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Saint Agatha - Patron Saint for Breast Cancer

By February 5, 2008

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Saint Agatha
Saint Agatha
Francisco de Zurbarán

February 5 is the feast day for St. Agatha of Sicily, the patron saint for breast cancer. St. Agatha was born into a wealthy family, and consecrated to God at an early age. She was a lovely girl who attracted the attention of a judge, Quintianus, who wanted both her body and her money. When she refused him, he had her arrested and put into a brothel run by Aphrodisia. She prayed and wept, and her virtue was intact after 30 days. The judge then had her taken to prison to be beaten and stretched on the rack. While chained, she was whipped, cut, burnt, and finally her breasts were cut off.

She reportedly said to her guard: "Cruel tyrant, do you not blush to torture this part of my body, you that sucked the breasts of a woman yourself? " That night, St. Peter appeared and gave her a miraculous healing. Quintianus, still not satisfied, ordered her to be rolled naked over live coals mixed with sharp bits of broken pottery. St. Agatha made no other request after this, except that God would "receive now my soul." She was martyred in 251 A.D. St. Agatha is usually depicted carrying her breasts on a plate, as in this painting by Francisco de Zurbarán.

Another saint who suffered and actually died of breast cancer was St. Aldegundis.

February 6, 2008 at 10:21 am
(1) Connie says:

As a cancer survivor I find this appaling. How can a story like this depict a cancer survivor? It shows the cruelty of the time and the agression of men who don’t get their way, not the courage of a woman ravaged by breast cancer. It is disturbing at best and not something I wanted to see. Shame on the person who chose this to depict breast cancer. It shows a woman tortured by a man not her health.

February 6, 2008 at 10:41 am
(2) charlene says:

I concure with Connie,this is NOT a survivors story but one of a beasts

February 6, 2008 at 2:49 pm
(3) RitualsofHealing.com says:

Legends, myths and stories of saints like this one can help us to understand pains which live in the collective unconscious. These stories are sometimes difficult to metabolize as they detail the plight of being human. Though today our circumstances are different, the suffering is the same. St. Agatha’s story details the heart breaking pain that we go through in losing pieces of ourselves through the tyrant cancer. We can relate to Saint Agatha’s pain and loss; we as women who have survived or are living with cancer have been cut in surgery and burnt by radiation. But we can prevail as Agatha did. She ultimately blossomed through her loss in turning to God, and thus becoming a Saint which inspired others like us who are now traveling her road.
Love and Light,

February 6, 2008 at 6:08 pm
(4) Connie says:

I can’t believe that ANYONE with a sound mind would think Saint Agatha had anything to do with surviving breast cancer. After searching for more information, none of the story can be substantiated, and attributing this to cancer survival is an insult to the many who have fought this disease. She was NOT diseased, she was ABUSED!! BY A PERSON! Did her abuser turn to God?? It’s an insult to my intelegence to equate her fight with cancer.

February 7, 2008 at 5:18 am
(5) Madeline says:

This doesn’t have anything to do with breast cancer. Having your breast cut off, isn’t something to be glorified as a Saint! There are a lot of Saints out here then, if thats the case!

February 7, 2008 at 11:47 am
(6) Pat says:

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that St. Agatha is representative of breast cancer survivors. But some Catholic women with breast cancer consider St. Agatha a patron saint, so it’s relevant for Pam’s blog to mention the feast day.

February 7, 2008 at 12:08 pm
(7) Vince says:

[i]I can’t believe that ANYONE with a sound mind would think Saint Agatha had anything to do with surviving breast cancer.[/i]

You don’t have to actually have the illness for a saint to become associated with the illnesses and for sufferers/survivors to pray with that saint. For example, I think that Saint Therese of Lisieux is considered to be one of the Patron Saints for AIDS suffers, but she didn’t have HIV.

I am not sure how Saint Agatha became associated with breast cancer, but she is also associated with rape victims and torture victims, among other things.

Saint Agatha

February 9, 2008 at 9:25 pm
(8) breast cancer says:

Thanks for the info

February 10, 2008 at 3:03 pm
(9) ann says:

Unfortunately many of the comments have missed the point about St. Agatha. Because she suffered for Christ AND because part of that consisted of violence to her body (the breasts) she is seen as a special intercessor on behalf of women who also are suffering an assault on this part of their bodies (from Cancer or any other enemy). The story of her life is only inspiring and perhaps only makes sense if one believes in the efficacious prayers of the Saints in heaven for those of us on earth (As do Catholics and Eastern Orthodox). St. Agatha, pray for us!

February 10, 2008 at 8:36 pm
(10) Anna says:

I believe that St. Agatha portrays the strength that is required by all who face this disease. As she lost her breasts, she refused to give up. She fought until she chose to succumb. Don’t all of us who face breast cance do the same thing??

February 11, 2008 at 4:46 pm
(11) Ritualsofhealing.com says:

I agree that the point here is to see the strength and resilience of a woman who suffered horrible mutilation, cutting and burning- not to get lost in the details of whether or not she should or should not be a patron saint of breast cancer. Her story is told to us so we may see the similarities in our suffering. We suffer burning from radiation, cutting from the surgeon’s knife and multiple losses at the hand of the tyrant cancer. Saint Agatha suffered burning and cutting from a human tyrant.
I relate to Agatha’s pain and yes, even the abuse. She has suffered as we all have suffered. For this reason, stories, legends and myths are told.

May 25, 2008 at 2:47 pm
(12) Pamela says:

I believe when St. Theresa the Little Flower mother is declared a saint, she should be the patron saint of Breast Cancer. Her mother Zelie Martin died of Breast Cancer. Poor St. Theresa was only a little girl of 4 years old when her mother died.

November 19, 2008 at 4:43 am
(13) Isidro Barragan says:

Reading the comments above I notice first mixed emotions and apparent confusion or misunderstanding as to why St. Agatha.

I agree that she may not be the most appropriate intercessor for women who are attacked by cancer, but she is there should you choose to seek her. It is a simple thought.

Personally I do not share your pain for I am a 25 yr old male with no family history of cancer. But you know what, as a man of growing faith, I will ask that through your faith and God, that all women near and far find their blessing and peace during such times of pain and recuperation; this be with St. Agatha, other Saints or directly through our Lord, but that peace may come at last.

In the end I feel, we are free to reach God however our spirit calls and yearns for.

With all due respect, and that all who pain from this horrid cancer find healing and cure.

July 27, 2009 at 10:27 pm
(14) Tricia C. says:

A number of people on this site have expressed disapproval in Saint Agatha being chosen by Catholic Church to be the patron saint of breast cancer. She isn’t the patron of survival because she didn’t survive; many women don’t. Should they not get a saint too? Myself, I think the decision is quite appropriate given her story. I look at her and I think, God, how she must have suffered. I don’t think, yeah, well, what does that have to do with me? A person who has suffered from cancer understandably has anger about their disease; please don’t misdirect that at an earnest effort to help one cope.

September 13, 2009 at 7:42 am
(15) christine kim says:

ignore vincent, paul and those other people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! st agatha is still a saint and god accepted her. God is always right

September 17, 2009 at 12:05 pm
(16) Bruce says:

christine kim is right. God is always right. That’s why he sent St. Peter down to gave her a miraculous healing instead of letting her out of prison. Wait, what?

October 27, 2009 at 11:49 am
(17) Judy says:

Clearly those who have a problem with this do not understand the premise of a Catholic Patron Saint. The point is that they understand the suffering and have the ear of God on some particular point. We ask that the Saint intercede on our behalf and pray for us, with the faith that their grace in the eyes of God will engender His mercy, and grant us healing. If Agatha had survived she would not have acheived Sainthood. That is the whole point. But I wouldn’t expect a non-Caholic to understand it.

November 3, 2009 at 1:10 am
(18) Alexander says:

Now wait a minute. As an atheist, even I can see the relevence of having Saint Agatha as the patron saint for breast cancer. I first heard the story from my girlfriend, and even though the story cannot be fully verified, it is moving nonetheless. Am I to understand that just because someone has not suffered through a specific malady, they become immune from being associated with it? Not remotely.

January 6, 2010 at 7:23 am
(19) cookingsherri says:

For those of you who are so appalled, I think maybe you are looking at St. Agatha’s story way too literally. The comparison and analogy is there. Look deep into it with an open mind. Don’t read it saying…. she has no idea what I dealt with. God Bless anyone who has had any type of cancer let alone Breast cancer. Praying for everyone’s mental health

February 6, 2010 at 8:12 pm
(20) Suzanne says:

Whether it is violence or breast cancer both are ways that women have greatly suffered. If I had breast cancer I would most identify with Saint Agatha with the emotional pain of losing my breasts. Why be sooo angry with finding a Saint that had endured such pain and miraculous healing???????
How could anyone NOT see the connection???????????????

February 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm
(21) K says:


February 21, 2010 at 1:25 am
(22) Danielle says:

She lost her breasts.It doesn’t really matter how.A loss is a loss.Don’t we as cancer survivors have any compassion?

March 20, 2010 at 8:22 pm
(23) katequinn says:

As a 43 y/o breast cancer survivor (bilateral mastectomy)I often wear a medallion of St. Agatha. I am not a religious person in the traditional sense of the word, but I find St. Agatha to be very comforting. She symbolizes what breast cancer patients have gone through. I see strength and compassion in her story. I wish others could see that, too.

September 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm
(24) Ann says:

I also am a survivor (almost 3 years!) And I don’t have a problem with Agatha as the patron saint, however to me a better candidate would have be Zelle of Liseaux. St. Therese’s mother, who succumbed to the disease long before there was any treatment other than creams and oils.

September 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm
(25) anna says:

From a Catholic point of view I would say St. Agatha was strong physically as well as spiritally and losing her breasts whether from cancer or otherwise did not diminish who she was or destroy her spiritual strength. Who are we to judge what defines making someone a saint….

November 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm
(26) Mary Burns says:

I greatly DISSAGREE with Madiline! Saint Agatha dose in some way have to do with breast cancer!! Her breasts were cut off which when you have breast cancer your breast is cut off!!!!

November 7, 2010 at 3:17 pm
(27) Mary Burns says:

I greatly disagree with Madeline and Vince. For Madeline Saint Agatha had here breasts cut off when you have done to your in breast cancer that boob is cut off and is replaced with a fake one! I should know because my mom had breast cancer!>:(
Vince, Read about the life of Saint Agatha and Saint Therese of Lisette!

November 10, 2010 at 2:57 am
(28) Agatha says:

All I can say is thank you God for giving us St Agatha. To those who disagree to her being the patron saint of breast cancer victims, I respect your opinions but your are loosing out on something great: having someone who suffered the pain of loosing her breast, someone who knows what that pain is all about, intercede for you. St Agatha pray for all cancer sufferers! I love this saint and I am fortunate enough to share her name.

November 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm
(29) Tracy says:

wow, i’m appalled at the lack of compassion Connie has, even for a woman who suffered terribly nearly 2,000 years ago. she suffered in PUNISHMENT…with no pain killers, no comfort of a nurse or a doctor. no pink ribbons or carnations by her bedside. she suffered in sheer agony. you would hope for love, compassion, and understanding for your suffering today and yet you give none suffered by this young woman from centuries past. she lost something dear to her as many woman in days past and present have. she lost a part of her…violently. at least today, one has the option of a medical procedure for removal of a cancer-ridden breast…while horrible, nonethless, it’s not done so violently and with malice.

hard & angry hearts out there. methinks you need to seek more counselling, for i fear you need it to find compassion in your heart…esp if you want others to feel the same for you.

St. Agatha, pray for all of us.

December 5, 2010 at 2:11 pm
(30) KImberly says:

I love the story about Saint Agatha. She is a patron Saint to me. I find her torture and her mis-treatment to be cruel. But she endured it because she was a Christian, and she was punished because she was a strong woman. However, I can see your point. She did suffer in punishment, without any pain killers and was eventually burned alive with hot coals. I have read that breast cancer patients have turned to her and her story during their sufferings. That is one reason why she is associated with breast cancer patients.

August 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm
(31) Cancer Fighter says:

Mastectomy used to be THE primary choice for women diagnosed with breast cancer decades ago. I take it most of you are young and don’t remember what that was like especially in the age when doctors were male only. Agatha has a lot in common with some of us. If you don’t understand the relationship, maybe you should do deeper research. Agatha was patron for a while, not recently.

November 17, 2011 at 3:43 am
(32) villanueva,joy paulyn v. says:

I find her torture and her mis-treatment to be cruel. But she endured it because she was a Christian, and she was punished because she was a strong woman. However, I can see your point. She did suffer in punishment, without any pain killers and was eventually burned alive with hot coals. I have read that breast cancer patients have turned to her and her story during their sufferings. That is one reason why she is associated with breast cancer patients.

February 27, 2012 at 12:16 am
(33) Courtney says:

This is not a story about someone surving breast cancer…it is about a woman who lost her life to it. No where does it say that she is the patron saint of surving breast cancer, just the saint of breast cancer.

April 15, 2012 at 5:12 pm
(34) Mary says:

I understand how some would be questioning as to how this has anything to do with cancer, but let’s be honest. Not very many Saints have much to do with what they are the Patron Saint of. Just calm down an accept it. You can’t change it so quit complaining.

June 13, 2012 at 8:24 am
(35) Betty C. Schneider says:

@Courtney – technically, she DID survive having her breasts cut off, only to later succumb to being rolled in hot coals and broken pottery.

So, I’d say St. Agatha CAN be the patron of breast cancer survivors, but she shoud definitely NOT be the patron of “rolled in hot coals and broken pottery” survivors, as that would be ridiculous.

The infallible Catholic Church wins again!!!

January 29, 2013 at 12:34 pm
(36) lilija says:

this website gave me good information on my saint and confirmation name and info that i needed to complete it, this website is reliable for useful things.

February 5, 2013 at 6:55 am
(37) Miriam says:

A part was left out, while she was suffering of the atrocity done to her in her cell, St. Peter appeared to her and healed her breasts. That is why she is considered the patron Saint of Breast Cancer & I am proud to honor her that way today :)

September 23, 2013 at 2:13 am
(38) Joanie says:

It nearly breaks my heart that their is so much controversy about this subject. As someone who has been newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the first things I did was look to see who was the patron saint of cancer and was thrilled to find their was an actual one for breast cancer. It made no difference to me how Saint Agatha lost her breasts…the woman LOST HER BREASTS!

That is devastating for anyone! I know how much pain I’ve been experiencing this past week with “proper medication” I can’t imagine how much pain she experienced without medication. Praise the Lord St. Peter was allowed to heal her for a very short period of time, but she refused to give up her virtue and allowed herself to be cruelly martyred.

There may be other women who “fit” better classically in the role as patron saints for breast cancer survivors, however, I don’t know if they fit the Catholic church “guidelines” for “sainthood”. I’ve heard mention the mother of St. Theresa the little flower just because she had breast cancer. I don’t know if she “qualifies for sainthood”…I know there are certain things that have to happen in that person’s lifetime (E.g. there has to be proof of a miracle, for example). Plus certain other things. Bottom line, I personally have been comforted these last few weeks knowing about Saint Agatha of Sicily. Thank you Saint Agatha for your sacrifice for women like me and all the others that suffer from breast cancer. Please intercede for us to our heavenly Father. His will be done in HIS name we pray. Amen.

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