Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
During the Christmas season from December 24th until the Sunday after Epiphany, we reflect upon the mystery of love that is made visible in the birth and early childhood of Christ.
Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, c. 291-304
As is the case with many of the early saints, much of what we know about Agnes is based on legend. What is generally agreed upon is that Agnes was a young girl when she died (thirteen years of age according to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine). She was a very beautiful girl and of a wealthy Roman family. Agnes was sought after by many young men in Rome, but she resolved at an early age to consecrate her virginity to God.
One of Agnes’ spurned suitors denounced her to the governor as a Christian during the persecution by Emperor Diocletian. The governor, first by gentle persuasion and then by a display of instruments of torture, tried to induce Agnes to give up her faith. When that failed, he condemned her to a house of prostitution. Her saintly bearing deterred all of the men who approached her except one. Legend tells us that he was struck blind. His friends, terrified, carried him to Agnes who, by prayer, restored his sight and health.
The governor then sentenced Agnes to death. The stories vary on whether she was beheaded, burned, or stabbed, but all agree that Agnes was martyred. Her body was buried a short distance from Rome on the Nomentan Road. At this spot, in the year 354, a basilica was erected in her honor by Constantina, the daughter of Emperor Constantine.
St. Agnes (her name is derived from the Greek word for “pure”) has become the great Christian symbol of virginal innocence. She is honored by mention in the Mass and is the patron of the children of Mary and of young girls. A memorial to this saint is celebrated on January 21.
Agnes' message today: Agnes dedicated herself to God. None of the threats or the prospect of death could turn her from this course. Like many martyrs, indeed, like Jesus himself, Agnes prayed for her persecutors.