Tradition tells us that St. Agnes was born circa 290 A.D. to a wealthy family of nobility in Rome. Her family believed in Christ and introduced Agnes to the truth of the Christian faith. Her name, Agnes, comes from the Greek, meaning “chaste, pure and sacred.” It is believed that Agnes died in the last wave of Christian persecutions that took place in the Roman Empire by Diocletian in 304 A.D.
Agnes was young (probably about 12 or 13 years of age) and very beautiful. Her parents hoped that she would marry. However, Agnes had promised herself to God and desired to give her purity as a gift back to the Lord. She turned down numerous offers always with the same response, “Jesus Christ is my only Spouse.” The governor’s son tried to win Agnes over with gifts and empty promises. But she responded by saying, “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!” When the governor’s son brought Agnes to his father, the official attempted to convince Agnes to deny the Lord and change her mind about refusing his son. He first tried bribery and then, when that didn’t work, put her in chains and sent her to a brothel in hopes of staining her purity. The men Agnes encountered at the brothel were in awe of her purity and presence. When a young man looked lustfully at her and attempted to violate her, God sent an angel to protect Agnes, and the young man was struck blind. Agnes, moved with compassion, healed the young man with prayer.
“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!”
Unfortunately, there’s no accurate account detailing Agnes’s martyrdom. Some say she went unshackled to her death because the irons were too large for her wrists. Others say that she was ordered to be dragged through the streets naked, and at the order, her hair immediately grew to cover and protect her body. It is unclear as to how Agnes was killed or how her persecutors carried out her death, but it is believed her last words were “It is wrong for the bride to keep the bridegroom waiting. He who chose me first shall be the only one to have me. What are you waiting for, Executioner? Destroy this body, for unwanted eyes desire it.”
Since Agnes was of Roman Nobility, her body was not thrown into the Tiber River after her death. Instead she was buried in a cemetery on land owned by her parents. In the years that followed her death, people traveled to visit and pray at her grave. Today, Agnes’s bones can be found beneath the high altar in the Church on Sant’Angese fuori le mura, which was built over the catacomb that held her tomb. Her skull is found in Sant’Angese in Agone in Rome’s Piazza Navona.
Feast Day: January 21st
This reflection was written by Laura Blancato, a GIVEN ’16 Alumna from Orlando, FL. Laura has a Masters Degree from the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Miami (Go Canes!). Laura recently jumped into education and teaches middle school religion at a small Catholic school in Florida. When she isn’t in the classroom, you can find Laura on the beach, reading a good book or watching Gilmore Girls. Her favorite saint is St. John Paul II, and she strives to live each day authentically and for the Lord.