Agnes of Rome

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Saint Agnes
2872-saint-agnes-domenichino.jpg
Saint Agnes by Domenichino
Virgin and Martyr
Born c. 291
Died c. 304
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic Churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Anglican Communion, Lutheranism
Canonized Pre-congregation
Major shrine Church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura and the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, both in Rome
Feast 21 January; before Pope John XXIII revised the calendar, there was a second feast on January 28
Attributes a lamb, martyr's palm
Patronage Betrothed couples; chastity and virgins; Children of Mary; Colegio Capranica of Rome; gardeners; Girl Guides; the diocese of Rockville Centre, New York; the city of Fresno.

Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c. 304) is a virgin martyr, venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism. She is one of seven women who, along with the Blessed Virgin, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Agnes is depicted in art with a lamb, a pun on her name based on the Latin word for "lamb", agnus (the given name is Greek, from hagnē ἁγνή "chaste, pure"). She is also shown with a martyr's palm. She is the patron saint of chastity and virgins, as well as gardeners.[citation needed]

Agnes' feast day is 21 January. In pre-1970 versions of the General Roman Calendar an additional feast of the same saint is given one week later, on 28 January (see Tridentine Calendar). The 1969 revision removed this as a duplication of the 21 January feast.[1]

Biography[edit]

The legend cannot be proven true, and many details of the fifth century Acts of Saint Agnes are open to criticism likely full of elaboration, though substantially the circumstances of her martyrdom are authentic.[2] Archaeological evidence indicates that a young girl of about thirteen years of age, a virgin named Agnes, was martyred in Rome and honoured for her sacrifice. A church was built over her tomb, and her relics venerated.[3]

The details of her story are unreliable, but according to tradition, Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility, born in AD 291 and raised in an early Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve[4] or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, on 21 January 304.

A beautiful young girl of wealthy family, Agnes had many suitors of high rank, and the young men, slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.[5]

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.[6] It was also said that all of the men that attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind. The son of the prefect is struck dead, but revived after she prayed for him, causing her release. There is then a trial from which Sempronius recuses himself, and another figure presides, sentencing her to death. She was led out and bound to a stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn, or the flames parted away from her, whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her, or, in some other texts, stabbed her in the throat. It is also said that her blood poured to the stadium floor where other Christians soaked it up with cloths.

Agnes depicted on the Royal Gold Cup

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

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

Veneration[edit]

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.[7]

Agnes' bones are conserved beneath the high altar in the church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura in Rome,[8] 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.

According to Robert Ellsberg, in his book Blessed among all women: women saints prophets and witnesses for our time,

In the story of Agnes the opposition is not between sex and virginity. The conflict is between a young woman’s power in Christ to define her own identity versus a patriarchal culture’s claim to identify her in terms of her sexuality. According to the view shared by her “suitors” and the state, if she would not be one man’s wife, she might as well be every man’s whore. Failing these options, she might as well be dead. Agnes did not choose death. She chose not to worship the gods of her culture. ...Espoused to Christ, she was beyond the power of any man to ‘have his way with her’. ‘Virgin’ in this case is another way of saying Free Woman.[9]

Her feast day is 21 January.

Patronage[edit]

Because of the legend around her martyrdom, she is patron saint of those seeking chastity and purity.[3]

Agnes is also the patron saint of young girls. 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.[10]

Santa Inés, Guarino, 1650.

Iconography[edit]

Since the Middle Ages, Agnes has traditionally been depicted as a young girl in robes, with a lamb, the symbol of her virginal innocence,[11] and often, like many other martyrs, with a palm branch.

Churches[edit]

The purported skull of Saint Agnes, as displayed in the Sant'Agnese in Agone church in Rome

Schools[edit]

Legacy[edit]

The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes is a Roman Catholic religious community for women based in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, USA. 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.

It is customary on her feast day for two lambs to be brought from the Trappist abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome to the Sant'Agnese in Agone church to be blessed by the Pope. On Holy Thursday they are shorn, and from the wool is woven the pallium which the pope gives to a newly consecrated metropolitan archbishop as a sign of his jurisdiction and his union with the pope.[5][22]

In popular culture[edit]

Hrotsvitha, the tenth-century nun and poet, wrote a heroic poem about Agnes. Grace Andreacchi wrote a play based on the legends surrounding Agnes's martyrdom.[citation needed]

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.[23]

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

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), p. 114
  2. ^ Monks of Ramsgate. “Agnes”. Book of Saints, 1921. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 May 2012
  3. ^ a b "St. Agnes", Faith ND, University of Notre Dame
  4. ^ a b "NPNF210. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters – Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Ccel.org. 2005-06-01. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  5. ^ a b c "St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr". St. Agnes Cathedral.
  6. ^ "St. Agnes of Rome". Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
  7. ^ Duffy, Patrick. "Jan 21 – St Agnes (d. 305) martyr", Catholic Ireland, 21 January 2012
  8. ^ "Virginmartyr Agnes of Rome", Orthodox Church in America
  9. ^ Ellsberg, Robert. ''Blessed among all women: women saints prophets and witnesses for our time, Crossroad Publishing Company, 2007, ISBN 9780824524395
  10. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Agnes, Saint". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 377.
  11. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Agnes of Rome".
  12. ^ Church of the Ascension and St Agnes, Washington, DC
  13. ^ Church of St Agnes, English Heritage National Monuments
  14. ^ Lafort, Remigius. The Catholic Church in the United States of America, Vol. 3: (New York City: The Catholic Editing Company, 1914), p.307-308
  15. ^ St. Agnes Church, Woodmont, Connecticut
  16. ^ "Saint Agnes Catholic Church, Nashville, Indiana (Brown County, Indiana)".
  17. ^ "Arch. Lwanga Consecrates Sh1.51b Church". www.newvision.co.ug.
  18. ^ "Parròquia de Santa Agnès de Barcelona".
  19. ^ St Agnes Parish
  20. ^ Sint-Agneskerk
  21. ^ St Stephen & St Agnes Church
  22. ^ "Pope modifies and enriches Pallium Investiture Ceremony". Vatican Radio. January 29, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  23. ^ Librivox. "LibriVox". librivox.org. Retrieved 2018-03-16.

External links[edit]