The Devoti Tutti Story
Each year in the Italian city of Catania, on the east coast of Sicily, nearly a million people gather in the world’s third-largest Catholic celebration to pay homage to the city’s patron: Saint Agatha. Devoti Tutti looks at this celebration and the rituals that are involved in the cult of the saint through the eyes of the Saint herself and those raised there, who are devoted to her spirit.
What exactly is the story of Saint Agatha? According to the myth, a 14-year-old girl from Catania, named Agatha, rebuffed the advances of the Roman governor Quinziano. In some iterations of the myth, she is said to have been rather provocative and ironic, even making fun of her admirer. The Christian versions of the myth tell the story more chastely, explaining that Agatha renounced the governor because she had already devoted herself to Jesus. All stories, however, coincide when it comes to their account of the retaliation that Quinziano took to win his honor back. The infuriated man tried to first convince Agatha by promising her riches and sexual fulfillment, even sending her to a brothel to be sexually stimulated. His efforts were in vain; Agatha still said “No.” According to the Christian canon, Agatha’s “No” led Quinziano to imprison the young early Christian and repeatedly try to convince her to believe in him and the polytheistic Roman Gods. At this point, all canons agree that Agatha had to endure the cruelest torture while imprisoned. She was interrogated by the Roman officials three harrowing times. Still, she did not change her mind, and during her trial, she provoked the Roman officials further. When, for instance, they threatened to kill her by breast amputation, she said, “Go right ahead. I can nourish the world with my inner breast.” During the torture itself, Agatha said, “I feel joy in these pains."
When I went to Catania for the first time in 2012 while making The Good Breast, a documentary about four women going through the experience of breast cancer, mastectomy, and breast reconstruction, I wanted to better understand Saint Agatha’s strength and endurance. I asked myself: How was it so easy for her to give up her breasts? And how did she get stronger by losing her breasts? I found the answer through the people of Catania and the way they remember Saint Agatha. Witnessing their devotion was a unique experience, even for me, an unreligious person. The love that these people expressed for their saint, the personal relationships they revealed, their commitment to celebrate her every year … it all made a huge impression on me and our film crew. I was so moved, I decided to make another film, just about Saint Agatha and her myth, as a follow-up to The Good Breast, which premiered at the Bentonville Film Festival in May 2016.