SAINT AGNES OF ROME (c.291-c.304), virgin and martyr – Patroness of chastity, betrothed couples, rape victims, virgins and young girls
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Agnes, a young Roman girl who chose martyrdom over giving up her virginity in marriage, for she knew she was forever espoused to the Divine Bridegroom.
In her youth, Agnes took a vow that she would never blemish her purity. She often said, “Jesus Christ is my only Spouse.” However, she was also very beautiful and many young men were drawn to her in the hopes of marrying her. She would have none of them, however, as she knew her happiness was to be found elsewhere.
Legend has it that, during the Christian persecutions under the Roman emperor, Diocletian, trouble arose when the son of a Roman governor fell in love with Agnes. He tried to win her as his wife by giving her extravagant gifts and making many promises.
However, Agnes loved God above all things and no earthly gift could sway her. She told him, “I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!” Filled with anger, he denounced Agnes as a Christian.
Legend continues to tell us that Agnes was dragged before the governor who tried to persuade her to change her mind; however, she remained unwavering in her resolve. He then had her bound with chains, but to no avail. Not wanting to kill her while she was a virgin, he had her dragged through the streets to a brothel. However, tradition tells us that any man who tried to rape her was struck blind.
Standing before her executioner, Saint Ambrose tells us in a treatise he wrote On Virgins that Agnes declared, “To hope that any other will please me does wrong to my Spouse. I will be His who first chose me for Himself. Executioner, why do you delay? If eyes that I do not want can desire this body, then let it perish.”
Saint Ambrose continues to write that Agnes prayed, and, standing still, she offered herself to the sword. Her body was buried near Rome in a catacomb that was eventually named after her. Through the efforts of Constantina, the daughter of the Emperor Constantine, a basilica was erected in Saint Agnes’ honor over her grave in the fourth century.
Saint Agnes was only 12 or 13 years old when she died, preserving her virginity and gaining for herself the martyr’s crown about the year 304. Since the Middle Ages, she has been represented with a lamb, the symbol of her virginal innocence. On her feastday, two lambs are solemnly blessed, and from their wool are made the palliums, a circular stole of white wool which the pope wears and also confers on archbishops to be worn in their respective jurisdictions.
Listed in the Roman Martyrology, we commemorate Saint Agnes’ feastday on January 21.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, newadvent.org and the Roman Breviary)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Agnes)
“Almighty, Eternal God, You chose what the world considers weak to put the worldly power to shame. May we who celebrate the birth of Saint Agnes into eternal joy be loyal to the faith she professed.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”