St. Agnes of Rome Famous wood Sculptures. Agnes was born in Rome in the third century to Christian parents from an illustrious patrician family. When she was still twelve years old, a persecution broke out and many of the faithful abandoned themselves to defection. Agnes, who had decided to offer her virginity to the Lord, was denounced as a Christian by the son of the prefect of Rome, who had fallen in love with her but rejected her. She was exposed naked to the Circus Agonalus, near what is now Piazza Navona. A man who tried to approach her fell dead before he could touch her and was miraculously rescued by the intercession of the saint. Thrown into the fire, this was extinguished for his prayers, was then pierced with a sword to the throat, in the way they killed the lambs. For this reason, in the iconography is often represented with a sheep or a lamb, symbols of candor and sacrifice. The date of her death is not certain, someone places it between 249 and 251 during the persecution wanted by the emperor Decius, others in 304 during the persecution of Diocletian.
Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr, who, while still a young girl, gave the supreme testimony of faith in Rome and consecrated with martyrdom the fame of her chastity; she won, in this way, both her tender age and the tyrant, acquiring a vast admiration among the people and obtaining from God an even greater glory; on this day we celebrate the deposition of her body.
On this day, January 21, the Roman liturgical calendar commemorates the Blessed Virgin Agnes, whose antiquity of worship in the Latin Church is attested by the presence of her name in the Roman Canon (today's Eucharistic Prayer I), alongside those of other famous martyrs: Lucy, Cecilia, Agatha, Anastasia, Perpetua and Felicita.
Nothing is known about the family of origin of St. Agnes, a popular Roman martyr. The word "Agnes", a translation of the Greek adjective "pure" or "chaste", was perhaps used symbolically as a nickname to express her qualities. She lived at a time when it was illegal to profess the Christian faith in public. According to the opinion of some historians Agnes would have shed blood on January 21 of an unspecified year, during the persecution of Valerian (258-260), but according to others, in all probability this would have happened during the persecution of Diocletian in 304. During the persecution perpetrated by Emperor Diocletian, in fact, Christians were killed in such large numbers that they deserved the name of "era of the martyrs" and suffered all sorts of torture.
Little Agnes also suffered one of the many atrocious punishments devised by her persecutors. Her legendary Passion, falsely attributed to the Milanese Saint Ambrose, being posterior to the V century has therefore little historical authority. We find news of the virgin saint, albeit vague and discordant, in the "Depositio Martyrum" of 336, the oldest calendar of the Roman Church, in the Carthaginian martyrology of the sixth century, in "De Virginibus" of St. Ambrose in 377, in the ode 14 of "Peristefhanòn" of the Spanish poet Prudentius and finally in a poem of Pope St. Damasus, still preserved in the original tombstone walled in the Roman basilica of St. Agnes outside the walls. From the combination of all these numerous data we can deduce that Agnes was put to death for her strong faith and her innate modesty at the age of thirteen years, perhaps by decapitation as claimed by Ambrose and Prudentius, or by fire, according to St. Damasus. The Ambrosian hymn "Agnes beatae virginia" highlights the care taken by the saint in covering her virginal body with her clothes and her candid face with her hand while she collapsed to the ground, while the tradition reported by Damasus wants her to cover herself with her abundant hair. The martyrdom of St. Agnes is also related to her purpose of virginity. The Passion and Prudentius add the episode of the exposure of the girl by order of the judge in a brothel, from which she came out miraculously untouched.
The story of the little martyr's relics is also very complex: her body was buried in the gallery of a Christian cemetery on the left side of the Via Nomentana. Later on, her tomb Constantina, daughter of Constantine the Great, built a small basilica in thanksgiving for her healing and at her death she wanted to be buried near the tomb. Next to the basilica was built one of the first Roman monasteries of consecrated virgins and was repeatedly renovated and expanded. The adjacent cemetery was discovered and explored methodically from 1865. The skull of the holy martyr was placed from the ninth century in the "Sancta Sanctorum", the papal chapel of the Lateran, to be then moved by Pope Leo XIII in the church of S. Agnes in Agone, which stands on the alleged site of the brothel where she was exposed. The rest of her body rests instead in the basilica of Saint Agnes out of the walls in a silver urn commissioned by Paul V.
Etymology: Agnes = pure, chaste, from Greek
Emblem: Lamb, Lily, Palm
Recurrence: January 21
Rome, end of the III century, or beginning IV