Women of a previous generation will recall hearing the story in Catholic school of St. Agnes of Rome, a model of faith and chastity for young girls to emulate.
Because Agnes lived in the third century, very little is known about her and there are variations in the telling of her story, but it follows a similar path in each telling. Born in 291 into a noble Roman family, Agnes had many admirers who wished to marry her. She had chosen a life of chastity and devotion to God, and refused all her suitors.
A government official demanded that Agnes marry his son, but she refused. He became angry and as punishment had her dragged naked through the streets of Rome to a brothel in order to humiliate her. Stories say that her hair grew spontaneously to cover her naked body and maintain her modesty during the ordeal and that all the men who looked at her were instantly blinded.
Agnes was later tried and condemned to death by burning at the stake. When the day of her execution came, stories say the fire would not burn. A soldier stepped in and beheaded her.
She was buried in Rome, and miracles were said to have happened to those who prayed at her tomb. Constantina, daughter of Emperor Constantine I, was reportedly cured of leprosy after prayers at her tomb.
Agnes is often seen in artwork accompanied by a lamb to symbolize her purity.
Her feast day is Jan. 21. She is the patron of young girls, virgins and chastity.
Read St. Agnes’ biography at Franciscan Media.
English poet John Keats wrote the poem “The Eve of St Agnes.” Read it here.
Catholic author Thomas A Kempis is credited with writing the following prayer to St. Agnes:
Prayer of Petition to St. Agnes
O sweet Saint Agnes, I earnestly implore thy compassion and commend myself to thy prayers. O noble virgin, thou didst despise all earthly things and prefer the love of Christ to the glory of the world. Death was welcome to thee, and the holy angels were waiting for thy soul to convey it into the joys of Paradise, where, adorned with the martyr’s palm, thou didst arrive at the nuptials of the heavenly Spouse. I too seek Him; deign to intercede for me that He may grant me health of mind and body, restrain the temptations of the devil, extinguish the desires of the flesh, give me time for true repentance and amendment of life, grant me the remission of all my sins, together with grace to make a good end and a happy death. Amen. – Thomas A Kempis