Saint Agnes holds a special place in my heart. She was the first Saint I ever learned about.
As a little girl, I remember being inspired by her strength and faith in Jesus. Whenever a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply, “I want to be like Saint Agnes.” As you can imagine, the response was usually a polite smile from the teacher and snickering from my classmates.
As a teenager, when it came time for me to pick a Confirmation Saint, Agnes was my very first choice. Granted, the winner was Saint Monica, but I still consider Agnes to be my spiritual sister. Honestly, if it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have a devotion to the Saints in the first place.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my spiritual sister, Agnes of Rome.
In 291 AD, a Christian family of Roman nobility was blessed with a beautiful baby girl. The child was named Agnes, which comes from the Latin agnus, meaning “lamb.”
Little is known about Agnes’ childhood, but what we do know is that she was very beautiful. It has been said that she was graced with a cascade of silky hair that draped over her shoulders like a shawl and a tender smile. By the time she was twelve, she already had a good amount of high-ranking men competing for her hand in marriage.
However, when she was approached by a potential suitor, her answer was always, “Jesus Christ is my only Spouse.”
As a child raised in a devout household, Agnes had come to know Jesus as her Savior. In an era where daughters were married off for advantage and power, Agnes made a countercultural choice: She claimed Christ as her spouse. Her body, mind and soul belonged to the One who created her.
Her commitment to Jesus did not go over well with the men who wanted her. For example, a man named Procop saw Agnes’ purity as a challenge for him to conquer. He showered her with flowers, jewels and the finest clothes. He filled her ears with promises of power, wealth and pleasure.
Agnes fought back with this defense, “I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!” Her body belonged to no man; only God.
Another rejected suitor was the son of Prefect Sempronius. The Prefect himself tried to persuade Agnes to accept his son’s hand in marriage. As expected, Agnes kept her eyes on Heaven and turned away from the prospect of earthly matrimony.
It is unclear who ratted her out to the authorities. Some have guessed it to have been Procop, others say that Prefect Sempronius himself was the catalyst of Agnes’ demise. What we do know for sure is that Agnes was arrested for professing Christianity.
Agnes was ordered to pray to the Pagan gods in exchange for her freedom. Filled with resolve, she stayed faithful to her Spouse and refused to worship any other god. The brave twelve-year old was thrown into a brothel to be violated. When the men attempted to have their way with her, Agnes’ hair grew to an exponential length and shielded her body. Within minutes, their lustful eyes were struck blind. Some accounts have claimed that among the would-be rapists was Prefect Sempronius’ son and that Agnes healed him with a prayer.
The next trial Agnes faced was being stripped naked and burned at the stake. Just like in the brothel, Agnes’ Rapunzel-esque hair cloaked her body. Then when the soldiers tried to ignite the flames, the wood surrounding her wouldn’t burn. This miracle shocked the onlookers and the sympathy of the citizens turned to Agnes.
It was a sword to the throat that brought an end to Agnes’ life.
In our modern world, people use “choice” as a buzzword for expediency. Agnes, whose expedient choice would have been to give in to societal expectation, chose the more difficult path, one that led to great suffering and to Eternal Life. In many respects, Agnes was a woman ahead of her time.
Saint Agnes of Rome, pray for us.