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Stronger Than Hercules: The Story of Saint Agnes, Virgin, Martyr, Role Model

Mandeville, LA – St. Agnes was born around 290 in Rome and her story is one of the most cherished in all of the Roman Martyrologies. Her riches and beauty excited the young noblemen of the first families in Rome, to compete with each other in order to gain her hand in marriage.

“You may stain your sword with my blood, but will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ.”

The Churcch of Saint Agnes in Rome. The Mosaic above the high altar shows Saint Agnes with a sword at her feet, standing on the flames that could not burn her.

Agnes answered them all, that she had consecrated her virginity to a heavenly spouse, who could not be beheld by mortal eyes. This enraged some of one of her suitors who accused her of being a Christian and asked the governor to put her on trial. She was then dragged before the Roman idols, and commanded to offer incense, according to Saint Ambrose Saint Agnes “…could by no means be compelled to move her hand, except to make the sign of the cross.”

The governor then threatened Agnes with being made a prostitute to surrender her virginity by force. Saint Agnes told him “You may stain your sword with my blood, but will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ.” When these efforts failed, the governor ordered Agnes to be beheaded, Saint Ambrose describes her execution, that she “went to the place of execution more cheerfully than others go to their wedding.”

A church was built on the spot where Agnes was executed in the time of Constantine the Great, and was repaired by Pope Honorius in the seventh century.

Every year, on her feast day, the Holy Father is presented with a pair of lambs that he blesses, the lambs are then shorn and that wool is used to make palliums for archbishops of the Church.

Pope Francis observed the feast of St. Agnes on Thursday [in 2016] with the time-honored custom of the blessing of lambs, whose wool will be used to make palliums, a vestment worn by metropolitan archbishops which signify their unity with the Church of Rome.The two small lambs, traditionally less than a year old, were placed in baskets and carried to the Urban VIII Chapel in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace Jan. 21, where they received the Holy Father’s blessing.

St Agnes on the Pyre, by Ercole Ferrata, 1660-64, in the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, built at the site of her martyrdom in the Piazza Navona in Rome.

Her riches and beauty excited the young noblemen of the first families in Rome, to vie with one another in their addresses, who should gain her in marriage. Agnes answered them all, that she had consecrated her virginity to a heavenly spouse, who could not be beheld by mortal eyes. There are those who say that Agnes story is circumstantial and no details of it exist yet a mere 50 years after her death she is mentioned, by name and with detail of her life and martyrdom by Doctors of The Church. In his Sermon 78, Saint Augustine said of Saint Agnes:

“Blessed are those whose passion has been related; blessed too is saint Agnes, who also suffered on this same day; a virgin who was what she was called. Agnes means “lamb” in Latin, “chaste” in Greek. She was what she was called; she was deservedly rewarded with a martyr’s crown. So then what, my brothers, what am I to say to you about these men whom the pagans worshipped as gods, for whom they instituted temples, priesthoods, altars, sacrifices? What am I to say to you? That they are not to be compared to our martyrs? Martyrs are superior to pagan heroes. Agnes, a 13-year old girl was much stronger that Juno, and Fructuosus was better than Hercules.” – Saint Augustine

Around the same time, Saint Jerome wrote of Saint Agnes in a letter.

If you cannot bear so much as a frown from your own, how would you steel yourself to face the tribunals of persecutors? If men’s examples leave you unmoved, at least gather courage and confidence from the blessed martyr Agnes who vanquished the temptations both of youth and of a despot and by her martyrdom hallowed the very name of chastity. – Saint Jerome

The Reverend Alban Butler wrote an inspirational summary of Saint Agnes’ purity and the impact holy virgins have on The Church.

The fathers, from the very disciples of the apostles, are all profuse in extolling the excellency of holy virginity, as a special fruit of the incarnation of Christ, his divine institution, and a virtue which has particular charms in the eyes of God, who delights in chaste minds, and chooses to dwell singularly in them. They often repeat, that purity raises men, even in this mortal life, to the dignity of angels; purifies the soul, fits it for a more perfect love of God, and a closer application to heavenly things, and disengages the mind and heart from worldly thoughts and affections. It produces in the soul the nearest resemblance to God. Chastity is threefold, that of virgins, that of widows, and that of married persons; in each state it will receive its crown, as St. Ambrose observes,  but in the first is most perfect, so that St. Austin calls its fruit a hundred fold, and that of marriage sixty fold; but the more excellent this virtue is, and the higher its glory and reward, the more heroic and the more difficult is its victory; nor is it perfect unless it be embellished with all other virtues in an heroic degree, especially divine charity and the most profound humility.

Saint Agnes, ora pro nobis.

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About the author

Host of the Mike Church Show on The Veritas Radio Network's CRUSADE Channel & Founder of the Veritas Radio Network. Formerly, of Sirius/XM's Patriot channel 125. The show began in March of 2003 exclusively on Sirius and remains "the longest running radio talk show in satellite radio history".

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