St. Agnes Virgin and Martyr of Rome

St. Agnes of Rome was born in 291 AD and raised in a Christian family. Agnes was very beautiful and belonged to a wealthy family. Her hand in marriage was highly sought after, and she had many high ranking men chasing after her. However, Agnes made a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the Lord was great and she hated sin even more than death!

Whenever a man wished to marry Agnes, she would always say, “Jesus Christ is my only Spouse.”According to legend, the young men she turned away became so angry and insulted by her devotion to God and purity that they began to submit her name to authorities as a Christian follower.

In one incident, Procop, the Governor’s son, became very angry when she refused him. He tried to win her for his wife with rich gifts and promises, but the beautiful young girl kept 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!”

In great anger, Procop accused her of being a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor promised Agnes wonderful gifts if she would only deny God, but Agnes refused. He tried to change her mind by putting her in chains, but her lovely face shone with joy.

Next he sent her to a place of sin, but an Angel protected her. At last, she was condemned to death. Even the pagans cried to see such a young and beautiful girl going to death. Yet, Agnes was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. She did not pay attention to those who begged her to save herself. “I would offend my Spouse,” she said, “if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!” Then she prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword.

The Saint is buried by her parents in praediolo suo, on their property along the Via Nomentana, where there was already a cemetery. This cemetery expanded rapidly after that, because many wanted to be buried near the tomb of the famous martyr. Constantina, the daughter of the Emperor Constantine, constructed a basilica over her tomb over the period of several years from AD 337. This Basilica of St. Agnes was reconstructed towards the end of the 5th century by Pope Symmachus (died 514 AD), and Pope Honorius I (died 638 AD) rebuilt it as a Basilica with three naves, adding a wonderful fresco of St Agnes. This is essentially the Church you see today when you visit the Basilica of St Agnes outside the Walls, which has been called one of the best kept secrets of Rome. The remains of St. Agnes, minus the head, are still there, kept in a beautiful silver sarcophagus provided by Pope Pius V. Also venerated there are the remains of St. Emerentina, the “milk-sister” of St. Agnes, or in other manuscripts described as her maid, who was stoned to death when she was discovered praying at the tomb of St. Agnes. St. Agnes skull is now at the supposed site of her martyrdom, in the Church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone, in the Piazza Navona. There in the heart of modern Rome is a fitting place to venerate a saint so much in the hearts of the people of Rome today.

St. Agnes is widely known as the patron saint of young girls. She is also the patron saint of chastity and rape survivors. She is often represented with a lamb. Another symbol of her virgin innocence, is the palm branch, like other martyrs. She is shown as a young girl in robes holding a palm branch with the lamb either at her feet or in her arms.

Her Feast Day is celebrated on January 21st every year.