Chastity has historically been a cornerstone of Christian faith and devotion, so it is appropriate that some of the most celebrated figures in the Christian canon went to great lengths to maintain their faith in the face of lust, immorality, and sin. Since many of the ancient saints have dubious historical origins, much of what they purportedly did (or did not do) must be taken on faith, as well.
Nevertheless, whether historically accurate or historically dubious, stories of Christian saints have been passed down over generations. And within these stories, men and women risk life and limb in order to stay celibate.
St. Benedict Skinned 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. A biography composed by Pope Gregory recounts the painful manner in which Benedict once overcame lust when tempted by the memory of a woman he had seen.
Pope Gregory writes:
But, suddenly assisted with God's grace, (Benedict) 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. So, by the wounds of his body, he cured the wounds of his soul, in that he turned pleasure into pain.
In other words, Benedict resisted temptation by stripping off his clothes and thrashing around in a brier patch until his skin was torn off. Some time after this event, St. Benedict told his disciples that, "by exchanging these two fires," he was never tempted by lust again.
St. Thomas Aquinas Chased A Sex Worker With Fire And Crosses
The noble family of St. Thomas Aquinas became upset when he decided to switch from the Benedictine order of monks to the Dominican order - a group that relied on begging and emphasized preaching and teaching. In order to dissuade him from this choice, his family 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 sex worker and placed her in his cell, presuming he would be tempted out of both lust and loneliness to indulge in carnal excess. Instead, Aquinas reached into the fire, withdrew a burning log, chased her from his proximity, then drew a crucifix on his door. According to some versions of the story, Aquinas was subsequently comforted by two angels, who placed an angelic girdle around his waist to protect him from lust for the remainder of his mortal days.
St. Agatha Had Her Breasts Cut Off When She Wouldn't Give In
St. Agatha was a young and eligible maiden raised by a prominent family in Sicily. She was besieged by numerous suitors, many of whom were intent on carnally despoiling her. Uninterested in this attention, she dedicated her virginity to God. One of her rejected suitors, a Roman prefect named Quintianus, decided to persecute Agatha for her Christian faith and force her to give in to his desires. He ordered her to give up her faith, and when she refused, he imprisoned her in a brothel.
When the brothel didn't change Agatha's resolve, she was remanded back to Quintianus, who then imprisoned her in jail where she was tortured horribly, including having her breasts amputated. Eventually, after refusing to submit in the face of repeated assault, her spiritual devotion was punished with a sentence of death. She was spared from an execution, but died in prison shortly thereafter.
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, one of her rejected suitors had her brought up before a judge for being Christian, and as her punishment, Agnes was dragged naked through the streets. According to legend, any person who tried to assault her there was struck blind.
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!" With these last words, she was finally beheaded and perished a virgin martyr.
For her piety and sacrifice, she is the patron saint of chastity.