Sunday, 5 February 2023

St Agatha Virgin & Martyr, A Bi-Ritual Saint

St Agatha is mentioned by name in the Roman Canon. Today, in both West and East, is her Feast.

From the West:

The holy virgin Agatha was born in Sicily of noble parents. The cities of Palermo and Catania both claim the honour of having been the place of her birth. She received the crown of a glorious martyrdom at Catania under the persecution of the Emperor Decius. Her beauty, which was as great as her chaste and innocent life was praiseworthy, attracted the notice of Quintianus, the governor of Sicily. He spared no means by which to compass his lustful designs on the innocent virgin, but seeing that she scorned his offers, he had her apprehended as being guilty of the Christian superstition, and gave her in charge of a woman named Aphrodisia, who was noted for her power of alluring to evil. But finding that her words and company had no effect on the holy maiden, and that she was immoveable in her resolution to maintain both her faith and her virginity, Aphrodisia told Quintianus that she was but losing her time with Agatha. He then ordered the virgin to be brought before him, and he said to her: “Are you not, that are so noble by birth, ashamed to lead the life of a base and slavish Christian? She replied: “Better by far is the baseness and slavery of a Christian than the wealth and pride of kings.”

Angered by her words, the governor bids her choose one of these two: adoration to the gods or sharp tortures. On her refusal to deny her faith, he ordered her to be buffeted with blows and cast into prison. On the following day she was again led to trial. Finding that she was still firm in her purpose, they hoisted her on the rack and laid hot iron plates on her flesh, and cut off her breasts. While suffering this last torture, she thus spoke to Quintianus: “Cruel tyrant, are you not ashamed to cut a woman’s breast, that was yourself fed at the breast of your mother?” She was then sent back to prison where, during the night, a venerable old man, who told her that he was the Apostle of Christ, healed her. A third time she was summoned by the governor and being still firm in confessing Christ, she was rolled upon sharp potsherds and burning coals. Suddenly, the whole city was shaken by a violent earthquake and two of the governor’s intimate friends were killed by the falling of two walls. The people were in such a state of excitement that the governor began to fear a sedition, and therefore ordered the almost lifeless Agatha to be secretly conveyed back to her prison. She thus prayed to our Lord: “O God! that has watched over me from my infancy, that has separated me from the love of this world, that has given me strength to bear the tortures of my executioners, receive my soul!” Her prayer being ended, her soul took its flight to Heaven on the Nones of February (February 5th), and the Christians buried her body.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:

Since the commencement of the Ecclesiastical Year we have kept the feasts of two out of the four illustrious Virgins whose names are daily honoured in the Holy Sacrifice of the Lamb: the third comes today, lighting up the Heaven of the Church with her bright soft rays. Lucy, first. Then, Agnes and now the gracious visit of Agatha. The fourth, Caecilia, the immortal Caecilia, is to be one of that magnificent constellation which gives such splendour to the closing of the year. Today, then, let us keep a feast in honour of Agatha, the Virgin Daughter of that same fair Sicily which can boast of her Lucy. We must not allow the holy sadness of our present Season to take anything from the devotion we owe to our Saint. The joy with which we celebrate her merits will lead us to study her virtues. She will repay us by her prayers. She will encourage us to persevere in the path which is to bring us to the God she so nobly loved and served, and with whom she is now forever united.
How lovely are your palms, Agatha! But how long and cruel was your combat for them! The day yours. Your faith and your virginity triumphed but the battlefield was streamed with your blood, and your glorious wounds bear testimony to the Angels how stern was the courage of your fidelity to Jesus, your Spouse. When your enemies left you, it was to Him you looked up, and then your soul flew to its rest in the bosom of your King and God. The whole Church keeps feast today, praising her Lord in you, great Martyr and Virgin! She knows the love you bear her and how, amid the joys of Heaven, her interests and her wants are the object of your prayers. You are our Sister. Be too our Mother by interceding for us. Centuries have passed away since that day on which your soul quitted the body you had sanctified by purity and suffering, but the great battle between the spirit and the flesh is still waging here on Earth, and will so to the end of time. Assist us in the struggle. Keep up within our hearts the holy fire which the world and our passions are ever seeking to quench.
It is now the season when every Christian should renew his whole being by repentance and compunction. We know the power of your prayer. Let it procure us these gifts: the fear of God, which keeps down the workings of corrupt nature; the spirit of penance, which repairs the injuries caused by our sins, and a solid love for our dear Lord, which sweetens the yoke and ensures perseverance. More than once a whole people has witnessed how a relic of yours, your veil, has checked the stream of lava which rolled down the sides of Etna. We are threatened with a torrent of vice which will drive the world back to pagan corruption unless Divine Mercy stay its wild fury, and prayers such as yours can obtain it for us. Delay not, O Agatha! Each day gives strength to the danger. Not a nation but what is now infected with the poison of a literature that is infidel and immoral. By your prayers keep the poisonous cup from them that have not tasted, neutralise its power in them that have drunk its venom of death. Oh! spare us the shame of seeing our Europe the slave of sensuality and the dupe of Hell.

From The Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus Voragine, translated by William Caxton in 1483.

St Agatha the virgin was right fair, noble body and of heart, and was rich of goods. This glorious virgin served God in the city of Catania, leading a pure and holy life. Quintianus the provost of Sicily, being of a low lineage, was lecherous, avaricious, and a miscreant and paynim, and for to accomplish his evil desires fleshly, and to have riches, did do take St. Agatha to be presented and brought tofore him, and began to behold her with a lecherous sight; and for to have her himself, he would have induced her to make sacrifice unto the idols.


And when he saw her firm in her purpose, he put her in the keeping of a woman named Aphrodisia, which had nine daughters, over foul, like unto the mother. This did he for to induce St. Agatha to do his will within thirty days. Aphrodisia and her daughters entreated the holy virgin to consent to the will of the provost, and sometime they made to her great promises of temporal goods and of great eases, and sometimes they made to her menaces of grievous torments for to suffer, and great pains, to which St. Agatha answered freely: My courage and my thought be so firmly founded upon the firm stone of Jesu Christ, that for no pain it may not be changed; your words be but wind, your promises be but rain, and your menaces be as rivers that pass, and how well that all these things hurtle at the foundement of my courage, yet for that it shall not move.

In this manner answered she, and alway wept in making her prayers, and much great desire had she to come to Jesu Christ by martyrdom and by torments. When Aphrodisia saw well that in no wise she would be moved, she went to the provost Quintianus, and said to him: Sooner should the stones wax soft, and iron turn to soft lead, than turn the courage of this maid, or to take from her the Christian faith. I and my daughters have done none other thing night ne day, one after another, but to labour how we might turn her heart to your consenting. I have promised her in your name your precious adornments, clothes of gold, houses, lands, towns, servants, and great meinys and all this she despiseth and reputeth them at no value.


When Quintianus heard this, anon he made her to come tofore him in judgment, and demanded her of her lineage, and at the last he would constrain her to make sacrifice unto the idols. And St. Agatha answered that they were no gods, but were devils that were in the idols made of marble and of wood, and overgilt. Quintianus said: Choose one of two; or do sacrifice to our gods, or thou shalt suffer pain and torments.

St. Agatha said: Thou sayst that they be gods because thy wife was such an one as was Venus, thy goddess, and thou thyself as Jupiter, which was an homicide and evil.

Quintianus said: It appeareth well that thou wilt suffer torments, in that thou sayst to me villainy.

St. Agatha said: I marvel much that so wise a man is become such a fool, that thou sayest of them to be thy gods, whose life thou ne thy wife will follow. If they be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were.

Quintianus said: What goest thou thus vainly speaking? Make sacrifice unto the gods, or if thou do not I shall make thee to die by divers torments. St. Agatha abode firm and stable in the faith. Then Quintianus did do put her in a dark prison, and she went also gladly, and with as good will as she had been prayed to go to a wedding.


On the morning Quintianus made her to be brought tofore him in judgment, and said to her: Agatha, how art thou advised for thy health? She answered: Christ is mine health.

Quintianus said: Reny Christ thy God, by which thou mayest escape thy torments.

St. Agatha answered: Nay, but reny thou thine idols which be of stones and of wood, and adore thy maker, that made heaven and earth, and if thou do not thou shalt be tormented in the perpetual fire in hell.

Then in great ire Quintianus did her to be drawn and stretched on a tree and tormented, and said to her: Refuse thy vain opinion that thou hast, and thou shalt be eased of thy pain.

And she answered: I have as great dilection in these pains as he that saw come to him that thing which he most coveteth to see, or as he that had found great treasure. And like as the wheat may not be put in the garner unto the time that the chaff be beaten off, in like wise my soul may not enter into the realm of heaven, but if thou wilt torment my body by thy ministers.

Then Quintianus did her to be tormented in her breasts and paps and commanded that her breasts and mammels should be drawn and cut off. When the ministers had accomplished his commandment, then said St. Agatha: Over felon and cruel tyrant, hast thou no shame to cut off that in a woman which thou didst suck in thy mother, and whereof thou wert nourished? But I have my paps whole in my soul, of which I nourish all my wits, the which I have ordained to serve our Lord Jesu Christ, sith the beginning of my youth.


After, Quintianus did do put her in prison, and commanded that none should enter for to heal her, ne none should give to her meat ne drink. And when she was fast closed in the prison, there came an ancient noble man, and tofore him a child bearing a light, and divers ointments in his hand. This noble man said that he was a surgeon, and in comforting her said: How well that the tyrant hath tormented thee bodily, nevertheless thou hast more tormented him in his heart by thy answers. I was there when he made thy paps to be cut off, and saw how I might well heal them.

Then said she: I knew never of medicine corporal, and it were shame to me to take it now. That which I have avowed and kept to my Lord, sith mine infancy, yet I shall keep it if it please him.

The ancient nobleman answered: I am also Christian, and a good master and leech, be not ashamed.

She answered: Whereof should I be ashamed? Thou art ancient and of great age, and how well that I be a young maid, nevertheless my body is defeated by the torments, that the wounds suffer nothing to enter into my thought whereof I should be ashamed, and not for but I thank thee, fair father, that thou art so diligent to heal me, but know that my body shall receive no medicine of no man.

And this nobleman said: Wherefore sufferest thou not me that I may heal and guerish thee?

She said: Because I have Jesu Christ, my Saviour, which with a word healeth all, and if he will he may heal me.

And the good man smiling said: And he hath sent me hither for to heal thee; I am his apostle, and know verily that thou art whole in the name of him. And anon the apostle vanished away.

Then she fell down in prayers and said: Lord Jesu Christ, I yield thee thankings that thou hast remembered me, and hast sent thine apostle St. Peter to me, which hath comforted me, and healed my wounds. And after the orison made, she saw that her paps were again restored to her and all her wounds healed.

And all that night was the prison fulfilled with great clearness and light, so that the keepers fled for the great dread that they had, and left the prison all open. Then said to her the other prisoners that were in the prison, that she should go their way, and she said: That shall never happen that the keepers of the prison shall suffer any harm for me, ne that I shall lose my crown; I shall abide in the faith of Jesu Christ my Lord, which hath comforted and healed me.


After four days Quintianus made her to be brought tofore him in judgment, and said to her that she should do sacrifice to the idols.

She answered: These words be vain, and thy commandments evil, they make the air to stink, he is much mechant that believeth in a stone without entendment, and leaveth our Lord the very God that hath healed me, and hath restored to me again my paps.

Quintianus demanded her: Who is he that hath healed thee?

She said: Jesu Christ.

Quintianus said: Namest thou yet Jesu Christ?

She answered: I shall have in my heart Jesu Christ as long as I shall live.

Quintianus said: Yet shalt thou see if he may help and heal thee. And then he made her, all naked, to be rolled upon burning brands, and anon the ground where the holy virgin was rolled on, began to tremble like an earthquave, and a part of the wall fell down upon Silvain, counsellor of Quintianus, and upon Fastion his friend, by whose counsel she had been so tormented. And then all the city of Catania was abashed, and the people came running unto the house of Quintianus, saying, in a great bruit that the city was in a great peril for the torments that he did to St. Agatha.

Quintianus redoubled the bruit of the people, and went out behind and commanded that she should be remised in prison. When she came into the prison she joined her hands, holding them up to heavenward, and said in praying: Lord God Jesu Christ which hast created me of nought, and sith my youth hast kept me and hast suffered me to live well in my youth, which hast taken from mine heart the love of the world and hast made me to overcome the torments, and hast lent me patience among the pains, I pray thee that thou take my spirit, for it is time that thou make me to depart from this world and to come to thy mercy.

This orison and prayer made she on high tofore many persons. And anon after she gave up the ghost, and rendered her soul, the year of our Lord two hundred and fifty-three in the time of Decius, the emperor of Rome.


After this the Christian people took the body for to bury it worshipfully, and whiles they arrayed it with ointments for to embalm the corpse, anon came a young man clad in silk, and well an hundred that followed him, richly clothed, which were never tofore seen in the city, ne never after also. This young man, whom followed the fair company, set him on that one side of the tomb in which the body should be put, and when the body was embalmed within the tomb, this young man set, at the head of the body, a short table of marble stone, in which was written this scripture: Mentem sanctam, spontaneam, honorem deo dedit et patriae liberationem fecit; which is as much to say: The holy saint Agatha had always holy thought and pure, and gave honor to God with a free will in all her works, and purchased by her prayers peace and deliverance to all the country.

After that the table containing this scripture was set at her head, the young man and all his company departed from the tomb, being closed, without appearing any more afterward, wherefore it is supposed that this young man was her good angel. This was published over all, whereof the Jews and Saracens began to sing and worship the sepulchre of the tomb of St. Agatha. Quintianus, the provost, died of an evil death in the way as he went for to seek the goods and riches of St. Agatha, and also for to have taken her parents, and never after could be known where her body became.


And for to prove that she had prayed for the salvation of the country, at the beginning of February, the year after her martyrdom, there arose a great fire, and came from the mountain toward the city of Catania and burnt the earth and stones, it was so fervent. Then ran the paynims to the sepulchre of St. Agatha and took the cloth that lay upon her tomb, and held it abroad against the fire, and anon on the ninth day after, which was the day of her feast, ceased the fire as soon as it came to the cloth that they brought from her tomb, showing that our Lord kept the city from the said fire by the merits of St. Agatha. To whom pray we that she by her prayers may get and impetre grace of our Lord to be kept from all perils of fire in this world, and when we shall depart hence to eschew the perpetual fire, and to come to the glory and joy in heaven. Amen.

From the East: 

The Holy Virgin Martyr Agatha was the fifteen-year-old daughter of rich and respected Christian parents from the city of Palermo (formerly Panormos) in Sicily. During the persecution under the emperor Decius (249-251), the city prefect of Catania, Quintianus, having heard about Agatha’s wealth and beauty, sent his soldiers after her to bring her to trial as a Christian.

At Catania, they housed the saint with a certain rich woman, who had five daughters. They all attempted to tempt Saint Agatha with fine clothes, amusements and entertainment, urging her to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, but the saint disdained all these things. The more they tried to move her, the more resolute she became. She prayed that she might soon face martyrdom.

During her interrogation under Quintianus, the holy martyr was swayed neither by the flattery, nor by the threats, and she was subjected to cruel torments. They also tried to remove her breasts with metal tongs, and when this failed, they used knives.

The holy Apostle Peter appeared to her in prison and healed her wounds. Saint Agatha was led to torture again, and Quintianus was astonished to see her completely healed, with no trace of cutting. Then the torture began once more.

At this moment an earthquake took place in the city, and many buildings were destroyed. Among those killed were two of Quintianus’s advisors. The terrified inhabitants rushed to Quintianus, demanding an end to Agatha’s tortures. Fearing a revolt by the people, Quintianus sent Saint Agatha back to prison. There the martyr, offering thanks to God, peacefully surrendered her soul to the Lord.

Troparion — Tone 4

Your lamb Agatha, calls out to You, O Jesus, in a loud voice: / “I love You, my Bridegroom, and in seeking You I endure suffering. / In baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in You, and I died so that I might live with You. / Accept me as a pure sacrifice, / for I have offered myself in love.” / Through her prayers save our souls, since You are merciful.

Kontakion — Tone 4

May the Church be robed today in a garment of glorious porphyry, / dyed by the pure blood of the martyr Agatha, / and let us cry out: “Rejoice, pride of Catania!”

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