St. Patrick Catholic Church
Saint of the Day
 

Saint Agnes M
(Memorial)
January 21



Agnes VM (RM)
Died c. 304. I think its a happy coincidence that St. Agnes (purity) is one of seven women in the canon of the Mass with Cecilia (married but continent), Felicity (happiness) (married), Perpetua (steadfastness) (married), Agatha (goodness) (widowed), Lucy (light) (virgin), and Anastasia (resurrection) (probably married). The canon thereby represents various vocations and three important centers of Western Christianity: Carthage, Sicily and Rome. No saint was more revered in the early Church than this young girl who suffered persecution under the Emperor Diocletian and who, according to her 5th-century acta, was only 13-years-old when she died. The name Agnes in Greek means 'chaste' and in Latin signifies a 'lamb' (Saint Augustine, Sermon 274). Thus, she represents all that is pure and virtuous in womanhood.

The feast of Saint Agnes was formerly a special holiday for women, as evidenced in the Council of Worcester in 1240. On the Eve of Saint Agnes, it was supposed that a maiden might divine knowledge of her future by plucking pins, repeating an Our Father, and then dreaming of her destiny. (Or, in the German-American tradition, if I remember my grandmother correctly, there was a tradition of placing a bit of wrapped fruitcake under a maiden's pillow on the eve of Saint Agnes in order to dream of her future husband.)

On the feast day, 21 January, the Trappist fathers of the Monastery of Tre Fontane (near Saint Paul's Basilica) provide two lambs from their sheepfold to the Benedictine nuns of Saint Cecilia. They arrive at Saint Agnes' Basilica wearing crowns, lying in "baskets decorated with red and white flowers and red and white ribbons--red for martyrdom, white for purity."

For the festal Mass, the church, titular cardinal, and concelebrants are decorated with red, white and gold. During the Mass, there is a procession of little girls veiled and dressed in white lace with pale blue ribbons, followed by four resplendent carabinieri carrying the baby lambs. The lambs are blessed and incensed before being taken to the Vatican for the Pope's blessing. Then they are delivered to the Convent of Saint Cecilia to become the pets of the sisters until Holy Thursday (when the are shorn) before being sacrificed on Good Friday.

The wool from these lambs is woven into 12 archbishops' palliums. The pallium is an older symbol of the papacy than the famed tiara. The elect becomes "Shepherd of Christ's Flock" when the pallium touches his shoulder and symbolizes that the new bishop is being 'yoked' with the bishop of Rome, who is visible head of the Church. About 204, Saint Felician of Foligno is the first recorded recipient of a pallium from a pope (Saint Victor I). (So, the concept of papal primacy was very old indeed.)

Agnes was martyred at the beginning of the Diocletian persecutions undertaken between 303 and 305 to wipe out the scourge of Christian impiety. From a Roman viewpoint, Christians were not killed for their faith but for treason, since they would not sacrifice to the gods who protected the empire. Afterall, the Romans were able to incorporate the gods of all other people they conquered--why were Christians so obstinate? There were Jews who were considered good Romans, but they kept to themselves for the most part (see R. L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans saw them, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984, which incorporates the writings of Pliny, Celsus, Galen, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate).

Unlike the Jews, Christianity gained converts from among the nobility, even after earlier persecutions. They became a threat to the world order. According to Markus, the Roman Empire was based on racial distinctions, patriarchal authority, and slavery--each of these patterns were threatened by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christian military recruits could not be trusted to defend Rome (cf. Maximilian in Numidia and Marcellus in Tangier).

The Christian rejection of the Roman view of marriage was also a threat. It was a civic obligation for each woman to have as many children as possible because Romans believed they lived through their progeny. The Christians, believing in eternal life, did not see marriage and family as absolutely necessary for everyone. And, in fact, the Encratites, who highly prized perpetual virginity of both male and female, strongly influenced Christianity during this period. With this background in mind, we come to the story of Saint Agnes.

Agnes was born of a noble Roman family--probably the Clodia Crescentiana. About age 10, Agnes consecrated herself to Christ, probably with her parent's permission, otherwise she would have been forced to marry the man of her father's choosing. It is likely that her father was also a Christian. About age 12 or 13, she rejected the advances of the son of a high official (the Prefect Maximum Herculeus?) with the words, "The one to whom I am betrothed is Christ whom the angels serve. He was the first to choose me. I shall be His alone." Thereupon she was denounced as a Christian.

Gill reports another version that says the prefect's son was attracted by her beauty and wealth, sought her hand in marriage, and was rebuffed because she had given her life to Christ 'to whom I keep my troth.' When he pressed her and she still refused his suit, he complained to her father, who, greatly disturbed when he discovered she was a Christian, considered her mad and treated her as such. She was urged by her family to submit, and when she still refused, they planned to make her a vestal virgin in a Roman temple. But young though she was, she showed great maturity and a determined will, "Do you think that I shall dedicate myself to gods of senseless stone!" "You are only a child," they replied. "I may be a child," she answered, "but faith dwells not in years, but in the heart" (Gill).

In Gill's version, when it was realized that they could not prevail, they removed her clothes and thrust her into the open street, where, in shame, she loosened her hair to cover her nakedness.

Everyone thought that the sight of the tools of torture would cause Agnes to waver; when these elicited joy rather than terror in her, the governor became enraged and threatened to send her to a house of prostitution. "You may," said Agnes, "stain your sword with my blood; but you will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ."

In all versions she was thrown into a brothel, but untouched because of her meekness and purity. She is said to have had blonde hair that was long enough to cover her nakedness (or spontaneously grew to do so) or that an angel brought her a robe, white as snow, to cover her body. Because of her declaration that God would not allow her body to be profaned, men were afraid to touch her. One man who was rude to her was suddenly blinded, but she restored his sight by prayer.

The brothel was included in the inscription of the scholarly Pope Damasus I, so it is probably true, says Keyes (others would dispute his version of history). The brothel was that under the arch in the Stadium Domitian, in what is now the Piazza Navona. It forms the Crypt in the Church of Saint Agnes in Agone. Because the church is near the palace of Pope Innocent X (formerly Prince Battista Pamphili), he transformed it into an important church. On February 7, 1653, he bestowed on it the patronage of his family and made it independent of all other jurisdiction, except for that of the Cardinal Protector.

Finally, she was sentenced to death. But first she was mocked and insulted, and they cried after her in the streets. When the executioner hesitated, Agnes told him, "Do not delay. This body draws from some a kind of admiration that I hate. Let it perish."

Martyrdom may have been by fire, sword, decapitation, or strangulation during the Diocletian persecutions in the early 4th century. She could not be shackled because her wrists were too small. Some stories use all three successively:

A fire was kindled, and when she was placed on the pyre she prayed, "Thy Name I bless and glorify, world without end. I confess Thee with my lips, and with my heart I altogether desire Thee." When she had finished praying, it was found that the fire had extinguished itself. Then they bound her with fetters, but the fetters fell from her. She was killed in the end by a sword, and after her death crowds followed her to her grave.

Because of the influence of her family, her body was not thrown into the river (the usual), but was buried in the family cemetery, which formed part of the catacombs that now bear her name and that adjoin the church, also dedicated to her, on the Via Nomentana. Her fame quickly spread.

When the Emperor Constantine wished to have his daughter baptized, he did so near the spot where Agnes was buried. And, in 324 (or 350?), just a few years after her death the church of Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura (which still stands today) was erected by Constantine over her grave. In 382, Pope Damasus I, who first called Rome the Apostolic See, restored the Church of Saint Agnes Outside-the-Walls. So, soon after her martyrdom her cultus was recognized. During the reign of Pope Paul V the relics of Saint Agnes and those of Saint Emerentiana, Agnes's martyred foster sister, where found within the church.

Although her feast is January 21, the octave of her feast (January 28) was her actual birthday. "On that day her parents went to pray at her tomb. There they were granted a vision in which they saw her surrounded by a bevy of virgins, resplendent with light; and on her right hand was seen a lamb whiter than snow. The second feast day is still celebrated some places according to Keyes.

"Every people, whatever their tongue, praise the name of Saint Agnes," Saint Girolamus declared in a letter written near the end of the 4th century.

Saint Ambrose wrote: "At such a tender age a young girl has scarcely enough courage to bear the angry looks of her father and a tiny puncture from a needle makes her cry as if it were a wound. And still this little girl had enough courage to face the sword. She was fearless in the bloody hands of the executioner. She prayed, she bowed her head. Behold in one victim the twofold martyrdom of chastity and faith."

The Hymn of Prudentius says: "With a single stroke she was beheaded, death was faster than pain and her resplendent soul, made free, flew to heaven where the angels met her as she proceeded along the white path that leads to Paradise."

Though much of her story is unreliable (it wasn't recorded until about 415), there is no doubt that Agnes suffered martyrdom and was buried on the Via Nomentana. Her name and the date of her feast was included in the calendar of martyrs (Depositio Martyrum) drawn up in 354. Saint Martin of Tours was singularly devoted to Agnes. Thomas a Kempis honored her as his special patroness, as his works declare in many places. He relates many miracles wrought and graces received through her intercession. There are no less than five ancient church dedications to her honor in England (Attwater, Balsdon, Benedictines, Bentley, Butler, Cenci, Cioran, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Gill, Husenbeth, Keyes, Markus, Martindale, White).

In art, Agnes is pictured as a young maiden with long hair and a lamb (agnus), because of the resemblance of her name with that of the animal, since the 6th century mosaics at San Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (Farmer). Sometimes she may be shown: (1) with a sword in her throat; (2) naked, covered by an angel or by her long hair; (3) crowned and holding a scroll; (4) with a lamb (symbol of her purity and sacrifice) and a palm; (5) with a dove having a ring in its beak (Roeder, White).

Many portrayals of Saint Agnes survive from throughout the centuries. There are Renaissance paintings by Duccio and Tintoretto; medieval stained glass windows; and a cycle of painting of her on a gold and enamel cup which previously belonged to the Duke of Berry and passed through the Duke of Bedford to King Henry VI of England and on to the British Museum (Farmer).

Agnes is patroness of virginal innocence, betrothed couples, gardeners, and maidens. She is invoked for chastity (Roeder, White).


Alban Bartholomew Roe, OSB, Priest M (RM)
Born in Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk, England, c. 1583; died at Tyburn, England, 1642; canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Bartholomew Roe was a student at Cambridge when he met an imprisoned Catholic and was so impressed by his faith that he was converted to Catholicism. He studied at Douai in France, but was dismissed for an infraction of discipline. Then he became a Benedictine monk at Dieulouard (Dieuleward, now Ampleforth), France, in 1612, taking the name Alban, was ordained, and sent on the English mission.

Father Alban was arrested in 1615, imprisoned, and then banished; but he was back in England four months later and again arrested in 1618 and imprisoned in the New Prison until 1623, when he was released through the intercession of the Spanish ambassador.

Father Alban was exiled a second time. After a short stay at Douai, he returned to England and worked until his arrest in 1625 during the reign of King Charles I. He spent the next 17 years in prison until he was finally tried, convicted on January 19 of being of Catholic priest, and two days later hanged, drawn, and quartered together with Blessed Thomas Reynolds. Apparently, Alban Roe had a lively disposition; he laughed and joked on the scaffold at Tyburn (Attwater2, Benedictines, Delaney).


Brigid of Kilbride V (AC)
(also known as Briga of Kilbride>

6th century. Saint Brigid is venerated in the diocese of Lismore. It is recorded that her famous namesake of Kildare visited her more than once at Kilbride (Benedictines).


Blessed Edward Stransham M (AC)
Born at Oxford, England; died 1586; beatified in 1929. Edward was educated at Saint John's College in Oxford, studied for the priesthood at Douai and Reims, and was ordained in 1580. He set off for the English mission the following year to work in London and Oxford for the next five years until his condemnation. Edward was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn for his priesthood (Attwater2, Benedictines).


Epiphanius of Pavia B (RM)
Born in Pavia, Italy, 439; died in Burgundy, France, in 497. Saint Epiphanius, popularly called the "glory of Italy" and "light of bishops," was elected bishop of Pavia in 467. He had a reputation for sanctity, charity to the poor, and working miracles, which put him in good standing with the Roman emperors as well as Kings Odoacer and Theodoric. His eloquence sometimes moved seemingly immovable forces to act justly. Epiphanius served as ambassador to Emperor Anthemius and King Euric at Toulouse. During his episcopate, Odoacer destroyed Pavia and the bishop rebuilt it. In order to ransom some of his flock who were held captive by Kings Gondebald and Godegisile, he travelled to Burgundy and there contracted a fever that caused is death at age 58. His relics were translated to Hildesheim in Lower Saxony in 963, where they may lie in a silver coffin near the high altar. His successor at Pavia, Saint Ennodius, wrote a panegyric about Epiphanius in verse (Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth). Although the image does not seem to match the story, in art, Epiphanius is supposed to be portrayed as a bishop going to his martyrdom with three maidens: Luminosa, Speciosa, and Liberata (Roeder).


Fructuosus B, Augurius & Eulogius MM (RM)
Died 259. Fructuosus was the bishop of Tarragoña, Spain, who was martyred with his deacons SS Augurius and Eulogius, during the persecutions of Valerian and Gallienus--that is all that is really known about him.

Their authentic 'acts' relate that they were arrested on Sunday, January 16, just as they were going to bed. The bishop asked for permission to put on his shoes, after which he cheerfully followed the arresting guards. In prison they spent their time in fervent prayer, full of joy at the prospect of the crown prepared for them. Fructuosus blessed those who visited him and on Monday baptized a catechumen named Rogatianus. On Wednesday they kept the usual fast of the stations until 3:00 p.m.

A few days later, on Friday, January 21, the three were brought before the governor. Their examination was short and to the point: the prisoners affirmed their worship of one God, and were sentenced to be burned to death.

Officers were posted to prevent any demonstration because even the pagans loved Fructuosus due to his rare virtues. The Christians accompanied them with sorrow tempered with joy. The faithful offered Saint Fructuosus a cup of wine, which he refused because, being it was only 10:00 a.m., it was too early to break the fast.

Even with the guards at the gate of the amphitheater some of the Christians were able to get close. The bishop's lector, Augustalis, weepingly asked permission to remove his bishop's shoes. Felix, a Christian soldier stepped in and asked the bishop for his prayers. Fructuosus replied so that all could hear, "I am bound to bear in mind the whole universal church from East to West. Remain always in the bosom of the Catholic Church, and you will have a share in my prayers" and added words of comfort to his flock. As the flames enveloped them and burned through their bonds, say the 'acts,' "they stretched forth their arms in token of the Lord's victory, praying to him till they gave up their souls." The account of their examination is still extant and thoroughly authentic.

Tradition adds that Babylas and Mygdone, two Christian servants of the governor, saw the heavens open and the saints carried up with crowns on their heads. By night the faithful came and each took some part of the martyrs' bodies to their own home, but heaven admonished them and they each returned the relics to a single grave. (Attwater, Benedictines, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).

In art this trio is portrayed as a bishop and two deacons singing on their funeral pyre. They are venerated at Tarragona and in Africa (Husenbeth, Roeder).


Blessed Inés de Beniganim, OSA Disc., V (AC)
(also known as Agnes of Beniganim)

Born near Valencia, Spain, 1625; died at Beniganim, Spain, in 1696; beatified in 1888. Blessed Inés entered the convent of barefoot Augustinian hermits at Beniganim and took the name Josepha Maria. In Spain she is usually called by her baptismal name (Attwater2, Benedictines).


Lawdog (AC)
6th century. He is the titular patron of four churches in the diocese of Saint David's in Wales and, perhaps, identical with Saint Lleuddad (Laudatus), abbot of Bardsey (Benedictines).


Maccallin of Waulsort, OSB, Abbot (AC)
(also known as Malcallan, Maolcalain)

Died 978. Maccallin was an Irishman who made a pilgrimage to Saint Fursey's shrine at Péronne during the Viking terror. He entered the Benedictine abbey of Gorze. Later he became a hermit and was given a grant of land on which he founded Saint Michael's monastery at Thiérache and governed it as abbot. Soon after he made a second foundation at Waulsort (Valciodorum) Abbey, near Dinant, Belgium, on the River Meuse, over which he placed Saint Cadroe. In 946, Emperor Otto I issued a charter that stipulated that Waulsort should be governed by an Irish abbot so long as one was available within the community (Benedictines, D'Arcy, Fitzpatrick, Montague, O'Hanlon).


Meinrad of Einsiedeln, OSB Hermit M (RM)
(also known as Maynard, Meginrat)

Born at Solgen (Sulichgau near Wurtemberg), Swabia; died at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, c. 861-63. The abbey of Saint Meinrad at Einsiedeln near Lake Zurich takes its name from this saint. It's interesting that several sources (who may have copied from each other or another single source) say that Saint Meinrad was born of the noble Hohenzollern family. Farmer reports that his parents were free peasants. In either case, he was educated, professed, and ordained at the abbey of Reichenau, Switzerland. He had some teaching assignment near the upper lake of Zurich.

Meinrad's soul, however, longed for solitude, and to devote itself to contemplation. He looked for and found the perfect place in a forest. With the permission of his superiors, about 829, Meinrad went to live as a hermit at the place. Like many hermits before him, Meinrad practiced austerity. Word of his holiness spread and attracted many visitors. So many that he found it necessary to move to a remoter spot, where the abbey was built 40 years after his death.

On January 21, 861, courteously received two visitors, whom he fed and provided shelter although he knew them to be ruffians. They were robbers who murdered Meinrad with clubs upon finding he had no tangible treasure. Because Meinrad was a holy man, he was regarded as a martyr. The thieves were found, judged, and executed. Meinrad's body was enshrined at Reichenau, where it was venerated.

Beginning about 900 with Blessed Benno, a succession of solitaries occupied his hermitage (which is what the name 'Einseideln' means), and eventually, in the 10th century, a regular Benedictine monastery was established there. It became a great monastery and pilgrimage center that has an unbroken history of over 1,000 years. The statue of the Blessed Virgin in the huge church is said to have belonged to Meinrad himself. He is the patron of Einsiedeln (Switzerland) and Swabia (Germany) (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Walsh).

In art Saint Meinrad is generally grouped with Saint Benedict, holding a club and ciborium. Sometimes he may be pictured (1) beaten to death with clubs by two men; (2) as a monk with a tau staff going into the wilderness; (3) with two ravens near him, or pursuing his murderers; or (4) eating fish with a widow (Roeder).


Patroclus of Troyes M (RM)
Died at Troyes, France, c. 275 or 279. Saint Patroclus was a very wealthy, good, and exceedingly charitable Christian of Troyes, who was martyred by beheading in that city during the reign of Aurelian. He was highly venerated after the discovery of his acta. In 960, his relics were translated to Soerst in Westphalia (Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, Roeder). In art Saint Patroclus is a warrior pointing to a fish with a pearl in its mouth (Roeder). He is invoked against demons and fever (Roeder).


Publius of Malta BM (RM)
Died c. 112. Tradition identifies Saint Publius as the prefect or "chief man of the island of Malta." He was host to Saint Paul when the apostle was on his way to Rome as a prisoner; Paul cured his father of fever and dysentery (Acts 28:7-10). According to tradition, Publius later became the first bishop of Malta, though another tradition has him bishop of Athens and suffering martyrdom there during the reign of Emperor Trajan (Benedictines, Delaney).


Blessed Thomas Reynolds M (AC)
(also known as Thomas Green)

Born at Oxford; died 1642; beatified 1929. Thomas's true name was Green, but like many Catholics of his time used an alias. After being educated for the priesthood at Rheims, Valladolid, and Seville, he was ordained in 1592 and returned to the English mission, where he worked for nearly 50 years (for once the alias worked!). He must have been about 80 years old when he was hanged, drawn, and quartered for his priesthood at Tyburn together with Saint Bartholomew Roe (Attwater2, Benedictines).


Vimin (Vivian, Wynnin, Gwynnin) of Holywood B (AC)
6th century. Saint Vimin, a Scottish bishop whose history is very confused, is said to have been the founder of the monastery of Holywood at Nithsdale. It is related that Vimin was an abbot in Fifeshire when he was consecrated bishop. He actively evangelized the region. In order to avoid the temptations to pride that accompanied his many miracles, he moved to a deserted place and founded Holywood (Sacrumboscum), which later became famous for producing many holy and learned men, particularly the 13th- century John of Sacrobosco. The family of Wemse in Fifeshire is said to be of the same lineage as Vimin (Attwater2, Benedictines, Husenbeth).



About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.