Born sometime around 231 AD in Sicily, Saint Agatha came from a very wealthy Roman family and was known throughout the area for her immense beauty. Early in her life she decided to dedicate her life solely to God and so was consecrated a virgin. When she came of age, a local prefect by the name of Quintianus proposed marriage to her and was turned down. Refusing to accept the rejection, he continued over and over proposing marriage. Eventually, in a fit of rage over the continued rejections, Quintianus had her arrested for being Christian (this was during the persecution of the Emperor Decius against the Church).
Quintainus served as judge over her trial and expected a quick resolution - he believed the threat of impending torture and death would be enough for her to change her mind. She instead fell to her knees in the courtroom and began to pray, saying:
"Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil."
Her sentence came quick - Quintianus sent Saint Agatha to a brother keeper named Aphrodisia in a hope that being imprisoned in a brothel would change her mind. The opposite happened again, as the time being held against her will redoubled her faith and trust in God. Quintianus sent her for to come back before the court when he heard she had not changed her position and sentenced her to additional tortures. Writings attest that she was burned with lit torches, whipped and torn with iron hooks. In a particularly terrible series of tortures, Saint Agatha had both of her breasts cut off with pincers. Quintianus had Saint Agatha now again thrown in prison where he expected her to die quickly.
While in prison, she experienced visions of Saint Peter who, though his prayers, would heal Saint Agatha of her wounds. She kneeled in the small cramped prison and prayed:
"Lord, my Creator, you have ever protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul."
Saint Agatha died in 251 AD. Saint Agatha's feast day is celebrated on February 5th and she is honored as the Patron Saint of Sicily, breast cancer, nurses, bellfounders and others.
The people of Malta hold an ancient tradition that Saint Agatha fled with friends from Sicily when she heard of her impending arrest and took refuge in Malta. She spent her days at a rock-hewn crypt at Rabat (a town in northern Malta) and after a small amount of time returned to Sicily to face her impending martyrdom.
Every year from February 3 to February 5 the people of Catania, Sicily celebrate the festival of Saint Agatha (Another date, August 17th, celebrates the return of Saint Agatha's remains from Constantinople). The festival begins with a procession known as "della luminaria" where eleven candles in baroque gilt casings go from the Church of Saint Agata alla Fornace to the Cathedral of Saint Agatha. The following day a "Messa dell'Aurora" (Mass at Dawn) is celebrated followed by a carriage that is pulled through the neighborhoods and places associated with her life. A reliquary-bust of Saint Agatha rides on top the carriage. On the last day, February 5th, a final procession occurs after Mass.