Because chastity is a cornerstone of Christian faith and devotion, it is appropriate that some of the most celebrated figures in the Christian canon are individuals who went to great lengths to maintain their faith in the face of lust, immorality, and sin. As such, the things saints did to avoid temptation - especially the ways they avoided temptations of the sexual variety - have become shining examples of faith, devotion, and piety, examples to which all good Christians should aspire.
However, since most of the saints have dubious historical origins, much of what they purportedly did (or did not do) must be taken on faith, as well. Even if some of the following individuals never existed, they live on for true believers as aspirations and ideals.
St. Benedict Destroyed His Genitals In A Thorny Bush
St. Benedict is best known for his strict rules governing the lives of monks who became part of the order he founded: the Benedictines. An ancient biography composed by Pope Gregory recounts how he rejected the temptation of the flesh. Spoiler: he did it with a little help from his friend, God.
For, "just as soon as [Benedict] had been nearly overcome with passion, God intervened. Assisted with God’s grace, he came to himself; and seeing many thick briers and nettle bushes to grow hard by, off he cast his apparel, and threw himself into the midst of them, and there wallowed so long that, when he rose up, all his flesh was pitifully torn: and so by the wounds of his body, he cured the wounds of his soul, in that he turned pleasure into pain."
Yes; you read that right. Benedict overcame womanly temptation by stripping off his clothes and thrashing around in a brier patch until his skin was torn off. A true inspiration.
St. Thomas Aquinas Chased A Prostitute With Fire And Crosses
The noble family of St. Thomas Aquinas became upset when he decided to switch from the Benedictine order to the Dominican order of monks. The Dominicans were beggars who preached in the streets and survived on the meager contributions of the public. In order to dissuade him from this choice, his family first kidnapped him and locked him in seclusion. However, when he adapted to the situation by using it as an opportunity for writing and reflection, they resorted to more extreme measures.
They procured a prostitute and placed her in his cell, presuming he would be tempted out of both lust and loneliness to indulge in carnal excess. Instead, like the good saint-to-be he was, Aquinas reached into the fire, withdrew a still burning log, and chased her out of his proximity. He then drew a crucifix shaped cross on his door and was subsequently comforted by two angels, who placed an angelic girdle around his waist. Lust was driven out of his mind for the remainder of his mortal days.
St. Agatha Had Her Breasts Cut Off When She Wouldn't Give In
St. Agatha grew up in Sicily, a young and eligible 15-year-old maiden from a prominent family. As a result of her age, eligibility, and social standing, she was besieged by numerous suitors, many of whom were intent on carnally despoiling her. Instead, she dedicated her virginity to God, a declaration that brought her to the attention of a Roman prefect named Quintianus, who she also rejected. Rather than take this rejection lying down, however, Quintianus decided to persecute Agatha for her Christian faith, ordering her to a brothel.
After refusing to comply with the brothel keeper's demands, she was remanded back to Quintianus, who then imprisoned her. In jail, she was tortured horribly, including having her breasts amputated by iron pincers. Eventually, after refusing to submit in the face of repeated assault, her spiritual devotion was punished with a sentence of death by fire. She was spared by a timely earthquake, but ultimately perished in prison, her faith unshaken to the end.
St. Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer patients and torture victims.
St. Agnes Was Saved From Violation Through Divine Intervention
St. Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility in the fourth century CE, a time when being a Christian in Rome was punishable by law. Alluringly beautiful even from a young age, Agnes was besieged by many wealthy suitors who unsuccessfully sought her hand in marriage. However, she was eventually betrayed to the Roman hierarchy as a Christian and brought up before a judge named Sempronius. This judge condemned the 12 year old to be dragged through the streets to a brothel where she was to be repeatedly violated.
Instead, through divine intervention, Agnes was spared when her attackers were struck blind. The authorities then tied her to a stake but again were thwarted when the wood surrounding her pyre would not ignite. Onlookers begged her to recant her faith and save herself. Claiming to have wed Christ instead of any of her suitors she happily replied: "I would offend my Spouse, if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!" Then she prayed and bowed her head as a centurion beheaded her.
For her piety and sacrifice, she is the patron saint of chastity.
St. Ignatius Imagined Himself As Jesus To Avoid Temptation
St. Ignatius was born in the town of Loyola, Spain in the late fifteenth century. Initially a soldier, he was involved in numerous duels and gained a reputation for ferocity and courage. In time, he even became commander of his own military unit in the service of a regional nobleman. However, in 1521, Ignatius's luck took a sharp turn when he was severely injured while defending Pamplona. He even had to get one of his legs amputated. During his convalescence, he came close to dying - a process that caused him to experience a religious conversion. As part of his newfound spirituality, he adopted the process of mentally visualizing himself in episodes from Jesus's life, eventually adapting this into his famous "spiritual exercise."
When he had sufficiently recovered, he decided to enter a monastery, took a vow of poverty and renounced his former womanizing, violent way of life. He sought out a formal education and, with another group of like minded monks, he established the ascetic and strict order known as the "Society of Jesus," or "Jesuits" as they would eventually be called. The spiritual exercise he developed while an invalid became a central mechanism for eschewing temptations.
Because of Ignatius's scholarship and the Jesuit dedication to educating others, he is the patron saint of education.
Wild Oxen Couldn't Drag St. Lucy To Sin
Saint Lucy was another third-century maiden who vowed to remain chaste despite an arranged marriage. She attempted to convince her mother, Eutychia, to allow her to forego this marriage. Because Lucy's father had died when she was young and her mother suffered from a serious illness, Eutychia was determined that her daughter not be left alone in the world and wouldn't cancel the marriage contract.
However, she was persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, to the shrine of St. Agatha, a journey that was successful. Eutychia gave in, allowing her daughter to renege on the marriage. When Eutychia and Lucy began to distribute her dowry to the poor, her spurned suitor betrayed her to the Governor of Syracuse, Paschasius. She was sentenced to defilement in a brothel but her guards could not budge her, even with a team of oxen. She was ultimately beheaded after numerous attempts to kill her with fire failed.
Because Agnes is said to have put out her own eyes, rather than encourage her suitor, she is the patron saint of the blind.
St. Cecilia Retained Her Virginity With A Little Help From Her Guardian Angel
St. Cecilia was a Roman noblewoman from the second century CE who, despite a vow of virginity, was married off by her wealthy family to a non-believer named Valerian. However, when her husband attempted to consummate the marriage, pious Cecilia told him that an angel was watching over her, and her angel would punish Valerian if he insisted on violating her. But, if he honored her virginity, the angel would respect him. When her husband requested that he be given the chance to see this angel, she suggested that he be baptized. Upon his baptism, Valerian was able to observe the angel near his wife, watching her be crowned with roses and lilies. Eventually, Valerian was killed because he wouldn't renounce his Christian faith.
Cecilia - by this point an evangelist who had converted hundreds of pagans - was also sentenced for her Christianity with the punishment of suffocation in the bath. When this failed to kill her, she was sentenced to beheading, but the soldier entrusted with this task was unable to sever her neck, instead only wounding her. After three days of suffering, Agnes finally succumbed.
Agnes is regarded as the patron saint of music as she is said to have heard music in her heart during her marriage ceremony. She is usually depicted with a musical instrument.
St. Maria Goretti Would Be Killed Before She Would Succumb To Sex
St. Maria Goretti was an eleven-year-old Italian girl living in poverty in the early twentieth century. Her family was so poor, in fact, that they shared a residence with another family, the Serenellis. A member of the Serenelli family, a teenaged son named Alessandro, repeatedly pestered Maria, who was tasked with caring for an infant sibling while her parents were working in the fields. Despite her young age, he began demanding to have sex with her, but she repeatedly refused, invoking God's name and telling Alessandro that it would be a mortal sin.
On July 5, 1902, Alessandro finally decided that if she would not give in, he would kill her. While fighting him off, Maria was stabbed and mortally wounded. Hopsital doctors tried to help save the girl, but her wounds were too severe. On her deathbed, she only asked about her mother's wellbeing and forgave Alessandro, expressing hope that some day he would join her in heaven. Because of his youth, Alessandro avoided a death sentence and eventually repented in prison, becoming a brother in a Capuchin monastery.
Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950 and became the patron saint of purity.