Saint Agnes of Rome, Virgin and Martyr
In Matthew 18:2-3, Jesus draws a child close to Him and tells His followers that, unless they change and become like children, they will never enter the kingdom of heaven. These days, many interpret that to mean that followers of Jesus shouldn’t have questions or doubts, but what if having childlike faith refers to having the wholehearted devotedness that a child possesses?
Saint Agnes, born in 291 AD, grew up in the bustling city of Rome. Though it was a multicultural city where many gods were worshipped, Saint Agnes was raised knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. Christians were still considered a religious minority at that time and had gone through several instances of persecution, but Saint Agnes was bold in her faith. She was a beautiful young girl who belonged to a wealthy family, so she was pursued by many suitors, but she had consecrated her life to Christ. In her mind she had no spouse but Jesus, and she did not refrain from informing her suitors of that fact.
Christianity was an underground religion at that time, and members who were discovered were arrested. The young men, spurned by Saint Agnes, reported her to the authorities as a practicing Christian when she was around the age of 13. She was threatened with torture, but she refused to renounce her faith. Saint Agnes, according to most traditions, was then sent to a brothel and she was exposed. She was on the verge of adulthood and faced unspeakable horrors, but her faith did not waver. Many of the men who would assault her refused to tarnish her purity, but some still tried to force themselves on her. Whoever attempted to, however, was struck blind.
Saint Agnes would pray for their healing—even despite what they were going to try to do to her—and they would be healed.
Saint Agnes lived when Emperor Diocletian tried to erase Christianity from the Roman empire through brutal persecution. Regardless of the miracles that Saint Agnes performed she was still a Christian, and, in 304 AD, was sentenced to death. How her execution was carried out is unknown, but, knowing she was going to meet her Lord and Saviour, “she went to the place of execution more cheerfully than others go to their wedding” (according to Saint Ambrose, who wrote about her life).
Many martyrs at the time were thrown in the Tiber River, but Saint Agnes was buried. The Basilica of Saint Agnes Outside the Walls is said to be erected on top of her grave. Her skull is preserved in the church of Saint Agnes in Agony.
Saint Agnes is the patron Saint of young girls, chastity, rape survivors, and virgins, and we should all pursue a faith as steadfast as hers.
“Christ made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to him whom the angels serve.”
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