Saint Agatha is one of the most important saints cited in the Roman liturgy and is pictured in the world famous mosaics in Ravenna in the company of 7 other female saints – virgin.
She lived in Catania during the period of Decio’s government at the nightfall end of Roman Empire, and though we don’t know her exact date of birth, we can guess that she was under 20 and probably around 15 years old when martyred. She was a member of one of the important noble families of that time.
Decio, the Emperor of Roman Empire, was elected in 250 AC, at a time when the empire was struggling with a crisis involving all aspects of social life – politics, economics, barbarian invasions and religion.
In order to improve the situation and keep the empire united by religion, Decio issued an edict which obligated every citizen of Roman empire to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods. He also introduced a new practice; all citizens were required to obtain a sacrifice certificate to prove their faith.
Decio is often mentioned as Christian persecutor but a more accurate study shows us the persecution as a consequence of this edict not the direct cause.
We know certainly that in those times there was a Christian community in Sicily and we also know that only a few are martyrs. How’s that possible? Corruption has existed forever; most of the people just bought their sacrifice certificates.
Agatha and Quinzian
Agatha, however, refused to buy her certificate, and because she was a noble, young—and probably also quite beautiful —woman, the local governor Quinzian couldn’t allow Agatha to openly rebel like this. Bad examples attract. So even though she could buy herself a certificate without any problems, she refused accept any compromise.
Agatha’s direct opposition to the governor was probably the main reason of her torture and death. Initially, Quinziano put Agatha in prison, believing that the frightening nature of prison would scare a young woman from a noble background into acquiescence.
Torture and death
When her imprisonment did not convince Agatha to give up her cause and purchase her sacrifice certificate, Quinziano ordered that she be tortured. Her breast was cut off, and she was tortured with fire. While Agatha was being tortured, an earthquake struck Catania, an occurrence which many people interpreted as divine opposition to Agatha’s treatment. Public opinion turned more and more against the torture, but Quinziano was too proud to reverse his orders.
On February 5th, 251, Agatha died in prison. Due to her demonstrated moral strength and the cruel circumstances that led to her death, she immediately became famous and venerated.