(Note: St. Agatha is honored in the Orthodox Church, however, this post was made previous to my conversion from Roman Catholicism and thus refers to Roman dates and hagiography.)
This post is in honor of the Feast Day of St. Agatha. Due to the conditions of her imprisonment and the nature of her tortures- her legend includes the excision of her breasts- she is the patron Saint of rape and sexual assault survivors, as well as bakers, nurses, and those afflicted by breast cancer.
St. Agatha, after a Renaissance-era painting, original artist unknown.
From the 2016 series.
(Content warning for mentions of sexual assault)
I have a special affinity for this Saint, having experienced certain sexual and bodily violations in years past, causing subsequent trauma responses and alienation from my very own body, especially outwardly visible signs of being female.
Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Agatha is one of seven women who are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. Born in Sicily, she died there a martyr around the year of 251, and has been venerated since at least the 6th century.
Her legend states that she refused the advances of a high-ranking man named Quintian. As punishment, Quintain arrested her for practicing Christianity and subsequently presided over her trial. Facing torture and death, she prayed:
“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.”
Rather than sending her to jail, Quintian first imprisoned her in a brothel. This sexualized rage, this personal vendetta against her for refusing his advances, and his desire to subject her to repeated sexual assaults and degradation- even by proxy- is an especially disturbing part of her story. To some, it is all too familiar.
The madame of the brothel found her so impossible that she was eventually sent to a prison, where she continued to profess her faith. Quintian sent for her, argued with her, threatened her, and offered ultimatums, but she continued to refuse him. Sent back to prison, she was tortured, and her breasts torn off. For this reason, Agatha is often depicted carrying her breasts on a plate.
Quintian refused her any medical care, but Agatha had a vision of St. Peter, who cared for her and healed her. She was tortured yet again, and said a final 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.”
Trust in God for Deliverance from Enemies
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my groaning.
Hearken to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to thee do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning thou dost hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for thee, and watch.
For thou art not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not sojourn with thee.
The boastful may not stand before thy eyes;
thou hatest all evildoers.
Thou destroyest those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.
But I through the abundance of thy steadfast love
will enter thy house,
I will worship toward thy holy temple
in the fear of thee.
Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness
because of my enemies;
make thy way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouth;
their heart is destruction,
their throat is an open sepulchre,
they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against thee.
But let all who take refuge in thee rejoice,
let them ever sing for joy;
and do thou defend them,
that those who love thy name may exult in thee.
For thou dost bless the righteous, O Lord;
thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield.
Attwater, Donald, and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd ed. London: Penguin (Non-Classic), 1995.
Bokenham, Osbern. A Legend of Holy Women. Tr. Sheila Delaney. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1992.
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “You See My Heart.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 05 Feb. 2017.