Agnes of Rome
Saint Agnes by Domenichino (c. 1620)
Virgin and martyr
Bornc. 291
Rome, Italy
Diedc. 304
Rome, Italy
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches[1]
Oriental Orthodox Churches
Anglican Churches
Lutheran Churches.
CanonizedPre-congregation
Major shrineChurch of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura and the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, both in Rome
Feast21 January; before Pope John XXIII revised the calendar, there was a second feast on 28 January
AttributesLamb, martyr's palm
PatronageGirls; chastity and virgins; victims of sexual abuse; betrothed couples; gardeners; Girl Guides; the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York; Children of Mary; Collegio Capranica, Rome; the city of Fresno

Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c.  304) is a virgin martyr, venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Churches.[2] She is one of several virgin martyrs commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass, and one of many Christians martyred during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

Agnes was born in 291 into Roman nobility, and raised as a Christian. She suffered martyrdom on 21 January 304, aged 12 or 13. Her high-ranking suitors, slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, sought to persecute her for her beliefs. Her father urged her to deny God, but she refused, and she was dragged naked through the streets to a brothel, then tried and sentenced to death. She was eventually beheaded, after attempts for her to be burnt at the stake failed. A few days after her death, her foster-sister Emerentiana was found praying by her tomb, and was stoned to death.

An early account of Agnes, stressing her young age, steadfastness and virginity was written by the 4th-century theologian, St Ambrose. Since the Middle Ages, she has traditionally been depicted as a young girl with her long hair with a lamb (the symbol of her virginal innocence and her name), a sword, and a palm branch (an attribute of her martyrdom). Her bones are beneath the high altar of the church built over her tomb in Rome. Her skull is preserved in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, Rome.

Biography

According to tradition, Agnes was born in 291 into Roman nobility, and raised as a Christian. She suffered martyrdom on 21 January 304, aged 12 or 13, and during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian.[3][4] A beautiful young girl, Agnes had many suitors who were young men of high rank. Slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, they submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.[5][6] One of them, a man named Procop, brought Agnes to his father, who was the local governor. He urged Agnes to deny God, but she refused.[7]

The Prefect Sempronius condemned Agnes to be dragged naked through the streets to a brothel. In one account, as she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body.[8] It was also said that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind. The son of the prefect was struck dead but revived after she prayed for him, causing her release. At the start of Agnes's trial, Sempronius recused himself, and another figure presided. After Agnes was sentenced to death, she was led out and bound to a stake to be burned, but the bundle of wood would not burn, or the flames parted away from her. The officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her—or, in other texts, stabbed her in the throat. It is said that when her blood poured to the stadium floor, other Christians soaked it up with cloths.[9]

Agnes depicted on the medieval Royal Gold Cup in the British Museum

Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome.[5] A few days after her death, her foster-sister, Emerentiana, was found praying by the tomb. Emerentiana claimed to be the daughter of Agnes's wet nurse. She was stoned to death after refusing to leave the place and reprimanding the people for killing her foster-sister. Emerentiana was also later canonized. The daughter of Constantine I, Constantina, was said to have been cured of leprosy after praying at Agnes's tomb. She and Emerentiana appear in the scenes from the life of Agnes on the 14th-century Royal Gold Cup in the British Museum in London.[citation needed]

An early account of Agnes' death, stressing her young age, steadfastness and virginity, but not the legendary features of the tradition, is given by the 4th-century theologian, Ambrose.[3]

The broader social circumstances of her martyrdom are believed to be largely authentic, though the legend cannot be proven true, and many details of the 5th-century Acts of Saint Agnes have been challenged.[10] A church was built over her tomb, and her relics venerated.[11]

Veneration

Agnes was venerated as a saint at least as early as the time of St Ambrose, based on an existing homily. She is commemorated in the Depositio Martyrum of Filocalus (354) and in the early Roman Sacramentaries.[6]

Saint Agnes' bones are conserved beneath the high altar in the church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura in Rome,[12] built over the catacomb that housed her tomb. Her skull is preserved in a separate chapel in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Rome's Piazza Navona.

Agnes is remembered in the Anglican Communion with a Lesser Festival on 21 January.[13][14][15]

St Agnes is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Churches.[16]

Patronage

Santa Inés, Guarino, 1650

Because of the legend around her martyrdom, Saint Agnes is patron saint of those seeking chastity and purity.[11] She is also the patron saint of young girls and girl scouts. Folk custom called for them to practise rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands. This superstition has been immortalised in John Keats's poem The Eve of Saint Agnes.[17]

Iconography

Since the Middle Ages, Saint Agnes has traditionally been depicted as a young girl with her long hair down, with a lamb, the symbol of both her virginal innocence[18] and her name, and a sword (together with the palm branch an attribute of her martyrdom). The lamb, which is agnus in the Latin language, is also the linguistic link to the traditional blessing of lambs.[19] Saint Agnes has been depicted with a lamb since the 4th century.[20][21]

Blessing of the lambs

On the feast of Saint Agnes, two lambs are traditionally brought from the Trappist abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome to be blessed by the Pope. In summer, the lambs are shorn, and the wool is used to weave the pallia, which the Pope gives on the feast of Saint Peter and Paul to the newly appointed metropolitan archbishops as a sign of his jurisdiction and their union with the pope.[5][22][23] This tradition of the blessing of the lambs has been known since the 16th century.[24]

Notable churches

The relic of the skull of Saint Agnes in Sant'Agnese in Agone, Rome

Legacy

The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes is a Roman Catholic religious community for women based in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, US. It was founded in 1858, by Father Caspar Rehrl, an Austrian missionary, who established the sisterhood of pioneer women under the patronage of Agnes, to whom he had a particular devotion.

St. Agnes vs Rome

The city of Santa Ynez, California is named after her.

Cultural references

Hrotsvitha, the 10th-century nun and poet, wrote a heroic poem about Agnes.[28]

In the historical novel Fabiola or, the Church of the Catacombs, written by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman in 1854, Agnes is the soft-spoken teenage cousin and confidant of the protagonist, the beautiful noblewoman Fabiola.[29]

The Eve of St. Agnes is a Romantic narrative poem written by John Keats in 1819.

The instrumental song "Saint Agnes and the Burning Train" appears on the 1991 album The Soul Cages by Sting.

The song "Bear's Vision of St. Agnes" appears on the 2012 album Ten Stories by rock band mewithoutYou.

The St. Agnes Library is a branch of the New York Public Library located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, on Amsterdam Avenue between West 81st and West 82nd Streets.[30]

References

  1. ^ February 3 / January 21. https://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/htc/orthodox-calendar/
  2. ^ admin (2024-01-17). "Saint Agnes of Rome". Understanding Faith. Retrieved 2024-04-14.
  3. ^ a b "NPNF210. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters – Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Ccel.org. 2005-06-01. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  4. ^ "Our Patroness: St. Agnes the Martyr". St. Agnes Parish. Retrieved 2024-04-12.
  5. ^ a b c "St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr". St. Agnes Cathedral. Archived from the original on 2015-01-21. Retrieved 2013-04-24.
  6. ^ a b "Duffy, Patrick. "Jan 21 – St Agnes (d. 305) martyr", Catholic Ireland, 21 January 2012".
  7. ^ "Our Patroness: St. Agnes the Martyr". St. Agnes Parish. Retrieved 2024-04-12.
  8. ^ "St. Agnes of Rome". Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
  9. ^ "Saint Agnes of Rome, Virgin and Martyr". Learn Religions. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Monks of Ramsgate. "Agnes". Book of Saints, 1921. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 May 2012".
  11. ^ a b ""St. Agnes", Faith ND, University of Notre Dame".
  12. ^ ""Virginmartyr Agnes of Rome", Orthodox Church in America".
  13. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 2021-03-27.
  14. ^ "For All the Saints / For All the Saints - A Resource for the Commemorations of the Calendar / Worship Resources/ Karakia/ ANZPB-HKMOA / Resources / Home - Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia". www.anglican.org.nz. Retrieved 2021-03-27.
  15. ^ "Agnes and Cecilia of Rome". The Episcopal Church. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  16. ^ admin (2024-01-17). "Saint Agnes of Rome". Understanding Faith. Retrieved 2024-04-14.
  17. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Agnes, Saint". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 377.
  18. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Agnes of Rome".
  19. ^ "Why is St. Agnes depicted with a lamb?". Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture. 2023-01-20. Retrieved 2024-04-12.
  20. ^ "Why is St. Agnes depicted with a lamb?". Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture. 2023-01-20. Retrieved 2024-04-12.
  21. ^ "St Agnes, Little Lamb of the Lord". Missionaries of Divine Revelation. 2015-08-07. Retrieved 2024-04-12.
  22. ^ "Pope modifies and enriches Pallium Investiture Ceremony". Vatican Radio. January 29, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  23. ^ "Pope Francis celebrates Saint Agnes with blessing of lambs".
  24. ^ "Blessing of lambs a 500 year old tradition, priest reveals".
  25. ^ ""History", St. Agnes Cathedral". Archived from the original on 2018-09-13. Retrieved 2019-01-29.
  26. ^ "Church of St Agnes, English Heritage National Monuments".
  27. ^ Pacenti, John (2023-06-19). "St. Agnes pastor to critics: "We are building to leave a legacy". Key Biscayne Independent. Retrieved 2024-04-12.
  28. ^ "The non-dramatic works of Hrosvitha : Text, translation, and commentary". 1936.
  29. ^ Librivox. "LibriVox". librivox.org. Retrieved 2018-03-16.
  30. ^ "St. Agnes Library".

Further reading