05 February 2012

5 February - Saint Agatha

Weather:  St. Agatha is rich in snow.

Rainy clouds on St. Agatha’s day foretell hailstorms in the summer.

If water courses in the streams on St. Agatha’s day
There will be much milk in the chowder pot. [and I love chowder! Come on, water!]


Gardening: Sow onions on St. Agatha’s day.


“At Catania, in Sicily, in the time of the emperor Decius and the judge Quinctian, the birthday of St. Agatha, virgin and martyr.  After being buffeted, imprisoned, tortured, racked, dragged over pieces of earthenware and burning colas, and having her breasts cut off, she consummated her sacrifice in prison while engaged in prayer.”

Today is the feast of Saint Agatha of Sicily, Virgin and Martyr, who died circa 251.

That she was a young woman martyred for her Faith is all that is really known about her, but her hagiography has been richly embellished.  As related in the medieval Golden Legend and by Reverend Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints, Agatha was a young, lovely, and nobly-born maiden of Catania in Sicily.  "Quintianus the provost of Sicily, being of a low lineage, was lecherous, avaricious, and a miscreant... to accomplish his evil desires fleshly, and to have riches, did do take S. Agatha to be presented and brought tofore him, and began to behold her with a lecherous sight."  She naturally repulsed him, whereupon, in an effort to break her spirit, he sent her to a brothel run by the prostitute  Aphrodisia and her nine daughters.  Cajolings, promises of rich presents, and fair words alternated with threats and abuse, but Agatha stood firm against them, and after a month, Aphrodisia finally had to admit defeat.

Quintianus then thought to get her into his power by means of the emperor's edict against Christians.  He had her bound and brought before him, with orders either to sacrifice to the Roman gods or be tortured.  She chose the latter, but not before arguing with him: "If they [his gods] 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."

He had her beaten and thrown into prison, and when that did not change her mind, he resorted to the cruelest tortures he could think of.  The one that provides the attributes most often seen in depictions of the saint - the mangling and cutting off of her breasts - was followed a few days later by the executioners rolling her torn and bleeding body over a bed of pottery shards and live coals.  At that, she rendered up her soul to God, and devout Christians buried her.

She is the patroness of Catania, and of Malta and San Marino, of nurses, nursing mothers, and of those who suffer from diseases of the breast.  She is invoked against fire and natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. (You can find more of her patronages here.)

O Saint Agatha,
who withstood the unwelcome advances from unwanted suitors,
and suffered pain and torture for your devotion to Our Lord,
we celebrated your faith, dignity, and martyrdom.
Protect us against rape and other violations,
guard us against breast cancer and other afflictions of women, 
and inspire us to overcome adversity.
O Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr,
mercifully grant that we who venerate your sacrifice
may receive your intercession.


Last year, I made Lava Cakes for Saint Agatha’s Day.  This year, I am trying a homemade version of a Sicilian treat called Minni di Sant’Agata or Breasts of Saint Agatha.  From what I can tell, it is a cream-filled pastry – possibly with the same cream that is used in zeppoles.  You can find several recipes online – enter ‘minni di Sant’ Agata’ or ‘minni di Virgini’ in your search engine.  The one I am trying comes from Medical Advocates and looks easy enough (the recipe is at the bottom of the page).

To make things even easier, Hi Cookery adapted the recipe and provides photos of the process.

Of course, you can always find Snowballs or some other round cake covered with white frosting or coconut, place half a maraschino cherry on top, and serve them for Saint Agatha’s day.

[The bad side of the Widow is wondering if she can get away with bringing these to the next All Saints Party.]

Artwork: Bergognone (1481-1522), Saint Agatha, 1510.  Santo Stefano, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy.