The Acts of Martyrs tell the story of an aristocratic local girl who endured the martyrdom during Emperor Decius reign (249AD-251AD). Unwilling to recant her christian faith, Agatha was arrested by the proconsul Quinziano. In the traditional iconography, the Martyr is represented wounded in the breasts, the well-known torture she suffered. She was put in a jail, where Saint Peter healed her wounds, but the day after she was sentenced to death and put in a pit filled with burning coals. During the execution, there was a terrible earthquake and the roman troops got scared and fled. Agatha died in prison, during the night between the 4th and the 5th day of February in 251AD.
In Catania, the devotion to the Patron Saint has deep roots. The town, threatened by natural disasters (such as earthquakes and lava flows), has been saved several times by the martyr, even since 252 AD, when an eruption was stopped by Agatha’s veil. According to the tradition, the holy veil, originally white, turned into red after the martyrdom of fire. It is guarded in the 19th century precious reliquary and represents the protection from the hazards of Etna volcano.
On other occasions the Martyr stopped the lava: in 1444 eruption (when the town of “Sant’Agata li Battiati” was founded as a consequence), in 1669, when the lava flow reached Catania, and in 1866, when the Cardinal Dusmet carried the sacred veil up to Nicolosi in order to stop the magma. Along the centuries, Agatha protected the town from earthquakes, as in 4th February 1169, in 11th January 1693 and in 28th December 1908, when Messina was razed to the ground.
The Saint drove out the plague in 1575 and in 1743. For the blessing granted the citizens of Catania erected, in Piazza dei Martiri, a column with a statue of the Saint crashing a snake. In 1231 Federick II Hohenstaufen, after reading the famous acrostic N.O.P.A.Q.U.I.E. (“Noli Offendere Patriam Agathae quia ultrix iniuriarum est”), decided not to go to a bloody battle with Catania; in 1357 the fleet of Artale Alagona defeated the enemies in the Gulf of Ognina and decided to pay tribute to the Patron by adding the monogram “A” (Agatha) on the coat of arm of Catania.