Today is the memorial of St. Agnes, virgin and martyr.
St. Agnes was born in Rome during the beginning of the third century. She was brought up as a Christian and grew to be a very beautiful young woman. By the age of twelve, Agnes was already receiving suitors for her hand in marriage. And already by the age of twelve, Agnes had developed a deep spirituality that directed her to devote her life to God as a consecrated virgin.
Several of the suitors who Agnes turned away became bitter at her and turned her in to the authorities as a Christian. The political atmosphere at the time was very charged, and the Diocletian persecution was well under way. Agnes was arrested and thrown into a house of prostitution to await her death. All who came to look lustfully upon Agnes lost their sight, but many had their sight restored by her intercessory prayers. At last Agnes was sentenced to death. Her body was taken away and buried in a catacomb that later came to bear her name.
Under the reign of the Emperor Constantine, a basilica was built in her honor near her tomb. For centuries, two lambs have been brought to the church and blessed every year. The lambs are then reared in a cloister. When they have grown into sheep, their wool is used to make ‘palliums’ which are special stoles the Pope sends to archbishops to wear on their shoulders as symbols of the sheep carried by the Good Shepherd.
St. Agnes, whose name means both purity and lamb is the patron of Christian virtue confronted by political and social violence and her life was commented on by many of her contemporaries.
“This is a virgin’s birthday; let us follow the example of her chastity. It is a martyr’s birthday; let us offer sacrifices; it is the birthday of holy Agnes: let men be filled with wonder, little ones with hope, married woman with awe, and the unmarried with emulation. It seems to me that this child, holy beyond her years and courageous beyond human nature, received the name of Agnes (Greek: pure) not as an earthly designation but as a revelation from God of what she was to be.”
~ St. Augustine
“Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve.”
~ St. Ambrose
“All nations, especially their Christian communities, praise in word and writing the life of St. Agnes. She triumphed over her tender age as well as over the merciless tyrant. To the crown of spotless innocence she added the glory of martyrdom.”
~ St. Jerome
Patron: Affianced couples; betrothed couples; bodily purity; chastity; Children of Mary; Colegio Capranica of Rome; crops; engaged couples; gardeners; Girl Scouts; girls; rape victims; diocese of Rockville Centre, New York; virgins.
Symbols: Lamb; woman with long hair and a lamb, sometimes with a sword at her throat; woman with a dove which holds a ring in its beak; woman with a lamb at her side.
Prayer to St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
O Little St. Agnes, so young and yet made so strong and wise by the power of God, protect by your prayers all the young people of every place whose goodness and purity are threatened by the evils and impurities of this world.
Give them strength in temptation and a true repentance when they fail. Help them to find true Christian friends to accompany them in following the Lamb of God and finding safe pastures in His Church and in her holy sacraments.
May you lead us to the wedding banquet of heaven to rejoice with you and all the holy virgin martyrs in Christ who lives and reigns forever and ever.