St. Agnes of Rome
Born: 291 CE
Died: 304 CE
Feast day: January 21
Patron saint of: young girls, chastity, rape survivors, Girl Scouts
Agnes was a beautiful young woman in the early years of Christianity in Rome, refusing suitors with the response that her only spouse would be Christ. Because Christians were persecuted during this era, Agnes was subjected to various punishments including attempted sexual assault, and in each scenario she was miraculously protected from harm. She was murdered during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Diocletian. In Christian art, Agnes is often depicted holding or near a lamb, which is a symbol for purity. (In fact, the name Agnes means “pure,” and the etymology of the name is rooted in the same word as the word for “lamb” in many foreign languages.) Saint Agnes has spiritual significance to the episcopacy, as well: On her feast day, lambs are blessed and then sheared on Holy Thursday, the wool being woven to make a pallium for new archbishops and presented to them by the pope, to symbolize their unity as brother bishops. For all of us—clergy, religious, and lay—we can look to Saint Agnes’ purity as a model for our own purity of heart, avoiding the distractions of this world and looking only to Christ to sustain us.
Image: Santa Agnese by Jim Forest via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)