Saint of the Day: St. Agatha – February 5
St. Agatha was a virgin martyr around the year 251 in Catania, Sicily. That is all we really know about her. She was honored widely in many parts of Europe and, centuries later, legends were written about her martyrdom. However, The Catholic Encyclopedia gives little credit to this story, since it appears that it was written much later to depict heroism and miracles without any real historical information.
The legend is almost stylized. She was a beautiful young woman from a noble family who refused the advances of a Roman official. She was tortured and put through many trials but was steadfast in her faith. While it is unfortunate that we know so very little about St. Agatha, it is telling that such a male dominated society as Rome would focus on the importance of young women and their great courage.
Women played a significant role in the development of early Christianity. St. Paul refers to the deaconness Phoebe and to other prominent women leaders. There is good historical evidence that well-to-do Greek and Roman women were among the first believers. Widows, who generally had very little power and wealth, would find a secure place in Christian communities, which saw to their needs.
Perhaps the best legacy of St. Agatha and these brave women, a legacy that we can truly celebrate, is a commitment to and a concern for the women and girls in our midst. Despite the advances made in industrialized societies, the lot and fate of women and girls is one of continued oppression and exploitation throughout the world. While I could recount some of the cultural celebrations observed on St. Agatha’s feast day or mention that she is invoked to protect people from eruptions of Mt. Etna, there is a greater import in the brief historical note that gives us her name and documents her martyrdom. The power and strength of God are manifest in the feminine.