Saint Agatha

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Saint Agatha of Catania, Sicily, as painted by Cariani (Giovanni Busi), 1516-1517; she holds the palm frond of martyrdom, and on a plate she displays the breasts that were torn from her body

Saint Agatha of Sicily, a Virgin Martyr, is the patron of those suffering from breast cancer and is called on for protection from house fires, lightning, volcanic eruptions, and sexual assault. She is also the patroness of the cities of Catania and Palermo, Sicily; the rescue of Catania from fire during an eruption of Mount Etna was attributed to her intercession. Her feast day is February 5th.

Saint Agatha was a woman of noble birth who lived in Catania during the era of the late Roman empire and was an early convert to Christianity. Pursued by the lecherous Roman governor, who wanted to marry her, Agatha resisted his attempts to overcome her vow of chastity and virginity. He had her thrown into a brothel and then into a prison, where she continued her resistance and was tortured long and horribly, during which time her breasts were torn off with pincers. She was then sent to the stake to be burned alive, but a miraculous earthquake occured, and she was spared, only to die in prison on the 5th of February, 251.

In Medieval and Renaissance hagiography, Agatha is generally depicted holding a plate upon which her severed breasts are openly displayed. Modern holy cards tend to downplay her suffering; fully clothed, she stands amidst symbolic references such as a palm leaf (the Catholic symbol of martyrdom), a lily (the Catholic symbol of virginity), and the pincers, chains, and bonfire which were the instruments of her torture, all the while gently pointing to or touching her bosom Hoodoo psychics, spirit workers, and root doctors who are adherents of the Catholic religion call upon Saint Agatha for blessing and healing.


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