Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saint Agatha of Catania

Saint Agatha of Catania
created in 2001
photograph by E. G. Schempf
mixed media

Saint Agatha of Catania
Feast Day 5 February
Patroness of Malta, nurses, invoked against breast diseases, fires and volcanic eruptions
Reliquary photographs by Megan S. Wyeth

This noble Sicilian virgin spurned the advances of a Roman senator, Quintianus. Agatha endured many torturous trials as he tried, unsuccessfully, to destroy her virtue. At one point while she was imprisoned, Quintianus ordered Agatha's breasts to be cut off. St. Peter interceded, appearing in her prison cell to apply a "celestial ointment" which restored her breasts. Quintianus was not moved by the miraculous cure to her wounds. He ordered her rolled on burning coals, to which were added broken potsherds. Agatha expired.

It occurred to me that in today's world, Agatha would teach women how to honor their bodies, particularly their breasts. She would be a doll wearing a mask. On the back of her head would be part of a phrenology chart.

In the 19th century, phrenology, a study of the conformation of the skull, was a popular method of determining mental facilities and traits of character. A rather inexact science which somewhat parallels how our culture treats women's breasts.

I chose to depict Agatha's breasts as reliquaries. A reliquary is any vessel in which relics are sealed and kept. Between her breasts over the fourth chakra hangs a medal of St. Peter. On her tray lies a lesson book for women to read in hopes that it will encourage them to take responsibility for their own health.

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