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E02035: The Latin Martyrdom of *Agatha (virgin and martyr of Catania, S00794) narrates that after her death an angel visited her tomb and left a prophetic inscription foreseeing Agatha's miraculous powers of protection. When Etna erupts a few years later, the veil put on her tomb is used to protect the city by its inhabitants. Written, presumably in Catania, and probably between the 5th and 7th c.

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posted on 2016-11-21, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Martyrdom of Agatha (BHL 133)

§ 13: Venit quidam iuvenis sericis vestibus indutus, quem sequebantur amplius quam centum pueri, omnes ornati et pulchri; quem nemo unquam viderat antea in civitate Catanensium, nec postea eum aliquis vidit, nec inventus est aliquis, qui diceret hunc se scire. Hic ergo veniens intravit ad locum ubi condiebatur corpus eius, et posuit ad caput eius tabulam brevem ex marmore, in qua scriptum est: MENTEM SÆNCTAM, SPONTANEVM HONOREM DEO, ET PATRIÆ LIBERATIONEM. Posuit ergo hanc scripturam, ut diximus, intra sepulchrum eius ad caput, et tamdiu ibi stetit, quamdiu cum omni diligentia clauderetur. Clauso igitur sepulchro abscessit, et, ut diximus, non est ulterius visus nec auditus in regione vel in tota prouincia Siciliorum. Unde suspicati sumus, quod Angelus eius fuerit. Et hanc scripturam divulgantes qui viderant, omnes Siculos sollicitos reddiderunt: et tam Iudæi quam etiam Gentiles unanimes cum Christianis communiter cœperunt venerari sepulchrum eius.

'A certain young man came dressed in silk, followed by more than a hundred boys, all well dressed and beautiful; nobody had ever seen him before in the city of Catania, and nobody ever saw him again afterwards, and nobody could be found who would say they knew him. Coming thus, he entered the place where her body was being embalmed and placed a small marble tablet close to her head, on which was written: "HOLY MIND, VOLUNTARY HONOUR TO GOD, AND THE LIBERATION OF HER HOMELAND". He left this inscription, as we have said, in her tomb next to the head, and he stayed there as long as it took to close the tomb with every care. After the tomb had been closed, he left, and as we have said, nobody saw or heard of him ever again in the region, nor in the whole province of Sicily. This is why we suspected that he was her angel. And as those who saw the inscription spread the news, they made all Sicilians attentive. And Jews as well as pagans (Gentiles), in full agreement with the Christians, together began to venerate her tomb'.

§ 15: [Etna erupts, threatening Catania.] Tunc paganorum multitudo fugiens de monte descendit; et venerunt ad sepulchrum eius, et auferentes velum unde erat coopertum sepulchrum eius, statuerunt illud contra ignem venientem ad se; et ipsa hora stetit ignis divisus. Cœpit autem ignis die Kalendarum Februariarum, et cessauit die Nonarum earumdem, qui est dies sepulturæ eius: ut comprobaret Dominus noster Iesus Christus, quod a periculo mortis et incendii eos S. Agathæ meritis et orationibus liberasset.

‘Then a crowd of fleeing pagans came down from the mountains; and they came to her tomb, and taking the veil (velum) that covered her tomb, they set it against the fire that was approaching them; and in that hour the fire stopped advancing and divided. The fire began on the calends of February (= 1 February), and it ended on the nones (= 5 February), that is the day of her burial, so that our Lord Jesus Christ confirmed that he had freed them from the danger of death and fire thanks to the merits and prayers of saint Agatha’.

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Febr. I, 618. Translation: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agatha, virgin and martyr of Catania : S00794

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Catania Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans Jews Heretics Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - cloth

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



For a full discussion of this source and its dating see E01916.


This passage shows that Agatha was invoked in Catania (Sicily) as a protector of the city, particularly against eruptions from Etna. The end of the text mentions a veil put on the tomb, which offers protection, and, together with the reference to a miraculously delivered inscription placed inside the tomb praising the saint, suggests the existence of an important shrine. Remarkably, the hagiographer insists that the inscription was put next to Agatha’s head before the tomb was closed. There is no early evidence corroborating the existence of this inscription, but these intriguing details were probably the basis of a later tradition referring to the transfer to Cremona of the inscription written in abbreviated form ('MSSHDEPL' taken from the text of the inscription mentioned in the Martyrdom). Recent restoration works (in 2011-2012) of the saint's painted table reliquary in Saint Agatha's church in Cremona did not find any trace of this inscription; see Rodella-Ceriotti 2013, 47-48.


Edition: Acta Sanctorum, Febr. I, 615-618. Further reading: Rodella, G., and Ceriotti, M.C., "La Tavola di Sant'Agata e il suo restauro," Strenna dell'Adafa n.s. 3 (2013), 39-90.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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