Feast Day of St. Agatha

2 comments February 5th, 2011 Headsman

(Thanks to Carl Pyrdum, III, the author of the hilariously incisive blog Got Medieval, for this guest post — which originally appeared as part of his decidedly irreverent Medieval Months stroll through the Catholic Church’s quirky calendar of saintly feast days. -ed.)

While not one of the Holy Helpers proper, St. Agatha, whose feast falls on February 5, has special powers to heal ailments of the breasts, on account of having had hers cut off for refusing to worship pagan idols.

Like Bartholomew, she is usually depicted in the unfortunate after state in iconography, carrying her severed breasts before her on a tray or plate.


St. Agatha of Sicily, by Orazio Riminaldi (1625).

Because detached breasts sort of resemble bells, she’s the patron saint of bellfounders, and because they also kind of resemble dough, she works double duty as the patron of bakers, too. Oh, and just to be clear, that last sentence isn’t one of those clearly nonsensical sentences I pepper my writing with for purposes of the comedy. Agatha is the patron saint of severed boobs and everything that kind of looks like a severed boob.


The treats on the left are a traditional Catania cassata known as “Agatha’s breasts” or “Virgin breasts” (“Minni di Vergini”). Image (c) Gergely Sipos and used with permission.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Italy,Martyrs,Myths,Nobility,Other Voices,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Women

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1945: Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe and Violette Szabo

1 comment February 5th, 2010 Headsman

On or about this date in 1945, three women who had been caught behind German lines working for the British Special Operations Executive were shot at Ravensbruck.

Left to right: Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe, Violette Szabo.

Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe, and Violette Szabo were all fluent young Francophones who volunteered their services for Britain’s dangerous spying-and-sabotage operations in support of the French Resistance.

Bloch and Rolfe were wireless operators; Szabo, the most famous of the three, got her hands dirtier with explosives and sabotage.

One evening towards 1900 hours they were called out [of the punishment block] and taken to the courtyard by the crematorium. Camp Commandant Suhren [German Wikipedia link] made these arrangements. He read out the order for their shooting in the presence of the chief camp doctor, Dr. Trommer, SS Sergeant Zappe, SS Lance Corporal Schult, SS Corporal Schenk, and the dentist Dr. Hellinger

All three were very brave, and I was deeply moved. Suhren was also impressed by the bearing of these women. He was annoyed that the Gestapo did not themselves carry out these shootings.

Extensive and illustrated biographies on all three, as well as other SOE agents, can be found at 64 Baker Street: Bloch; Rolfe; Szabo.

Violette Szabo in particular was much written-of after the war (long out of print, the classic Carve Her Name With Pride was recently republished), and was posthumously awarded a variety of decorations by both England and France.

Szabo has what looks to be a charming museum in Herefordshire (phone ahead to Miss Rigby before visiting!); for a younger generation, she’s the inspiration behind “Violette Summers”, the protagonist of the video game Velvet Assassin.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Espionage,Execution,Famous,France,Germany,History,Jews,No Formal Charge,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Summary Executions,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions,Women

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1894: Auguste Vaillant, bomb-throwing anarchist

5 comments February 5th, 2009 Headsman

“For too long a time, our voice is responded to with prison, the rope or the fusillade, but don’t delude yourselves: the explosion of my bomb is not only the cry of Vaillant in rebellion, but is the cry of an entire class that calls for its rights and will soon join its acts to its words.”

Auguste Vaillant

On this date in 1894, bomb-throwing anarchist — literally — Auguste Vaillant was beheaded in France.

The preceding December, the young Vaillant (French Wikipedia link) went from impoverished obscurity to national bogeyman by hurling a bomb into the Chamber of Deputies — reprisal for the 1892 execution of the anarchist Ravachol.

This bomb’s symbolic effect greatly exceeded its injury to life and limb: Vaillant said he had not been intending to kill, and in fact he did not. (Vaillant himself was among the wounded. His nose was blown off.)

But his political affiliations brought a suppression of anarchists and their press, and, of course, this day’s operation of the guillotine.*

“Mort à la société bourgeoise! Vive l’anarchie!”

Vaillant’s dying sentiment was taken up by Emile Henry, who bombed a Paris cafe the next week, and Sante Geronimo Caserio, an Italian immigrant who assassinated French President Marie Francois Sadi Carnot four months later.

* “Between the time of Vaillant’s arrival at the guillotine and the closing of the baskets containing his remains,” says the New York Times’ account, “scarcely more than twenty seconds elapsed.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Terrorists

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