Friday, January 21, 2011

Agnes Dei: St. Agnes of God

Stained glass depiction of St. Agnes with her traditional attribute: a lamb.

Today, the Church's calendar commemorates St. Agnes of Rome (d. ca. 304), an early and young martyr for the Church and one of the seven female saints (besides the Virgin Mary) mentioned by name in the traditional Roman Canon (aka Eucharistic Prayer I) in the Mass. Her Latin name, Agnes, resembles the Latin word for lamb (agnus), so the symbol of the lamb has been closely associated with this saint in art, from early times.

After her execution, Agnes' body was buried in the Roman catacombs and her tomb soon became a shrine to her stalwart faith and a church was eventually built over the site. It still stands today, known as Sant'Agnese fuori le mura, or "St. Agnes Outside the Walls" (because it was constructed outside the walls of the ancient city). Her bones were re-buried beneath the high altar of this church after it was completed. St. Agnes' skull, however, is preserved in a side chapel of another Roman church, Sant'Agnese in Agone, on the famed Piazza Navona.

Church of St. Agnes Outside the Walls, Rome. Built over her tomb.
Skull of St. Agnes in the Church of St. Agnes in Agony, Rome.

You can read a short but informative article about St. Agnes here.

Cool Catholic Custom: Blessing of the Lambs

Each year on this day, two lambs are brought from a convent in Rome to be blessed by the pope. The lambs will then be shorn on Holy Thursday and their wool will be used to create the woolen palliums that are given to new metropolitan archbishops to be worn as a sign of their jurisdiction and as a symbol of their unity with the See of Peter. Here is a short video clip about last year's blessing.