Profile and Biography of Saint Agnes

lamb in field

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There are several names for Saint Agnes including Saint Ines, Saint Ines of Rome, and Saint Ines del Campo. Agnes is Patron Saint of purity, chastity, virgins, rape victims, betrothed couples, engaged couples, gardeners, crops, and Girl Scouts. Symbols and representations of Saint Agnes include lambs, a woman with a lamb, a woman with a dove, a woman with a crown of thorns, a woman with a palm branch, and a woman with a sword at her throat.

Important Dates for Saint Agnes

Born: c. 291
Martyred: January 21, c. 304
Feast Day: January 21

Life of Saint Agnes

We have no reliable information about the birth, life, or death of Agnes. Despite this, she is one of Christianity’s most popular saints. Christian legend has it that Agnes was a member of Roman noble family and raised to be a Christian. She became a martyr at the age of 12 or 13 during the persecution of Christians under the reign of emperor Diocletian because she would not give up her virginity.

Martyrdom of Saint Agnes

According to the legends, Agnes refused to marry the son of a prefect because she had pledged her virginity to Jesus. As a virgin, Agnes couldn’t be executed for this affront, so she was to be raped first and then executed, but her chastity was miraculously preserved. The wood that was supposed to burn her would not ignite, so a soldier beheaded Agnes.

Legend of Saint Agnes

Over time, accounts of stories about the martyrdom of Saint Agnes became embellished, with her youth and chastity growing in importance and emphasis. For example, in one version of the legend Roman authorities send her to a brothel where her virginity might be taken, but when a man looked upon her with impure thoughts God struck him blind.

Feast Day of Saint Agnes

Traditionally on the feast day of Saint Agnes, the pope blesses two lambs. The wool of these lambs is then taken and used to make pallia, circular bands which are sent along to archbishops around the world. The inclusion of lambs in this ceremony is thought to be due to the face that the name Agnes is so similar to the Latin word agnus, which means “lamb”.