Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Saint Agatha

St. Peter Healing St. Agatha, by Giovanni Lanfranco.

A Roman prefect, Quintianus, wanted Agatha, who was beautiful. But she had dedicated her body, and her virginity, to Christ, and so denied him. He was furious. Knowing of her Christian faith, he arrested her. He himself was her judge. He expected her, threatened with torture and death, to deny her faith and give herself to him. She did not. Her mind and spirit were firm. Quintianus had given himself over to lust and flesh and so he gave Agatha over for a month to a brothel, where she was raped, assaulted, and humiliated. Quintianus thought this would break her and bring her around to his way of thinking. It did not. He imprisoned her next and subjected her to tortures. He cut off her breasts. But St. Peter appeared to her in prison and healed her. Quintianus's sadism mutilated her, attempted to defile the flesh, destroy the body; Peter's love healed her, restored her, made her whole again. (I can imagine his tender hands and fingers trembling as he touched her. I can imagine him weeping with her and comforting her and giving her strength.) Quintianus finally sentenced her to death: he sentenced her to be rolled naked along a bed of coals. He went from wanting to enjoy her flesh to wanting to utterly destroy it. Her body, denied to him, had become an offense, a thing meant for fire. Thus the world loves. And so they put her on the coals. But "anon the ground where the holy virgin was rolled on, began to tremble like an earthquake, and a part of the wall fell down upon Silvain, counsellor of Quintianus, and upon Fastion his friend, by whose counsel she had been so tormented." Her last prayer before she died was "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."

Peter's hands were only a promise. He was tender and careful, a paternal power moved not by an impulse to rage and to revenge but by a more delicate desire to hold and to cherish. Things must look different to God. He sent Peter not to save her, not to take her out of prison, not to bring fire and damnation upon the enemies of Agatha's flesh and spirit. He sent him to heal her breasts.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Thank you for putting up this moving picture. She has a connection with our village here in France, Saint Benoit. I've just found out that in Sicily she was a continuation of the Isis tradition. I'm interested in any other information you have about her as I am writing a novel in which she appears.

Rachel Salter