On January 21st, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Agnes, martyr of Rome. St. Agnes was executed either in the second half of the 3rd century or the start of the 4th century, and her feast was incorporated into the Church by the end of that 4th century at the latest. Of all the virgin martyrs of Rome, Agnes has always been held in the highest honor; Agnes, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary and seven other women, is commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.
Life and Martyrdom of Agnes
St. Agnes, also know as Ynez or Ines, was born in the 3rd century. It is uncertain in which period of persecutions Agnes was killed, the Diocletian period around the year 304 or during one of the mid-3rdcentury persecutions of Decius; and so, naturally, her time of birth is unknown. Her family was connected to nobility and Agnes was raised a Christian. She was still young when she consecrated her virginity to God.
There are differing accounts of how her martyrdom occurred. Some early writings merely mention the girl’s young age (either 12 or 13 at her death) and purity and the method of her execution. However, some accounts expound on the details – that it was after either a voluntary declaration of Christian Faith or a refusal to marry the son of an important Roman prefect that Saint Agnes was condemned to die. She was sentenced to be raped first, but according to tradition, no man was able to look at or come near her without being struck blind and she was executed still a virgin. When the soldiers’ attempt to burn her failed because the wood would not light, Agnes was executed by sword, either stabbed or beheaded.
Patronage and Symbols
Agnes comes from the Greek word “hagne,” which means chaste and sacred. Because of her purity, and because her name is similar in spelling and pronunciations to “Agnus,” St. Agnes is often depicted with a lamb. She is the patron saint of engaged couples, chastity, crops, gardeners, girls, rape victims, and virgins. Agnes is remembered both in the Western and Eastern Catholic Churches.
The Feast of Saint Agnes and the Pallium
The Feast of St. Agnes is also connected to the pallium, a vestment worn by the pope and also presented to certain archbishops. On the Feast of St. Agnes, two lambs are presented and solemnly blessed. The wool from these lambs is the wool used to make a pallium.
The pallium, once specific to the Pope, is a vestment bestowed upon metropolitans and primates as a symbol of their jurisdiction over Christ’s “flock,” granted by the Holy See. It is a scarf-like band of wool cloth that sits on the shoulders on top of the chasuble. It is decorated with six black crosses, one on each tail and four on the loop, and is garnished with three jeweled gold pins; from the front or back, the pallium resembles the letter ‘Y.’
To view our Saint Agnes medals and other items, click here.