Every year, hundreds of thousands of people crowd the streets of Catania, Sicily on February 5 in celebration of Saint Agatha, the Christian saint and virgin martyr who died for her faith on this day in approximately 251 A.D. when she was only 15 years old. Cited as the second largest religious procession in the world, Sicilians and tourists have gathered here for the last five centuries to partake in festivities honoring the patron saint of Catania.
Saint Agatha was born into a wealthy Christian family at a time when the Roman Empire was persecuting against Christians and worship was forbidden. She made the choice to follow her faith and consecrated herself to God. The Governor of Catania, Quintianus, fell into obsession with the girl and tried to make her renounce her faith, but her belief did not sway. Quintianus became angry and repeatedly tortured Agatha, including tearing off her breasts with pinchers. Through all of the torture and temptation that was presented to her, Agatha stayed true to her morals and to God. Finally, Quintianus sentenced Agatha to be condemned to the stake. During the torture, an earthquake shook the town, burying her oppressors and Agatha was taken to prison where she died a few hours later.
According to Italian History, “Her relics are preserved in the cathedral of Catania in a silver casket, the work of famous artists; in Catania there is also a silver bust of the “Santaituzza”, a work of 1376, bearing a crown which was, according to tradition, a gift from King Richard Lionheart. Even in Rome she was much revered, Pope Symmachus (498-514) erected in her honor a basilica on the Via Aurelia and another was dedicated by St. Gregory the Great in 593. In the 13th century just in the diocese of Milan there were as many as 26 churches named after her.”
Celebrations and festivities take place all over Italy in her honor, but Catania is where the 40,000 pound silver carriage containing the casket and silver bust is paraded down streets with the help of 5,000 volunteers dressed in traditional robe.
“It was an honor to be able to be there during the celebration,” said Kyle Wood, a Sailor assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 9 who attended the event through the Information, Travel, and Tours (ITT) program at Naval Air Station Sigonella. “You could see how deeply embedded in their culture this event really is with the work and dedication people put in to make this a grand thing. I was impressed with the history of St. Agatha and how brave she must have been, especially at a young age.”