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January 21st
Memorial of St. Agnes

St. Agnes of Rome

patroness of people in love

 Agnes is yet another in our seemingly endless parade of martyrs of the early Christian Church.  In fact, when we look back on the daily life of a Christian in those first few centuries and we take into account that to be Christian meant facing certain death every single day, it is a wonder that the Church ever got off the ground, let alone thrived and flourished.  A beautiful young woman (her name stems from the Latin agnus, which means lamb), Agnes was martyred during the most brutal of persecutions under the emperor Diocletian sometime around AD 304.  It seems young Agnes was a Christian who had consecrated her virginity to God.  This fact alone may seem to make her unrelatable to many today.  Nevertheless, many of the young noblemen of Rome sought her hand (and the rest of her) in marriage.  When she refused, she was “accused” of being a Christian — a crime punishable by death.  And now the story gets good…

Before the judge, she was unmoved.  She was solid in her faith as Peter urges us to be in his first letter.  According to our source, she was shown the very instruments of torture and yet she remained stoic.  Realizing that taking her life would accomplish nothing, she was sent to a house of ill repute that her virtue might be taken by force instead.  The legends are plentiful but many state that, due to her holy aura, none of the men approached her; except for one who was stricken blind on the spot.  She emerged from the evil place still pure, still unmoved.

One of her more aggressive suitors was so angry that he pressed the case against her before the judge with even more terrible vehemence.  She was at last sentenced to die. St. Ambrose of Milan wrote of her

She went to the place of execution more cheerfully than other go to their wedding.

The axe fell and Agnes returned to her Maker.  Not many years later, Constantine had a church built in her honor over her grave.  She is remembered to this day as one of the few holy women martyrs mentioned in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) of the mass to this day.

Church of St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes held fast to her belief.  She spilled her blood for love of Our Blessed Lord.  I think she is so fondly remembered all these centuries later because of her beauty.  The sight of one who doesn’t look the part going to the block always tends to make one sit up and take notice.  Agnes, this beautiful lamb of God, gave witness to His love.  She is the patron of young couples in love (and, I suppose, old as well) because she embodied true love — pure love, sacrificial love.  Fulton Sheen once remarked that

beauty on the outside never gets into the soul; but beauty of the soul reflects itself on the face.

St. Agnes was that rare kind of creature who possessed beauty of both.