Thursday, 5 February 2009

Saint Agatha, Virgin & Martyr

12th century depiction of the saint in the catacomb dedicated to her in Malta

One of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of Christian antiquity, put to death for her steadfast profession of faith in Catania, Sicily. Her martyrdom occurred during the persecution of Decius (250-253). She is one of the women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.
Having rejected the amorous advances of a Roman prefect, she was persecuted by him for her Christian faith. Among the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts. She is therefore often depicted ichnographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter. More recently, she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients. Her martyrdom was not only cruel for a young lady but also most humiliating. Like her beloved Jesus, to whom she consecrated her virginity, she suffered patiently. Her steadfast faith and love has impressed generations of Christians who see in her not only a heavenly Patron but also a hero of the Faith. The cruelty of her persecutors in that distant age betrays a common thread among those who persecute the Church, humiliating and dehumanising Christians is the way they do it. Being it the humiliation and suffering of Agatha as she would not give in to the spirit of her age to more subtle ways we see today among some, like the attempts in dehumanising the Holy Father and dismissing him as someone who approves those who deny the holocaust – which as we know is a lie. In both accounts these tactics seem to appeal to mass hysteria, but there again we know that the forces of evil shall not prevail. May Agatha intercede for the Holy Catholic Church.
On a more personal note, Agatha is considered as one of the patron saints of Malta since her intercession is reported to have saved the capture by the Moors of the old capital city – Mdina, in the troubled times of the 16th century.
The city of Catania honours St. Agatha as her patron saint, and throughout the region around Mt. Etna she is invoked against the eruptions of the volcano, as elsewhere against fire and lightning. In some places bread and water are blessed during Mass on her feast after the Consecration, and called Agatha bread.
Great festivities are held at Catania today and below are some pictures of what happens.
The relics of Saint Agatha

The relics of the saint as carried in procession today, known as "il fercolo"

Casket containing some more relics of the saint

The Cathedral Church of Catania

St Julians Hill in Catania ready for the great day

People bringing their candle offerings to the saint - mode 1

People bringing their candle offering to the saint - mode 2

Sweets of St Agatha - above cake in the symbol of her martyrdom and below marzipan olives

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