Agnes of Rome was born in 291AD to a wealthy Christian family. She was beautiful and her hand in marriage was highly sought after by many high ranking men. However, Agnes made a promise to God never to stain her purity. She consecrated herself to Jesus Christ with a promise of virginity. 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.”
One of the young men she turned away was the son of the Governor of Rome.
He promised her great rewards if she gave herself to him in marriage. She said she had another lover, Christ himself. I will follow him and remain celibate, she said. The young man became angry and insulted her for her devotion to God and purity. He then submitted her name to the authorities as a Christian follower . He 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.
We count with the great commentaries to her holy life presented by Pope St Damasus less than one century later.
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.
Saint Agnes died a virgin-martyr on 21 January at a tender age of 13 in 304 AD.
Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. Her bones are currently conserved beneath the high altar in the church of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura in Rome, which was built over the catacomb that held her tomb. Her skull is preserved in the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Rome’s Piazza Navona.
In 1858, Father Caspar Rehrl, an Austrian missionary, founded the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.
Every 21st of January, on her feast day, the Pope would bless the lambs whose wool will be used to make the stoles worn by archbishops, are kept in a chest close to St Peter’s remains under the altar of Confession at St Peter’s. They are also known as palliums.
St. Agnes is widely known as the patron saint of young girls. She is also the patron saint of chastity, and the Children of Mary. She is often represented with a lamb, the symbol of her virgin innocence, and a palm branch, like other martyrs.