February 5 (celebrated as an octave in Sicily)
Saint of the day:
Patron Saint of Sicily, bell founders, breast cancer, against fire, Palermo, rape victims, and wet nurses
She is also the patron saint of Catania, where she was born, and she is said to have calmed eruptions of Mount Etna.
The Story of St. Agatha, also known as Agatha of Sicily,
is one of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of the Catholic Church. It is believed that she was born around 231 in either Catania or Palermo, Sicily to a rich and noble family.
From her very early years, the notably beautiful Agatha dedicated her life to God. She became a consecrated virgin, a state in life where young women choose to remain celibate and give themselves wholly to Jesus and the Church in a life of prayer and service. That did not stop men from desiring her and making unwanted advances toward her.
However, one of the men who desired Agatha, whose name was Quintianus, because he was of a high diplomatic ranking, thought he could force her to turn away from her vow and force her to marry. His persistent proposals were consistently spurned by Agatha, so Quintianus, knowing she was a Christian during the persecution of Decius, had her arrested and brought before the judge. He was the Judge.
He expected her to give in to his demands when she was faced with torture and possible death, but she simply reaffirmed her belief in God by praying: "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." With tears falling from her eyes, she prayed for courage.
To force her to change her mind, Quintianus had her imprisoned - in a brothel. Agatha never lost her confidence in God, even though she suffered a month of assaults and efforts to get her to abandon her vow to God and go against her virtue. Quintianus heard of her calm strength and ordered that she be brought before him once again. During her interrogation, she told him that to be a servant of Jesus Christ was her true freedom.
Enraged, Quintianus sent her off to prison instead of back to the brothel -- a move intended to make her even more afraid, but it was probably a great relief to her.
Agatha continued to proclaim Jesus as her Savior, Lord, Life and Hope. Quintianus ordered her to be tortured. He had her stretched on a rack to be torn with iron hooks, burned with torches, and whipped. Noticing Agatha was enduring all the torture with a sense of cheer, he commanded she be subjected to a worse form of torture ? this evil man ordered that her breasts be cut off.
He then sent her back to prison with an order of no food or medical attention. But the Lord gave her all the care she needed. He was her Sacred Physician and protector. Agatha had a vision of the apostle, St. Peter, who comforted her and healed her wounds through his prayers.
After four days, Quintianus ignored the miraculous cure of her wounds. He had her stripped naked and rolled over naked over hot coals which were mixed with sharp shards. When she was returned to prison, Agatha prayed, "Lord, my Creator, you have ever protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul."
Agatha is believed to have passed into Heaven around the year 251.
She is commonly featured in religious art with shears, tongs, or breasts on a plate.
St. Agatha is the patron saint of Sicily, bell founders, breast cancer patients, Palermo, rape victims, and wet nurses. She is also considered to be a powerful intercessor when people suffer from fires. Her feast day is celebrated on February 5.
The year after her death, the stilling of an eruption of Mt. Etna was attributed to her intercession. As a result, people continued to ask her prayers for protection against fire.
Saint Agatha, you suffered sexual assault and indignity because of your faith and purity.
Help heal all those who are survivors of sexual assault and protect those women who are in danger. Amen
Cathedral & the tomb of Saint Agatha
(d. 251, Catania, Sicily) (Relics: Catania, Sicily)
Duomo di Catania (Catania Cathedral)
Piazza del Duomo
95131 Catania, Sicily, Italy
*The relics of St Agatha are located within the apse of this church in the Chapel of St Agatha. Unfortunately, this chapel is not accessible to the public. However, every year on February 4th and 5th the relics are brought out and the faithful are given the chance to participate in the procession of her relics through the streets of Catania.
Churches of Honor
Chiesa di San Biagio / Sant’Agata alla Fornace
(Church of St Blaise / St Agatha at the Furnace)
95124 Catania, Sicily, Italy
*This church marks the spot of St Agatha’s final suffering. It was here that she was placed into a furnace and martyred.
Sant’Agata al Carcere (St Agatha at the Prison)
Via del Colosseo
95124 Catania, Sicily, Italy
*This church is just behind the church of Sant’Agata alla Fornace (listed previously) and is considered to be the site of St Agatha’s imprisonment. Also two lava slabs within this church show the imprints of St Agatha’s little feet.
Churches of Honor in Rome
Sant'Agata dei Goti (St Agatha of the Goths)
Via Mazzarino 16 / Via Panisperna
*This church is west of the Basilica of St Mary Major.
It was originally an Arian church. However, in 593 after the Imperial forces defeated the Arian Goths the church was reconsecrated to St Agatha.
Sant'Agata in Trastevere (St Agatha in Trastevere)
Largo San Giovanni de Matha 9
*This church is located in Trastevere. It is not open often.
*A painting in the sanctuary depicts the martyrdom of St Agatha.
The beloved Saint Agatha died when she was just 15 years old.
In the 11th century, her body was found to be “incorrupt,” i.e., showing no major signs of decomposition, and parts of her incorrupt body still exist today.
The Festa di Sant’Agata in Catania starts with Mass at dawn on 3 February; then a statue of Saint Agatha holding her relics is placed on a 40,000 pound silver fercolo, or carriage, which is pulled up Via San Giuliano by 5,000 men. The celebrations continue into Saint Agatha’s feast day of 5 February.
Here are some sights and sounds of the festa; especially moving are the cries of the faithful and the nuns chanting at dawn:
MINNI DI VIRGINI
ST. AGATHA’S BREASTS
Minni di Virgini
Makes 8 breasts
3 pound ricotta cheese (Strained Over Night)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips that have been chopped
6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
zest of a meyer's lemon
1/3 yogurt kefir full fat, non flavored or sweetened
8 maraschino cherries, sliced in half
(I used sour cherries)
4 TBSP egg white powder
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 c corn syrup
3 cups powder sugar
1/4c hot water
1 TBSP clear vanilla --- cook over a water-bath until everything is melted
Marzipan, (Add green food color for a traditional look)
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the ricotta until creamy.
(Or use a food processor.) Refrigerate for at least two hours.
Mix in the sugar and vanilla, then fold in the chocolate chips.
Take care not to overmix, or the mixture will become soft and runny.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Grease and line an sheet pan.
Mix using the paddle attachment, cream the egg yolks and sugar for 2-3 minutes,
until thickened and lemon-colored.
Mix in the vanilla and lemon zest.
Add flour a little at a time, making sure each scoop
is fully incorporated before adding more.
Mix in the kefir.
In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into the cake batter.
Pour into the prepared sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes or until a knife
or cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Turn out on a wire rack to cool.
When the cake is completely cool, cut 15 rounds of cake with a round cookie cutter.
These will become the base of your minni.
*Layer 1: Roll out green marzipan, mold a layer into a small round mold.
(I used a small bowl dusted with powder suagr)
*Layer 2: Fill the mold with the cannoli filling (a generous dome of ricotta custard )
*Layer 3: Top with a cake disc.
*Flip the little round molds out onto a wire rack
*Top with a cherry and pour the sugar glaze over the cake mold.
(Or top the cherry after the icing has been applied ...which ever way you like it)
*Almonds or candy almonds are eaten on this day because Saint Agatha rested under the almond tree.
Pictures of Ricotta Cheese & Cakes being made