Lower right corner of
Madonna and Child with St. Martina and St. Agnes
By "El Greco" (1597-1599)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
(291?–304?), saint and virgin martyr of Rome, one of the most
popular and universal of saints whose name is commemorated daily
in the canon of the Mass. At the age of 12 or 13 she consecrated
her virginity to God. She is noted for her purity, her
youthfulness, and her heroism in the face of persecution.
Agnes, whose name
means “chaste” in Greek, was a beautiful young girl of wealthy
family and therefore had many suitors of high rank. Details of
her story are unreliable, but legend holds that the young men,
slighted by Agnes' resolute devotion to religious purity,
submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of
Christianity. The governor, following an edict against
Christians issued in 303 by the Roman emperor Diocletian,
threatened the young girl with torture. The threats did not
intimidate the steadfast Agnes , however, and the enraged
official sent her to a house of prostitution. Approaching her,
the brothel's patrons would be seized with such awe at the holy
sight of the girl that they could not touch her. One brazen
young man remained undeterred, but as he neared her he was
struck blind and fell to the ground; Agnes later restored his
sight with prayer. The governor, incensed by her youthful
defiance, sentenced Agnes to an untimely death. It is not known
whether the execution was by beheading or by the piercing of the
throat, but the story tells of her ready submission to the
sentence by offering herself to receive the death blow.
According to St. Ambrose, one of her chroniclers, she “went to
the place of execution more cheerfully than others go to their
buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. In about 354
Constantina, the daughter of Constantine, the first Christian
Roman emperor, honored her by erecting a basilica over her
grave. Remaining inscriptions in the church attest that Agnes
was “a virgin” and “victorious.” Her skull was removed before
the 9th century and placed in the Sancta Sanctorum of the
Lateran Palace. An examination of the skull in 1903 confirmed
the girl's age of 12 or 13 at death. Pope Pius X gave the relic
to the Church of Santa Agnese in Piazza Navona in Rome.
Because of her
innocence and also because the name Agnes closely resembles the
Latin word for lamb (agnus) the saint is usually pictured in art
with a lamb in her arms or near her feet. Each year on Agnes'
feast day (January 21), two white lambs are blessed and their
sheared wool woven into the pallia sent by the pope to new
archbishops throughout the world."
"Agnes" Britannica Student Encyclopedia
The life and martyrdom of St. Agnes is
also commemorated in the Cathedral's Rose Window of the front
to see close-up pictures of this window.
In 2006, Sr. Sheila Browne of the Office
of Worship for the Diocese of Rockville Centre was in Rome at
the Church of St. Agnes Outside the Walls on the Feast of St.
pictures from Sr. Browne's visit.