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Catholicism Saint Agatha Patron Saint of Nurses

The patron saint of nurses is Saint Agatha. Her feast day is February 5th.

Saint Agatha was born circa 231 AD in either Catania or Palermo in Sicily, Italy. She died circa 250 AD in Catania. Her name is in the litany of saints, the canon of the Mass and all the martyrologies in both Greek and Latin.

There is little reliable information available on Saint Agatha. She was born to a distinguished family and she was quite beautiful. However, her beauty was the cause for continual lust and persecution from a lower class man by the name of Quintianus. Quintianus was either a senator or Roman prefect. When she did not return the affection he had for her due to her dedication of her virginity to God, Saint Agatha endured several forms of torture from the man. Perhaps the most heinous was his order to have her breasts cut off. It is reported that soon after the order was filled, Saint Agatha had a vision of Saint Peter. Upon this visit from Saint Peter, she was miraculously healed. For this part of her history, she is also considered the patron saint of breast cancer, rape victims and torture.

According to the entry for Saint Agatha in the Book of Saints, she is depicted in early artwork as holding a pair of pincers or bearing breasts on a platter. Later, these depictions were mistaken for loaves of bread. From this mistaken identity arose a custom of blessing bread on a dish on her feast day. The bread is called Agatha Bread.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, both Catania and Palermo claim to be the birthplace of the saint. She has a special distinction in Catania and throughout the region of Mt. Etna as people pray to her to save them from the volcanic eruptions of Mt. Etna and other fire and lightning events.

According to an on-line entry which is corroborated by a mention in the Book of Saints, Saint Agatha was given to Aphrodisia, the owner of a brothel. Saint Agatha’s refusal to succumb to Aphrodisia’s threats to worship Roman idols is what led to Quintianus’ order to cut off her breasts.

Ultimately, Quintianus’ tortures led to Saint Agatha’s death. He sentenced her to be rolled naked over a bed of live coals. However, the ground on which she was rolled began to shake and a part of a wall fell down upon the counselor whom Quintianus ordered to perform the sentence. According to the same source, she died in prison in 253 AD. In other words, the exact year she died is uncertain, but several sources agree the location of her death was Catania.