Catania, Italy: Cathedral & the tomb of Saint Agatha
The history of Saint Agatha:
Saint Agatha is honored here in the place of her martyrdom. She is one of seven women, who along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.
Born to a noble family in Catanita, she spent a certain amount of time on the island of Malta before deciding that she should return to her native Catania to help spread the gospel.
Roman prefect Quintianus at that time had taken a liking to her and wanted her to marry him, but when she rebuffed him he first had her sent to a brothel and then, when she resisted all attempts to participate, he had her tortured by cutting off her breasts (hence she is patron saint of breast cancer patients, among others) in addition to other torments.
However, that night Saint Peter appeared to her and cured her wounds. It was said that a bright light appeared in the prison and the frightened guards ran off leaving her cell door open, which would have given her the perfect opportunity to escape. She chose instead to stay and bear witness to Jesus Christ.
Refusing to renounce her faith, she died in prison around 215 A.D. An eruption of Mount Etna occurred a year after her death and many fled in terror to her grave. Her veil was taken and held against the onrushing flames, and suddenly the danger ceased.
About the Cathedral in Catania:
Her tomb was originally here in a cave, but then her body was taken to Constantinople for about nine years, before being brought back to Catania in 1126. It now rests in the Cathedral here in Catania. The Cathedral also houses the tomb of Catania’s famous opera composer, Bellini.
Saint Agatha’s Feast day is February 5th, and in Catania a festival takes place from February 3rd through the 5th. It culminates on the night of the fourth with an all-night procession through the city. Crowds of up to 100,000 participate in the festival.
Another, albeit smaller, celebration is held every August 17th to celebrate the return of her remains to Catania from Constantinople.
Vandalism in the Cathedral: it is sad to note that two men (later arrested) vandalized the Cathedral in September 2020 causing some destruction and to the altar and to the body of Saint Agatha. However, the Cathedral remains open.
A traditional dessert is also served at this time, called “Minne di Sant’Agata” (St. Agatha’s Breasts).
Although especially popular on the Feast Day, they can be found throughout the year as a very typical dessert of this Sicilian town.
Traveling to Catania:
There is train service from both Messina and Syracuse. The travel time is about 1 1/2 to 2 hours from Messina depending upon which train you take. From Syracuse it takes a little over one hour. From the train station it is a short walk to the Shrine. Get train & bus schedules, see fares & buy tickets here.
Address: Via Vittorio Emanuele, 163 Catania (CT) Italy
GPS coordinates: 37° 30′ 9.1152” N, 15° 5′ 17.5992” E
Tel/fax: +39 095 320044
Click here for the official website of the Cathedral of Saint Agatha in Catania
Photos courtesy of Thethinkingtraveller.com, offering the most desirable villas in Sicily