In Roman Catholic tradition, teenagers and young adults pick a saint they admire before they are confirmed into the Church. I was 15 when I was confirmed and I remember how the other girls in the class were picking saints and saint names because they “sounded pretty.” I remember a lot of them chose St. Cecilia (patron saint of music and musicians) because the name sounded nice. (It also means “blind,” which I found amusing.)
I chose St. Agnes because she was brave. She died for what she believed in. Even at the age of 12-13, she did not fear death. She sacrificed her life for her faith and her love for Christ and the Church. She doesn’t have the most lovely-sounding name in the world, but that didn’t matter to me. The name means “lamb,” which connotes purity and innocence. It’s one of the reasons she is depicted carrying a lamb; the other reason being that she died for Christ, who is the Lamb of God.
Not much is known about the actual details of her death (she was martyred sometime between 258 and 304 a.d.), but there are some interesting legends. Some say that men who tried to rape her were struck blind. Others say that when she was to be burned at the stake, the wood would not catch fire. Others say that when she was dragged away to a brothel, her hair grew so long that it encased her body and saved her from rape. Some even say that a miraculous thunderstorm saved her from rape.
No matter what, the main storyline is that she was condemned to be raped in a brothel because she would not worship the pagan gods. Sources agree that she died for her faith and she was outstandingly brave for someone her age.
That’s why St. Agnes inspires me – because she was brave enough to stand up for her beliefs at the threat of death.
And there is also a lovely poem by John Keats called “The Eve of St. Agnes,” which begins:
St Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.