The life of Saint Agnes

s-04he was born in Rome from respectable and very wealthy parents. They raised her up so devoutly, that in the tenth year of life she made a vow of chastity and devoted her life to her heavenly Spouse. Her extraordinary beauty brought her to the attention of the sons of the most distinguished families of Rome, whom by all means tried to win her heart. Once when she was returning from school for maidens, the son of Sempronius, the prefect of Rome, saw her and became so enamored with her that he sent her right away rich gifts in robes, jewels, and money, asking her to become his spouse. However, Agnes did not accept the gifts, and in response stated that she was already engaged to a much more respectable Bridegroom, who gave her more expensive and costly gifts; therefore she could not break the given word.

The young man understood that she meant an earthly bridegroom, and since he believed that no one could be more respectable than him, he gave her even more costly gifts, personally professing to her how much he loved her. Only then, Agnes, about whom it was not known that she was a Christian, started to speak openly: “Back away from me, motive for sin, dish of eternal death! I am already engaged to the One whose life is eternal, whose nobility is the oldest, whose beauty is the prettiest, whose love is the most tender, whose grace is the kindest, in whose embrace I will keep my virginity, and whom only I unspeakably, eternally love.” The young man saddened by this answer, not understanding yet its proper meaning, began to worry and waste away. The caring father Sempronius, worried about the life of the only son, begged Agnes himself not to push away his son, but Agnes always stood by her first answer.

Sempronius, angry because of the disdain shown to his son, began to inquire who the mysterious bridegroom of Agnes was, and thus found out that she was a Christian. Having heard this, he was thrilled thinking that he will be able to enslave her and to punish her through the law as the one who opposes pagan gods. Sending for her immediately, he ordered to bring her to him as to the office, and pretending mercy towards her misdemeanor, he tried to convince her through promises to make a sacrifice and to bow down to the idols. The delicate virgin however firmly refused to do so. Therefore, the prefect changed his way of conduct and started to threaten. To finally make a greater impact on the virgin, he ordered to spread out before her eyes tools used for torture, such as executioner racks, pincers, and the like. Agnes looked at them without fear. “Your stubbornness – the prefect said sternly – indeed deserves the most painful death, but I will have mercy upon your youth if you bow now to the gods”. Agnes responded to that cheerfully: “Do not have mercy upon my youth, because I do not require this from you at all. For faith does not depend on years, but on conviction. The almighty God does not look at age, but at the feelings. Thus, do as you please’’.

The prefect now delivered her into the hands of lecherous henchmen, but the benevolent God wonderfully defended her, and when Sempronius’ son approached her, he fell dead at her feet. Agnes, however, revived him in the name of Jesus Christ, and returned him healthy to his father. Meanwhile, the mob began to shout to burn her. The Saint was thus thrown onto the pile that was lit, but the fire did not hurt her. Livid with anger, the prefect ordered to stab her with a dagger. The martyrdom and death of saint Agnes happened on January 21st of the year 304. The parents themselves buried the body of their beloved daughter, and mourned in tears for a long time over her grave.  Then, Agnes appeared to them in the company of many virgins, glowing with heavenly light, and holding in her hand a white lamb. “Do not mourn me as lost – she said – but be happy that now, in the infinite bliss, I am betrothed to the One, whom I loved on earth with all my heart.”

Emperor Constantine the Great built upon her grave a magnificent church in which, until this time, two white lambs are blessed each year and given to the nuns to care for. From the wool of those lambs are made palliums or tapes with white, red and black crosses. They may be stored at the tomb of Saint Peter, and the Pope later distributes them among the cardinals, patriarchs and archbishops as a sign of their ecclesiastical authority.

Translated from: Nowenna do św. Agnieszki na podstawie textów św. Agnieszki z Orędzi na Czasy Ostateczne, które własnie nadeszły, Grzechynia 2015, p. 7-11