According to the 2,000 year old myth, a 14-year-old girl from Catania, named Agatha, rebuffed the advances of the Roman governor Quinziano. She was persecuted for her faith and devotion to Christ, as Quinziano believed he could make her betray her vows to God and marry him. When Agatha continued to refuse him, Quinziano had her imprisoned, and amputated her breasts. Devoti tutti turns Agatha's story, a patriarchal Christian tale from 2000 years before #metoo, which has only ever been told from a perpetrator's perspective, into a story of a victim's inner escape and resistance to male power.
The myth goes that one day, Quinziano found himself taken with the young Agatha, who at the time was a deaconess of the Christian church. Agatha expressed her desire to become a consecrated virgin, causing an indignant Quinziano to send her to a brothel where a priestess of the goddess Venus and her followers tried to lure Agatha into committing sexual acts. Needless to say, none of their methods swayed Agatha's decision. Upon her return from the brothel, Quinziano held a trial against Agatha and demanded she worship the Roman Gods. When she refused to comply, he applied various tortures and of the most painful was the mutilation of her breasts. He had them removed with pincers. The governor locked her in a prison cell, where she was refused medical care. The public degradation she endured and mutilation of her body echo the grievous encounters of women throughout history with men in power.
The memory of Agatha lives on in Devoti Tutti. While she has become a symbol of strength for the women of Catania, she remains trapped in her cell, only to be brought outside once a year. Her autonomy has been lost in the male fantasies projected onto her. In some versions of the myth, it has been recorded that she said "I feel joy in these pains," evidence of a constricting power dynamic in which even years after her death, the male perception of female suffering takes precedence.
Agatha is said to have been visited by Saint Peter in her cell, accompanied by an angel. Saint Peter offered her aloe vera to heal her breasts. She later appeared before the Roman court and declared she had been healed by God. Quinziano became further enraged and ordered that her body be raked across hot coals. During this torture, Agatha is wrapped in a red veil, a symbol of her devotion to Christ. It is said that an earthquake then struck Catania, as Quinziano's torment of Agatha had angered God. Agatha died soon after she was returned to her cell, on February 5th, the day of her celebration and procession through Catania.