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Agnes of Rome

Agnes of Rome

Christian martyr
The basics
AKA Saint Agnes
Date of birth Rome, Province of Rome, Lazio, Italy
Date of death Jan 21, 305 Rome, Province of Rome, Lazio, Italy
Authority VIAF id
The details

Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c. 304) is a virgin martyr, venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism. She is one of seven women who, along with the Blessed Virgin, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Agnes is depicted in art with a lamb, evoking her name which is based on the Latin word for "lamb", agnus (the given name is Greek, from hagnē ἁγνή "chaste, pure"). She is also shown with a martyr's palm. She is the patron saint of chastity and virgins, as well as gardeners.

Agnes' feast day is 21 January. In pre-1970 versions of the General Roman Calendar an additional feast of the same saint is given one week later, on 28 January (see Tridentine Calendar). The 1969 revision removed this as a duplication of the 21 January feast.


The legend cannot be proven true, and many details of the fifth century Acts of Saint Agnes are open to criticism likely full of elaboration, though substantially the circumstances of her martyrdom are authentic. Archaeological evidence indicates that a young girl of about thirteen years of age, a virgin named Agnes, was martyred in Rome and honoured for her sacrifice. A church was built over her tomb, and her relics venerated.

The details of her story are unreliable, but according to tradition, Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility, born in AD 291 and raised in an early Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, on 21 January 304.

A beautiful young girl of wealthy family, Agnes had many suitors of high rank, and the young men, slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.

The Prefect Sempronius condemned Agnes to be dragged naked through the streets to a brothel. In one account, as she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body. It was also said that all of the men that attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind. The son of the prefect is struck dead, but revived after she prayed for him, causing her release. There is then a trial from which Sempronius recuses himself, and another figure presides, sentencing her to death. She was led out and bound to a stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn, or the flames parted away from her, whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her, or, in some other texts, stabbed her in the throat. It is also said that her blood poured to the stadium floor where other Christians soaked it up with cloths.

Agnes depicted on the medieval Royal Gold Cup in the British Museum.

Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. A few days after her death, her foster-sister, Emerentiana, was found praying by her tomb; she claimed to be the daughter of Agnes' wet nurse, and was stoned to death after refusing to leave the place and reprimanding the pagans for killing her foster sister. Emerentiana was also later canonised. The daughter of Constantine I, Saint Constance, was said to have been cured of leprosy after praying at Agnes' tomb. She and Emerentiana appear in the scenes from the life of Agnes on the 14th-century Royal Gold Cup in the British Museum.

An early account of Agnes' death, stressing her young age, steadfastness and virginity, but not the legendary features of the tradition, is given by Saint Ambrose.


Agnes was venerated as a saint at least as early as the time of St Ambrose, based on an existing homily. She is commemorated in the Depositio Martyrum of Filocalus (354) and in the early Roman Sacramentaries.

Agnes' bones are conserved beneath the high altar in the church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura in Rome, built over the catacomb that housed her tomb. Her skull is preserved in a separate chapel in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Rome's Piazza Navona.

According to Robert Ellsberg, in his book Blessed among all women: women saints prophets and witnesses for our time,

In the story of Agnes the opposition is not between sex and virginity. The conflict is between a young woman’s power in Christ to define her own identity versus a patriarchal culture’s claim to identify her in terms of her sexuality. According to the view shared by her “suitors” and the state, if she would not be one man’s wife, she might as well be every man’s whore. Failing these options, she might as well be dead. Agnes did not choose death. She chose not to worship the gods of her culture. ...Espoused to Christ, she was beyond the power of any man to ‘have his way with her’. ‘Virgin’ in this case is another way of saying Free Woman.

Her feast day is 21 January.


Because of the legend around her martyrdom, she is patron saint of those seeking chastity and purity.

Agnes is also the patron saint of young girls. Folk custom called for them to practise rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands. This superstition has been immortalised in John Keats's poem, The Eve of Saint Agnes.

Santa Inés, Guarino, 1650.


Since the Middle Ages, Agnes has traditionally been depicted as a young girl in robes, with a lamb, the symbol of her virginal innocence, and often, like many other martyrs, with a palm branch.


The purported skull of Saint Agnes, as displayed in the Sant'Agnese in Agone church in Rome
  • Basilica of St James and St Agnes, Nysa, Poland
  • St Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, New York
  • Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes, Washington, DC
  • Sant'Agnese in Agone
  • Sant'Agnese fuori le mura
  • Church of St Agnes, Cornwall, England
  • St Agnes' Church (New York City)
  • St. Agnes Church, Brooklyn, New York
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Niantic, Connecticut
  • St. Agnes Church, Woodmont, Connecticut
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Shepherdstown, West Virginia
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • St. Agnes Parish, Roeland Park, Kansas
  • St. Agnes Parish, Springfield, Illinois
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Hubbard, Oregon
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Ft. Wright, Kentucky
  • St. Agnes Church, Little Village, Chicago, Illinois
  • St. Agnes Anglican Parish, Grants Town, New Providence
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church (Our Lady of Hope Parish), Blackwood, New Jersey
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Concord, California
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Morrisdale, Pennsylvania
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Fowlerville, Michigan
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Phoenix, Arizona
  • St. Agnes Parish Almar, Caloocan, Philippines
  • St. Agnes Mission, Mirando City, Texas
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, West Chester, Pennsylvania
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Baltimore, Maryland
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Waterloo, Ontario
  • St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Nashville, Indiana
  • St. Agnes Anglican Church, Kloof, South Africa
  • St. Agnes Catholic Church, Kibuye-Makindye
  • St. Agnes Parish, Barcelona
  • St. Agnes Parish, Zengeza, Zimbabwe
  • St. Agnes Parish, Green Bay, Wisconsin
  • St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, Lock Haven, Pennsylvania
  • St Agnes Parish, Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
  • St Agnes Catholic Church,Toora,Victoria,Australia
  • St. Agnes, Cologne, Germany
  • St. Agnes Church, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • St Stephen & St Agnes Church, Windsor, UK
  • St Agnus Catholic Church, Saguache, Colorado


  • St. Agnes Catholic School, Roeland Park, Kansas
  • St. Agnes Catholic School, Arlington, Virginia
  • St. Agnes Catholic Grade School, Charleston, West Virginia
  • St. Agnes Catholic School, Springfield, Illinois
  • St. Agnes Elementary School, Ft. Wright, Kentucky
  • St. Agnes Convent School – Mumbai, India
  • St. Agnes Convent School – Howrah, India
  • St. Agnes Catholic School, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • St. Agnes Academy – Houston, Texas
  • St. Agnes Catholic Grade School, Louisville, Kentucky
  • St. Agnes Cathedral School, Rockville Centre, New York
  • St. Agnes Girls' School, Balangoda, Sri Lanka
  • St. Agnes Catholic School, Los Angeles, California
  • St. Agnes Catholic Elementary School, Phoenix, Arizona
  • St. Agnes Catholic Elementary School, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
  • St. Agnes School, Concord, California
  • St. Agnes School, Kharagpur, West Bengal, India
  • St. Agnes School, Towanda, Pennsylvania
  • Mount St. Agnes Academy, Hamilton, Bermuda
  • St. Agnes School, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, Philippines
  • St. Agnes Catholic School, West Chester, Pennsylvania
  • St. Agnes School, Baltimore, Maryland
  • St. Agnes Academy, Memphis, Tennessee
  • St. Agnes Academic High School, College Point, New York
  • St. Agnes Academy, Legazpi City, Philippines
  • St. Agnes Academy, Key Biscayne, Florida
  • St. Agnes Girls Boarding school, Baricho, Kirinyaga, Kenya
  • St. Agnes Girls' School, Mangalore, Karnataka
  • St. Agnes' Loreto Day School, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
  • St. Agnes Catholic Elementary School, Hamilton Ontario
  • Legacy

    The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes is a Roman Catholic religious community for women based in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, USA. It was founded in 1858, by Father Caspar Rehrl, an Austrian missionary, who established the sisterhood of pioneer women under the patronage of Agnes, to whom he had a particular devotion.

    It is customary on her feast day for two lambs to be brought from the Trappist abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome to the Sant'Agnese in Agone church to be blessed by the Pope. On Holy Thursday they are shorn, and from the wool is woven the pallium which the pope gives to a newly consecrated metropolitan archbishop as a sign of his jurisdiction and his union with the pope.

    In popular culture

    Hrotsvitha, the tenth-century nun and poet, wrote a heroic poem about Agnes. Grace Andreacchi wrote a play based on the legends surrounding Agnes's martyrdom.

    In the historical novel Fabiola or, the Church of the Catacombs, written by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman in 1854, Agnes is the soft-spoken teenage cousin and confidant of the protagonist, the beautiful noblewoman Fabiola.

    The instrumental song "Saint Agnes and the Burning Train" appears on the 1991 album 'The Soul Cages' by Sting.

    The contents of this page are sourced from a Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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