical quarter of Palermo.

She is claimed as the patroness of Palermo. The year after her death, the stilling of an eruption of Mt. Etna was attributed to her intercession. As a result, apparently, people continued to ask her prayers for protection against fire. [22]

In Switzerland Agatha is considered the patron saint of fire services.

Iconography

Minne di Sant'Agata, a typical Sicilian sweet shaped as a breast, representing the cut breasts of Saint Agatha Minnuzze di sant'aita.jpg
Minne di Sant'Agata, a typical Sicilian sweet shaped as a breast, representing the cut breasts of Saint Agatha

Saint Agatha is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter, as in Bernardino Luini's Saint Agatha (1510–1515) in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, in which Agatha contemplates the breasts on a standing salver held in her hand.

The tradition of Agatha Buns, Agatha bread, or so-called St Agatha's Breasts or Minne di Sant'Agata (Italian/Sicilian for Breasts of St. Agatha) or Minni di Virgini (Italian/Sicilian for Breasts of (a) virgin), served or blessed on her feast day, is found in many countries. The small round fruit buns are iced and topped with a cherry, intended to represent breasts. [23] [24]

Legacy

Basques have a tradition of gathering on Saint Agatha's Eve (Basque : Santa Ageda bezpera) and going round the village. Homeowners can choose to hear a song about her life, accompanied by the beats of their walking sticks on the floor or a prayer for the household's deceased. After that, the homeowner donates food to the chorus. [25] This song has varying lyrics according to the local tradition and the Basque language. An exceptional case was that of 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, when a version appeared that in the Spanish language praised the Soviet ship Komsomol , which had sunk while carrying Soviet weapons to the Second Spanish Republic.

An annual festival to commemorate the life of Saint Agatha takes place in Catania, Sicily, from February 3 to 5. The festival culminates in an all-night procession through the city. [26]

St. Agatha's Tower is a former Knight's stronghold located in the north west of Malta. The seventeenth-century tower served as a military base during both World Wars and was used as a radar station by the Maltese army. [21]

Saint Agatha in art

Agatha is a featured figure on Judy Chicago's 1979 installation piece The Dinner Party , being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor. [27]

See also

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References

  1. D'Arrigo, Santo. Il Martirio di Santa Agata (Catania) 1985
  2. Delaney, John P. (1980). Dictionary of Saints (Second ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN   0-385-13594-7.
  3. Catholic Culture
  4. Latinized form of Greek Ἀγαθή (Agathe), derived from Greek ἀγαθός, agathos, "good" (Behind the Name: the etymology and history of first names); Jacobus de Voragine, taking etymology in the Classical tradition, as a text for a creative excursus, made of Agatha one symbolic origin in ἅγιος agios, "sacred" and Θεός Theos, "God", and another in a-geos", "without Earth", virginally untainted by earthly desires ("Agatha", III.15).
  5. Attwater, Donald; John, Catherine Rachel (1993). The Penguin Dictionary of Saints (3rd ed.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN   0-14-051312-4.
  6. The relics of S. Agata, in particular her breasts, were stolen, on orders of the saint herself, and brought to Gallipoli in 1126. She is the patron of the diocese of Gallipoli, the cathedral of Gallipoli, and of the city. Ravenna, Bartolomeo (1836). Memorie istoriche della città di Gallipoli (in Italian}). Napoli: R. Miranda. pp. 316–326.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  7. D'Arrigo 1985, p. 15; the present rebuilding of the ancient foundation is by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini (1767).
  8. 1 2 3 Kirsch, Johann Peter. "St. Agatha." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 25 Apr. 2013
  9. W.H. Frere, Studies in Roman Liturgy: 1. The Kalendar (London, 1930), p 94f.
  10. Carmen VIII, 4, De Virginitate, noted by Liana De Girolami Cheney, "The Cult of Saint Agatha" Woman's Art Journal17.1 (Spring – Summer 1996:3–9) p. 3.
  11. Sant'Agata in via della Lugaretta, Trastevere, and Sant'Agata dei Goti, (Touring Club Italiano, Roma e dintorni [Milan, 1965], pp 444, 315).
  12. (date in TCI, Roma e dintorni; a letter from Pope Hadrian I (died 795) to Charlemagne remarks that Gregory (died 604) ordered the church adorned with mosaics and frescoes (Cheney 1996 note 5).
  13. Acta Sanctorum IV, February vol. I (new ed. Paris, 1863) pp. 599–662
  14. Magdalena Elizabeth Carrasco, "The early illustrated manuscript of the Passion of Saint Agatha (Paris, Bibl. Nat., MS lat. 5594)", Gesta24 (1985), p. 20.
  15. The volume comprising texts of various places and dates was probably compiled when it was in the collection of Jean-Baptiste Colbert from which it entered the French royal collection.
  16. Carrasco 1985, pp. 19–32.
  17. Bey, Martine Callias; David, Véronique (2006). Les vitraux de Basse-Normandie. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes. p. 157. ISBN   2-84706-240-8.
  18. "Fabio, Michelle. "Feast of Saint Agatha in Catania, Sicily", Italy magazine, 2 February 2009". Archived from the original on 30 December 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  19. Stracke, J. R., "Saint Agatha of Sicily", Georgia Regents University, Augusta Georgia Archived August 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  20. Osbern Bokenham, (Sheila Delany, tr.) A Legend of Holy Women (University of Notre Dame) 1992, pp. 157–167.
  21. 1 2 3 "St. Agatha", St. Agatha's Crypt, Catacombs & Museum
  22. Foley O.F.M., Leonard. Saint of the Day, (revised by Pat McCloskey O.F.M.), Franciscan Media ISBN   978-0-86716-887-7
  23. Illustration and details at Good Food Stories website.
  24. Reference with picture at Adventures of the Kitchen.
  25. J. Etxegoien, Orhipean, Gure Herria ezagutzen (Xamar) 1996 [in Basque].
  26. "Feast of Saint Agatha in Catania, Sicily", Italy magazine, February 2, 2009
  27. "Agatha". Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Agatha. Brooklyn Museum. 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2011.