Almost nothing is known of this saint except that she was very young—12 or 13—when she was martyred in the last half of the third century. Various modes of death have been suggested—beheading, burning, strangling.
Legend has it that Agnes was a beautiful girl whom many young men wanted to marry. Among those she refused, one reported her to the authorities for being a Christian. She was arrested and confined to a house of prostitution. The legend continues that a man who looked upon her lustfully lost his sight and had it restored by her prayer. Agnes was condemned, executed and buried near Rome in a catacomb that eventually was named after her. The daughter of Constantine built a basilica in her honor.
January 21 – St. Agnes – THE STORY OF SAINT AGNES OF ROME OF ROME :
A long time ago in the year 291, a little girl named Agnes was born into a wealthy Roman family. Agnes’ name means “chaste”, “pure” and “sacred” in Greek, and in Latin the word “Agnus” means “lamb”.
At the time of Agnes birth, Rome was under the rule of Emperor Diocletian. He was the last of the Roman Emperor’s to order the persecutions of Christians, because the Romans were pagans who worshiped and offered sacrifices to many gods.
Agnes was a Christian. She was a pretty girl who had many suitors. When she was 13 years old, the Prefect or Governor’s son Procop wanted to marry her. This was not too young for a girl to marry in those times. She refused, saying she was “married to God” (meaning she had taken a vow to stay pure and chaste to belong to God). He tried to persuade her with jewels and riches, and still she refused, saying she was saving herself for
God and would not get married. He became angry and turned her in for being a Christian.
Because of her age, the Governor and his people thought they could just tell her to worship their pagan gods and that would be it. Agnes refused, stating again that she would stay faithful and pure for her God. Then they tried to scare her by saying they would torture her.
They took her to the place where they prayed and offered sacrifices to their pagan gods and tried to make her pray to them. All she did was make the sign of the cross. The Governor ordered her death even though it was against the law to execute young girls.
Agnes was supposed to be burnt at the stake in the public square, to be a lesson to all, that Christianity would not be tolerated. Agnes was calm, and continued to pray. When they took her clothes off to burn her, her hair grew long and covered her, protecting her modesty. One man that tried to look at her was struck blind. Agnes forgave him and he later got his sight back.
She was tied to the stake. When they lit the fire the flames would not burn her. Nobody could believe it. Some say she was be-headed, and some say they stabbed her with a sword. They say the executioner was pale and shaking, but she was calm and peaceful. She died a martyr on January 21st , 304, at the age of 13, pure and faithful to God.
Instead of scaring off people who were Christians, this actually shocked the Romans and started them thinking about Christianity. They wondered why their own government was so worried about Christianity that they would kill a beautiful young girl. The government said it was because she did not follow the law, but their law also said that they should not murder young pure girls. This got the Roman people to thinking that maybe
there was something to this religion if such a young girl would readily give up her life for it. Agnes was buried near her family’s home in Rome.
Agnes became a famous Christian martyr in the early Church. Soon Christianity replaced the pagan gods of Rome. The first Roman Christian Emperor was Constantine, who took his daughter to St Agnes burial place and had her baptized there. There is a legend that says that she later suffered from leprosy and was cured after praying at St. Agnes’ grave.
Constantine the Great enlarged the modest chapel that had been built when Christianity was first permitted. He built a big shrine called “The Basilica of St. Agnes” over her grave in Rome. There are many relics and beautiful mosaics there. Her skull is encased in gold just below the altar.
St Agnes is the patron saint for many, including young girls, Girl Scouts, chastity, engaged couples and gardeners or crops. She is usually shown with long flowing hair and with a lamb, because of her innocence, a palm, showing she was a martyr, and white flowers symbolizing her purity. Although she has been a favorite saint from the beginning, she was not officially canonized until 1951.
There are many legends and customs about St. Agnes regarding finding a husband. This is probably due to her refusing suitors. It is said if you go to bed hungry on the eve of her feast day you will dream of your future husband. There were superstitions that also said to eat salt so your suitor would show up in your dreams with water or to walk backwards to bed, not to hug anyone that day, be silent, say a prayer to St. Agnes, put a sprig of rosemary by your bed and the list goes on. There was ever a famous poem written by Keats called
“The Eve of St Agnes”.
The way the Church celebrates St. Agnes’s feast day is rich in symbolism and tradition. Every year in Rome at the Basilica of St. Agnes, two lambs are brought in that have been raised by the Trappist monks. They are brought in baskets decorated with red (symbol of martyrdom) and white (for purity). They are blessed by the Pope in a formal ceremony and then taken to the Convent of St Cecilia, where the sisters care for them until Holy Thursday, when they are shorn. This wool is used to make palliums which are worn by the Pope and
Archbishops. The Pope gives them to the new Archbishops on June 29th , the feast of SS. Peter and Paul. Then the lambs are slaughtered and the meat is used for their Easter Sunday dinner.
St Agnes is a great Saint and role model for us. As Girl Scouts we pray that we can strive to remain faithful to God even when there might be pressures not to be good Christians.