Feast Day : January 21 Patronage: young girls
Little is known about Agnes, and the circumstances of her martyrdom are not documented. According to St. Ambrose in De virginitate, she died by fire at age 12. Other versions of her martyrdom are given by Pope St. Damasus (r. 366–384) and Prudentius in Peristephanon. Agnes is said to have been a beautiful, wealthy Roman maiden born during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284–305) to Christian parents at a time when most of the nobility were pagan. Diocletian was an ardent persecutor of Christians. One story holds that a rejected suitor betrayed her to the authorities. According to an epitaph written by Damasus, preserved at her tomb and church, she announced her faith and was sentenced to die by fire. Before dying, she was stripped of all her clothing, and covered herself with her hair. According to Prudentius, who composed a hymn in her honor, she was punished by being placed into a brothel. Miraculously, her virginity was preserved, for anyone who approached her was blinded and knocked down by a divine force. Her suitor tried and was thus punished, but Agnes prayed and asked Christ to restore his sight. She was then thrown into the flames. Another version says that she remained unharmed in the flames, and so finally was decapitated. Yet another version says she was killed by a sword. During the reign of Constantine (323–337), a basilica was built on the site of her grave near the Via Nomentana. It was remodeled by Pope Honorius I (r.625–638) in 630. Agnes’s emblem in art is the lamb, a symbol of purity, and because of the similarity between her name and the Latin word for lamb, agnus. In art she is often depicted in flames and with a sword at her feet. On her feast day, two lambs are blessed, and their wool is then made into pallia and given to archbishops of the Church.