How many times as a child did I walk from the house of one Grandmother to that of the other and back again, always up and down St Agatha's Road -or 'Snta GATHas' as we children used to pronounce it. Despite my Catholic upbringing rich with the lives of saints, bells and incense I never wondered who she might have been or how she might have achieved sainthood. It was just the name of the road, the impatient road that had to be endured in order to reach the comfort of the women, those family women with open arms and warm kisses. If we were good there would be pocket money given for a trip to the sweet shop, love hearts and spangles and red liquorice comfits that when licked could be painted on like lipstick. No, Agatha was never thought of as a person, just a length of tarmac which ran passed the red brick buildings where my parents went to school. They spoke of school days long past when there were bombs, sirens and bodies being brought out of the chip shop after a raid. It was merely the name of a road.
I was reminded that St Agatha may have once walked upon the earth when looking earlier to see if there were any interesting folk customs which are traditionally enacted on the 22nd of August. Until recent years a curious custom took place at Biddenham in Bedfordshire and St Agatha's name arose again but still shed no more light upon who she was. In that village, shortly before midday, a small procession of villagers gathered together and they carried a white rabbit decorated with scarlet ribbons. They promenaded through the village singing a hymn in honour of St. Agatha. All the young unmarried women who met this group extended the first two fingers of the left hand and pointed at the rabbit. They would then say, 'Gustin, Gustin, lacks a bier! Maidens, maidens, bury him here'. This custom is believed to date from the time of the first Crusade. The questions relating to why they did this or what became of the poor rabbit remain unanswered. I was curious to know how this was connected to the life of St. Agatha.
It was time to find out who she was and it really is a gruesome tale. I don't like gruesome tales and find myself unable to relate the way in which she was martyred on an uncertain date in pre-7th Century Sicily. It really isn't a nice story. I'm glad that I had no inkling of her sad tale when I wondered up and down Snta GATHas absorbed in my sherbert dibdab and the latest copy of The Beano comic. Some things are best excluded from innocent minds like mutilated saints, raining bombs and bodies in chip shops.