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ST.

AGATHA, VIRGIN (FEBRUARY 5)1


There was a certain noble maiden named Agatha in the province of Sicily, wise and faithful, at the time when Quintianus, the murderous persecutor, cruelly governed the province under the Emperor. He was a greedy miser, and subject to his lusts, the devil's slave, despising God. Then it came to his ears concerning Agatha's conduct, and he sought how he might get the maiden for himself. He commanded her to be fetched, and delivered her to a foul woman, called Aphrodosia, shameful in morals, who had nine daughters, naughty and vile, that she (Agatha) might learn during thirty nights [a month] her (Aphrodosia's) evil ways, and might be perverted in mind by the enticements of harlots. So then Aphrodosia, that wickedest woman, with her nine daughters, vexed Agatha, sometimes flattering, sometimes terrifying, thinking that she might pervert her mind. Then said Agatha to the wicked team, Your words are like wind, but they cannot defile my steadfast will, which is grounded immutably; this she said with weeping, and desired to suffer the deadly tortures for Christ's name, even as a thirsty man in the sun's heat desireth well-springs, or the cooling of water. Then Aphrodosia saw that she could not bend the woman's mind by her shameful persuasions, and went to Quintianus, and spake to him thus; Stones may soften, and hard iron become like lead, or ever the faith in Agatha's breast can be extinguished. I and my daughters day and night have done nothing else but continually persuade her to consent to thee, but we have had little speed; I promised her gems and golden apparel, and other honours and a great house, estates and servants, and she despised them all even as dung which lieth under foot. Then Quintianus became angry and bade fetch her quickly, and questioned her first concerning her parentage. Agatha thereupon answered; I am of noble race, even as all my kindred can bear me witness. Then said the judge, why destroyest thou thyself by mean usages, as if thou wert a bondmaid? Agatha answered, I am God's handmaid, and great nobility is it to be Christ's servant. Quintianus said to the virgin of Christ,
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From lfrics Lives of Saints Part One. W.W. Skeat, trans. (Oxford, 1900).

What then? have we no nobility, merely because we despise thy Christ's servitude? Agatha answered the impious man, and said; Your nobility turneth to such shameful bondage, that ye are the servants of sin and of stones. Quintianus, the murderous tormentor, said, We may easily wreak whatsoever thou mockest with insane mouth, Say, nevertheless, ere thou come to the aforesaid tortures, why thou despisest the worship of our gods? Agatha answered the impious man thus; Speak thou not of gods but of cruel devils, whose likenesses ye make in brass and stone, and skilfully gild over all the graven images. Quintianus then said that she must choose one of two things, either she must die in her folly with condemned (felons), or she must sacrifice to the gods like a noble and wise maiden. Agatha answered him resolutely, and said, Be thy wife such as was Venus, thy foul goddess, and be thou such as Jove was, thy shameful god, that ye two may also be numbered amongst the gods. Then bade Quintianus to strike her with the hands repeatedly on the face, that she might not declaim. Then again Agatha said the same words. Quintianus said, Thou sayest that thou hast chosen to suffer the tortures, since thou repeatest insults against me. The maiden answered him, Greatly I wonder that thou, a wise man, hast stooped to such folly, that thou esteemest as gods such as it shameth thee to resemble. If they be true gods, I wish thee to be as a god, if thou dost abhor them, then we two speak alike. Call them so evil and so unclean, that if thou wouldest curse any one, thou shouldest wish him thus, that his life be like to thy loathly gods. Quintianus said to her, Why speakest thou so much idle talk? Sacrifice to the gods, that I may not cruelly destroy thee. Then Agatha answered the judge fearlessly, If thou wilt now bait me with wild beasts, they shall straightway be tamed to my hand through the name of Jesus. If thou preparest fire for me, there shall suddenly come to me from heaven a healing dew by the Lord's angels. If thou orderest me stripes, I have the Holy Spirit through whom I despise all thy stripes. Then the judge shook his fiendish head, and commanded to bring her into a dark prison, and bade that she should bethink herself how she might escape from the cruel tortures. Then said Agatha, Thou, miserable, bethink thyself how thou mayest escape the everlasting torments. Then went she blithely into the dark dungeon, as if she were invited to a pleasant banquet, and committed her conflict to the benevolent Lord. So then in the morning the wicked judge bade Agatha to be brought into his hateful presence, and enquired what she had devised for her safety. Agatha said to him, Christ is my salvation.

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The judge asked, How long wilt thou, unhappy, protract this vanity by confessing Christ? Renounce thy Christ, and call upon the gods, lest thou lose thy life in thy youth Agatha answered simply, and said, Renounce thou thy gods which are of stone and wood, and pray to thy Creator who truly liveth; if thou despisest Him, thou shalt suffer in eternal torments Then the impious man became incensed, and bade stretch her on the rack, and cruelly twist her like a withy-rope, and said, Forsake thy self-will, that thy life may be saved Agatha answered on the rack thus, So greatly I rejoice in these painful torments even as he that seeth him whom he hath desired, or as he that findeth many hoards of gold. My soul cannot be brought with joy to Heaven except my body be cramped in thy bonds, and by the executioners be gripped in thy fetters Then raged the cruel one, and bade men torture her on the breast in the rack, and bade it afterward be cut off. Agatha said to him, O thou most wicked! art thou not ashamed to cut off that which thou thyself hast sucked? but I have my breast sound in my soul, with which I shall at any rate feed my understanding Then Quintianus bade them conduct her to prison, and bade them deprive her of food and drink, and said that no leech should be permitted to cure her. Lo then! at midnight came a hoar-haired man2 into the prison, and his servant before him, having a lamp in his hands, desiring to heal the saint. The blessed Agatha said to the leech, I never cared for any leechcraft in my life, I have my Jesus who healeth me by His Word; He can, if He will, mightily heal me Then said the hoar-haired man, He sent me to thee, I am His Apostle, arid behold now thou art made whole in His name; and forthwith he departed. Then Agatha knelt and thanked Christ, that He had remembered her, and His great Apostle had sent to her, with such consolation. After that prayer she looked at her breast, and the breast that had been cut off was restored through Christ and all her wounds were healed. Then shone there a great light in the dark prison, so that the warders fled, seized with fright. Then the prisoners urged the holy maiden that she should go away, and flee from the torments. Then said Agatha, the noble maiden, I will not mar my crown, nor bring the warders into trouble, but I will continue here. Then on the fifth day the judge commanded to fetch her,
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St. Peter

and said that she should sacrifice to the gods, or else be tortured with sharp punishments. 156 Then said Agatha, Thou poor senseless man, who will cry to the stone, and not to the true God who, from all the tortures which thou so cruelly hast inflicted on my body, hath healed me for His name's sake, 160 and hath restored my breast which thou, wicked one, didst cut off? Then the idolater enquired who had healed her? Agatha answered, Christ the Son of God Quintianus said to the pure maiden, 164 Dost thou yet name Christ? She said to him in answer, Christ I confess with my lips and ever call upon Him with my heart Then said the servant of the devil, Now shall I see whether Christ will save thee; then he commanded to strew upon the floor 168 many burning coals and broken tiles, and bade them thus roll her naked into the fire. Then was there a great earthquake in that same place, and the stone wall fell upon the foolish counsellor, 172 so that he was all crushed to pieces, and another man with him; very rightly so, because they had been advisers of the wicked judge to his evil deeds. Likewise the city stood all shaking 176 by reason of the earthquake, and all the citizens ran together to the wicked judge, asking with clamour why he had so cruelly tortured the virgin of God? Then fled Quintianus affrighted because of the tumult, 180 and also the earthquake exceedingly terrified him; nevertheless he bade men bring her into the prison. Lo then ! Agatha cried inwardly with outstretched hands to the Saviour thus: 184 Thou my Lord, who hast created me in human form, and ever from childhood hast shielded me until now; Thou who hast turned away earthly love from me, Thou who didst cause me to overcome the murderer's torments, 188 sharp iron, and fire, and the slitting claws, who gavest me patience in the torments; I pray Thee, Lord, that Thou wilt now take my spirit unto Thee, for it is now time 192 that I should leave this world, and should so come to Thy sweet mercy, my dear Lord After this prayer within the dungeon she gave up her spirit, and departed to God. 196 Then came the citizens, and buried her body with great honour in an entirely new coffin. Then came there an angel of God, walking like a man, close at whose feet followed many shining youths, 200 and set a marble stone at the maiden's head within the coffin, inscribed with these words, 'Mentem sanctam spontaneam, honor em deo, et patrie liberationem. That is in English, A mind spontaneously holy, an honour to the benevolent God, and deliverance to her country. 204 Then the angel went away with the youths, and there was no man in the province who had seen them before. Lo then! Quintianus, Christ's adversary, went in a ship over Semithetus (the river Symsethus) about Agatha's possessions, desiring also to apprehend 208

all her kindred, but he could not for Christ. A horse seized him, as he lay in the ship, savagely with its teeth, and lifted him up; then another horse spurned at him and flung him overboard, and his foul body was never found afterward. Then durst no man vex her kindred, but honoured them all, being awed by God. In the same province of the land of Sicily is a burning mountain, which men call Etna, kindled with sulphur, that is brimstone in English. The mountain burneth ever, as many others do. Then befell it, about twelve months after Agatha's passion, that Etna exploded (lit. blew up) with a very fearful burning, which ran down the mountain even like a flood, and the stones melted, and the earth was burnt up, until it came to the city. Then ran the heathen to the saint's tomb, and took up the veil 1 from the saint's tomb, against the fire which frightened them exceedingly. Then the fire was quenched, and immediately stood still for the merits of Agatha, the noble woman; Six days it burned, and stood still on the day whereon the blessed Agatha departed to eternal life, that it might be manifest that the city was delivered from the peril of fire by Agatha's intercession, to the praise of the Saviour, who thus honoureth His Saints. "Wherefore to Him ever be glory to all eternity. AMEN".

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