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
Honored 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; Children of Mary; Colegio Capranica of Rome; crops; gardeners; Girl Guides; girls; rape victims; virgins; the diocese of Rockville Centre, New York

Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c. 304) is a virginmartyr, 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. She is the patron saint of chastity, gardeners, girls, engaged couples, rape victims, and virgins.

She is also known as Saint Agnes and Saint Ines. Her memorial, which commemorates her martyrdom, is 21 January in both the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and in the General Roman Calendar of 1962.1 The 1962 calendar includes a second feast on 28 January, which commemorates her birthday. Agnes is depicted in art with a lamb, as her name resembles the Latin word for "lamb", agnus. The name "Agnes" is actually derived from the feminine Greek adjective "hagnē" (ἁγνή) meaning "chaste, pure, sacred".

Biography

According to tradition, Saint Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility born c. 291 and raised in a Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve2 or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, on 21 January 304.

Agnes, whose name means “chaste” in Greek, was a beautiful young girl of wealthy family and therefore had many suitors of high rank. Details of her story are unreliable, but legend holds that the young men, slighted by Agnes' resolute devotion to religious purity, submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.3

The Prefect Sempronius condemned her to be dragged naked through the streets to a brothel. Various versions of the legend give different methods of escape from this predicament. In one, as she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body.4 It was also said that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind. In another the son of the prefect is struck dead, but revived after Agnes prayed for him, causing her release. There is then a trial from which Sempronius excuses himself, and another figure presides, sentencing her to death. When led out to die she was tied 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 the blood of Agnes poured to the stadium floor where other Christians soaked up the blood with cloths.

Agnes depicted on the Royal Gold Cup

Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome.3 A few days after Agnes' death, her foster-sister, Saint 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 canonized. The daughter of Constantine I, Saint Constance, was also said to have been cured of leprosy after praying at Agnes' tomb. Emerentiana and Constance 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 steadfastness and virginity, but not the legendary features of the tradition, is given by Saint Ambrose.2

Veneration

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

Patronage

Saint Agnes is 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".

Santa Inés, Guarino, 1650.

Churches

  • Sant'Agnese in Agone
  • Sant'Agnese fuori le mura
  • Church of St Agnes, Cornwall, England
  • St. Agnes' Church, New York City
  • Mission Santa Inés, Solvang, California
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, San Francisco, California
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, San Diego, California
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Charleston, West Virginia
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • St. Agnes Parish, Roeland Park, Kansas
  • St. Agnes Parish, Springfield, Illinois
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Hubbard, Oregon
  • St. Agnes Church, Little Village, Chicago, Illinois
  • St. Agnes Anglican Parish, Grants Town, New Providence
  • Parish of St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, NY
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church (Our Lady of Hope Parish), Blackwood, New Jersey
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Concord, California
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Morrisdale, Pennsylvania
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Phoenix, Arizona
  • St. Agnes Parish Almar, Caloocan Philippines
  • St. Agnes Mission, Mirando City, Texas

* St. Agnes Anglican Church, Kloof, South Africa

Schools

  • St. Agnes Catholic School, Roeland Park, Kansas
  • St. Agnes Catholic Grade School, Charleston, West Virginia
  • St. Agnes Catholic School, Springfield, Illinois
  • St. Agnes Elementary School, Ft. Wright, Kentucky
  • St. Agnes Convent School - Mumbai - India
  • St. Agnes Convent School - Howrah - India
  • St. Agnes Academy- Legazpi City, Albay, Philippines
  • St. Agnes Academy - Houston, Texas
  • St Agnes Catholic Grade School, Louisville, Ky
  • St. Agnes Cathedral School, Rockville Centre, NY
  • St. Agnes Girl's School, Balangoda, Sri Lanka.
  • St. Agnes Catholic School, Los Angeles, CA
  • St. Agnes Catholic Elementary School, Phoenix, AZ
  • St. Agnes School, Concord, CA
  • St. Agnes School, Kharagpur, West Bengal, India
  • St. Agnes School, Towanda, Pennsylvania
  • St. Agnes School, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, Philippines

Legacy

The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes is a Roman Catholic religious community for women based in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It was founded in 1858, by Father Caspar Rehrl, an Austrian missionary, who established the sisterhood of pioneer women under the patronage of St. Agnes of Rome, 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 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.3

Iconography

Since the Middle Ages, Saint Agnes has been represented with a lamb, both the symbol of her virginal innocence and a pun on her name.5 She is also represented as a young girl in robes, holding a palm branch in her hand with a lamb at her feet or in her arms.

In popular culture

Hrotsvitha, the tenth-century nun and poetess, wrote a play the subject of which was Saint Agnes. Grace Andreacchi wrote a play based on the legends surrounding the martyrdom of Saint Agnes.

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.

Gallery

References

See also

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