Friday, January 21, 2022

Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr


How rich is the constellation of Martyrs, which shines in this portion of the sacred Cycle. Yesterday, we had St. Sebastian; tomorrow we shall be singing the name which means Victory, for it is the Feast of Vincent; and now, today, between these two rich palm branches, we are rejoiced with the lovely rose and lily wreath of Agnes. It is to a girl of thirteen that our Emmanuel gave this stern courage of martyrdom, which made her meet the enemy of as bold a front as either the valiant Captain of the praetorian band or the dauntless Deacon of Saragossa. If they are the soldiers of Jesus, she is his tender and devoted Spouse. These are the triumphs of the Son of Mary! Scarcely has he shown himself to the world, and lo! every noble heart flies toward him, according to that word of his: Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together.

It is the admirable result of the Virginity of his Blessed Mother, who has brought honor to the fecundity of the soul, and set it far above that of the body. It was Mary that first opened the way whereby certain chosen souls mount up even to the Divine Son and fix their gaze, in a cloudless vision, on his beauty; for he himself said: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.

What a glory is it not for the Catholic Church, that she alone has the gift of this holy state of Virginity, which is the source of every other sacrifice, because nothing but the love of God could inspire a human heart to vow Virginity! And what a grand honor for Christian Rome, that she should have produced a Saint Agnes, that angel of earth, in comparison with whom the Vestals of paganism are mere pretenses of devotedness, for their Virginity was never punished by fire and sword, nay, rather, was flattered by the recompense of earthly honors and riches!

Not that our Saint is without her recompense—only her recompense is not marred with the flaw of all human rewards. The name of this child, who lived but thirteen short years, will be echoed to the end of time in the sacred Canon of the universal Sacrifice. The path trod by the innocent maiden, on the way to her trial, is still marked out in the Holy City. In the Circus Agonalis (now the Piazza Navona), there rises the beautiful Church of Saint Agnes, with its rich cupola; and beneath are the vaults which were once the haunts of infamy, but now are a holy sanctuary, where everything reminds us of her who here won her glorious victory. Further on, the Nomentan Road, outside the ramparts, is the beautiful Basilica, built by Constantine; and here, under an altar covered with precious stones, lies the Body of the young Saint. Round this Basilica, there are immense crypts; and in these did Agnes’ Relics repose until the epoch of peace, surrounded by thousands of Martyrs whose holy remains were also deposited here.

Nor must we pass over in silence the tribute of honor paid by Rome each year, on this Feast, to her beloved Martyr. Two lambs are placed on the altar of the Basilica Nomentana; they are emblems of the meekness of Jesus and the innocence of the gentle Agnes. After they have been blessed by the Abbot of the Religious Community, which serves this Church, they are taken to a Monastery of Nuns, where they are carefully reared. Their wool is used for making the Palliums, which the Pope sends to all Patriarchs and Metropolitans of the Catholic world, as the essential emblem of their jurisdiction. Thus, this simple woollen ornament, which these prelates have to wear on their shoulders as a symbol of the sheep carried on the shoulders of the good Shepherd, and which the Sovereign Pontiff takes from off the Altar of Saint Peter in order to send it to its destination, carries to the very ends of the world the sublime union of these two sentiments—the vigor and power of the Prince of the Apostles, and the gentleness of Agnes the Virgin.

We will now quote the beautiful eulogium on St. Agnes, written by St. Ambrose in his Book On Virgins. The Church gives almost the entire passage in her Office of today’s Feast; and assuredly, the Virgin of Christ could not have had a finer panegyrist than the great Bishop of Milan, who is the most eloquent and persuasive of all the Fathers on the subject of holy Virginity. We read that in the Cities where Ambrose preached, Mothers were afraid of their daughters being present at his Sermons, lest he should persuade them to such love of Christ as to choose the better part.

“Having resolved,” says the holy Bishop, “to write a Book on Virginity, I think myself happy in being able to begin it on the Feast we are keeping of the Virgin Agnes. It is the Feast of a Virgin; let us walk in the path of purity. It is the Feast of a Martyr; let us offer up our Sacrifice. It is the Feast of St. Agnes; let men admire, and children not despair; let the married wonder, and the unmarried imitate. But what can we speak worthy of this Saint whose very name is not void of praise? As her devotedness is beyond her years, and her virtue superhuman—so, as it seems to me, her name is not an appellation, but a prophecy, presaging that she was to be a Martyr.” The holy Doctor is here alluding to the word Agnus, from which some have derived the name Agnes; and he says that the young Saint had immolation in her very name, for it called her victim. He goes on to consider the other etymology of Agnes, from the Greek word agnos, which means pure; and he thus continues his discourse:

“The maiden’s name is an expression of purity: Martyr, then, and Virgin! Is not that praise enough? There is no praise so eloquent as merit that is too great to need seeking. No one is so praiseworthy as he who may be praised by all. Now, all men are the praisers of Agnes, for when they pronounce her name, they say her praise, for they say A Martyr.

“There is a tradition that she suffered martyrdom at the age of thirteen. Detestable indeed the cruelty that spared not even so tender an age! but oh! the power of faith, that could find even children to be its witnesses! Here was a victim scarce big enough for a wound, for where could the sword fall? and yet she had courage enough to conquer the sword.

“At such an age as this, a girl trembles if she but see her mother angry, and cries as though it were a grievous thing if but pricked with a needle’s point. And Agnes, who stands amidst blood-stained murderers, is fearless! She is stunned with the rattle of the heavy chains, and yet not a flutter in that heart! She offers her whole body to the sword of the furious soldier, for though she knows not what death is, yet is she quite ready to endure it. Perchance they will take her by force to the altars of their gods? If they do, she will stretch out her hands to Jesus, and amidst those sacrilegious fires, she will sign herself with that blessed sign, the trophy of our divine conqueror; and then, if they will, and they can find shackles small enough to fit such tender limbs, they may fasten her hands and neck in their iron fetters!

“How strange a martyrdom! She is too young to be punished, yet she is old enough to win a victory. She cannot fight, yet she easily gains a crown. She has but the age of a scholar, yet she mastered every virtue. Bride never went to nuptials with so glad a heart, or so light a step, as this young virgin marches to the place of execution. She is decked not with the gay show of plaited tresses, but with Christ; she is wreathed not with flowers, but with purity.

“All stood weeping; Agnes shed not a tear. Some wondered how it could be that she who had but just begun her life, should be as ready to sacrifice it as though she had lived it out; and everyone was amazed that she, who was too young to give evidence even in her own affairs, should be so bold a witness of the divinity. Her oath would be invalid in a human cause; yet she is believed, when she bears testimony for her God. Their surprise was just: for a power thus above nature could only come from Him who is the author of all nature.

“Her executioner does all he can to frighten her; he speaks fair words to coax her; he tells her of all the suitors who have sought her as their bride; but she replies: ’The Spouse insults her Beloved if she hesitate. I belong to Him who first betrothed me:—why, executioner, dost thou not strike? Kill this body, which might be loved by eyes I would not wish to please.’

“She stood, she prayed, she bowed down her head. The executioner trembles as thou himself were going to be beheaded. His hand shakes, and his cheek grows pale, to strike this girl who loves the danger and the blow. Here, then, have we a twofold martyrdom in a single victim—one for her chastity; the other for her faith. She was a Virgin before; and now, she is a Martyr.”

The Roman Church sings on this Feast the sweet Responsories in which Agnes expresses her tender love of her Jesus, and her happiness at having Him for her Spouse. They are formed form the words of the ancient Acts of her Martyrdom, which were long attributed to the pen of St. Ambrose.


℟. Dexteram meam at collum mem cinxit lapidibus pretiosis; tradidit auribus meis inæstimabiles margaritas: * Et circumdedit me virmantibus atque corascantibus gemmis. ℣. Posuit signum in faciem meam, ut nullum præter eum, amatorem admittam. * Et circumdedit me.

℟. My Spouse has set precious stones on my right hands, and on my neck; he has hung priceless pearls in my ears: * And he has laden me with gay and glittering gems. ℣. He has placed his sign upon my face, that I may have none other to love me but Him. * And he has.

℟. Amo Christum in cujus thalamum introibo, cujus Mater virgo est, cujus Pater feminam nescit, cujus mihi organs modulatis vocibus cantant: * Quem cum amavero, casta sum, cum tetigero, munda sum, cum accepero, virgo sum. ℣. Annulo fidei suæ subarrhavit me, et immensis monilibus ornavit me. * Quem.

℟. I love Christ; I shall be the spouse of Him, whose Mother is the Virgin, and whose Father begot him divinely, and who delights me with sweet music of organs and singers: * When I love him, I am chaste; when near him, I am purest; when I possess him, I still wear my Virgin’s wreath. ℣. He has betrothed me with the ring of his fidelity, and he decked me with a necklace of priceless worth. * When.

℟. Mel et lac ex ejus ore suscepi. * Et sanguis ejus ornavit genas meas. ℣. Ostendit mihi thesauros incomparabiles, quos mihi ne daturum repromisit. * Et sanguis.

℟. Milk and honey have I received from his lips; * and his Blood has graced my cheek. ℣. He has shown me incomparable treasures, and these has he promised to give me. * And his blood.

℟. Jam corpus ejus corpori meo sociatum est, et sanguis ejus ornavit genas meas: * Cujus Mater virgo est, cujus Pater feminam nescit. ℣. Ipsi sum desponsata cui Angeli serviunt, cujus pulchritudinem sol et luna mirantur. * Cujus Mater.

℟. Already have I communicated of his sacred Body, and his Blood has graced my cheek: * His Mother is the Virgin, his Father is God. ℣. I am espoused to Him whom the Angels obey, and whose beauty is gazed on by the son and the moon. * His mother.

St. Ambrose was sure to write a Hymn on the Virgin-Martyr, in whose praise he was so enthusiastic. We almost despair of giving an idea of the beauty of his verses to such as can read only our version of them.


Agnes beatæ virginis
Natalis est, quo spiritum
Cœlo refudit debitum,
Pio sacrata sanguine.

It is the blessed Virgin Agnes’ feast, for, today, she was sanctified by shedding her innocent blood, and gave to heaven her heaven-claimed spirit.

Matura martyrio fuit,
Matura nondum nuptiis,
Nutabat in viris fides,
Cedebat et fessus senex.

She that was too young to be a bride, was old enough to be a martyr, and that, too, in an age when men were faltering in faith, and even hoary-heads grew wearied and denied our God.

Metu parentes territi
Claustrum pudoris auxerant:
Solvit fores custodiæ
Fides teneri nescia.

Her parents trembled for their Agnes, and doubly did they thus defend the treasure of her Purity; but her Faith disdains a silent hiding-place, and unlocks its shelter-giving gate.

Prodiere quis nuptam putet,
Sic læta vultu ducitur,
Novas viro ferens opes,
Dotata censu sanguinis.

One would think it was a bride, hurrying with her glad smiles to give some fresh-got present to her Spouse; and so it was: she was bearing to Him the dowry of her martyrdom.

Aras nefandi numinis
Adolere tædis cogitur:
Respondet: Haud tales faces
Sumpsere Christi virgines.

They would fain make her light a torch at the altar of some vile deity they came to: “The Virgins of Jesus,” said Agnes, “are not wont to hold a torch like this.

Hic ignis extinguit fidem,
Hæc flamma lumen eripit:
Hic, hic ferite, ut profluo
Cruore restinguam focos.

“Its fire would quench one’s faith—its flame would put out my light. Strike, strike me, and the stream of my blood shall extinguish these fires.”

Percussa quam pompam tulit?
Nam veste se totam tegit,
Curam pudoris præstitit,
Ne quis retectam cerneret.

They strike her to the ground; and, as she falls, she gathers her robes around her, dreading, in the jealous purity of her soul, the insulting gaze of some lewd eye.

In morte vivebat pudor,
Vultumque texerat manu;
Terram genuflexo petit,
Lapsu verecundo cadens.

Alive to purity even in the act of death, she buries her face in her hands; and kneeling on the ground, she falls as purity would wish to fall.

Gloria tibi Domine,
Gloria Unigenito,
Una cum Sancto Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula. Amen.

Glory be to thee, O Lord! and glory to thine Only Begotten Son, together with thy Holy Spirit, for everlasting ages. Amen.

Our admirable Prudentius, who visited Rome in the early part of the 5th century, and witnessed the devotion of the Roman people to St. Agnes, consecrated to her sweet memory the following Hymn, which is one of the finest of his poems. Though very long, it is the Hymn used for this Feast, in the Mozarabic Breviary.


Agnes sepulchrum est Romulea in domo,
Fortis pueliæ, martyris inclytæ.
Conspectu in ipso condita turrium,
Servat salutem virgo Quiritium:
Nec non et ipsos protegit advenas,
Puro, ac fideli pectore supplices.

The tomb of Agnes, the intrepid maiden, the glorious Martyr, is in the City of Romulus. In her resting place, fronting the ramparts, the Virgin watches over the sons of Quirinus; and to pilgrims, too, that pray to her with pure and faithful hearts, she extends her protection.

Duplex corona est præstita Martyri,
Intactum ab omni crimine virginal,
Mortis deinde gloria liberæ.

She is a Martyr, that wears a double crown; for she was a spotless, innocent, virgin; and a glorious victim that freely died for Christ.

Aiunt, jugali vix habilem toro
Primis annis forte puellulam,
Christo calentem, fortiter impiis
Jussis renisam, quo minus idolis
Addicta, sacram desereret fidem.

It is related, that when a girl, and too young to be a bride, she loved Jesus with tenderest love, and bravely withstood the impious commands, that bade her offer sacrifice to the idols, and deny the holy faith.

Tentata multis nam prius artibus,
Nunc ore blandi judicis illice,
Nunc sævientis carnificis minis,
Stabat feroci robore pertinax,
Corpusque duris excruciatibus
Ultro offerebat, non renuens mori.

No art was left untried to make her yield: the judge put on the softness of winning words, and the grim executioner blustered out his threats—but Agnes stood firm in stern courageousness, bidding them put her body to their fierce tortures, for that she was willing to die.

Tum trux tyrannus: Si facile est, ait,
Pœnam subactis ferre doloribus,
Et vita vilis apernitur: at pudor
Charas dicatæ virginitatis est.

Then spoke the fierce tyrant: “I know thy readiness to suffer pain and tortures, and at how low a price thou settest life; but there is one thing thou holdest dear—a virgin’s purity.

Hanc in pupanar tradere publicum
Certum est, ad aram ni caput applicet,
Ac de Minerva jam veniam roget,
Quam virgo pergit temnere virginem.
Omnis juventus irruat, et novum
Ludibriorum mancipium petat.

“’Tis this I have resolved to expose to insult in the common brothel, unless thy head shall bend before the altar of our virgin-goddess Minerva, and thou, a virgin that darest to despise a virgin such as she, shalt humbly crave her pardon. There shall youthful wantons have access, and thou be minister to passion.”

Haud, inquit Agnes, immemor est ita
Christus suorum, perdat ut aureum
Nobis pudorem, nos quoque deserat.
Præsto est pudicis, nec patitur sacræ
Integritatis munera pollui.
Ferrum impiabis sanguine, si voles:
Non inquinabis membra libidine.

“And thinkest thou,” said Agnes, “that Christ can so forget his children, as to let our gold of purity be robbed, and us be outcasts to his care? He is ever with the chaste, shielding from injury the gift he has bestowed of holy virginity. Thy sword may drip, if so thou listest, with our blood; but, contamination and dishonor, never!”

Sic elocutam publicitus jubet
Flexu in plateæ sistere virginem,
Stantem refugit mœsta frequentia,
Aversa vultus, ne petulantius
Quisquam verendum conspiceret locum.

Scarce had she said these words, than order was given to expose her in the vaults of the well-known street. A throng, indeed, was there; but pity put a veil over every eye, and fear imposed respect.

Intendit unus forte procaciter
Os in puellam, nec trepidat sacram
Spectare formam lumine lubrico.
En ales ignis fulminis in modum
Vibratur ardens, atque oculos ferit:
Cæscus corusco lumine corruit,
Atque in plateæ pulvere palpitat.
Tollunt sodales seminecem solo,
Verbisque deflent exequialibus.

Save one alone, and gaze, he says, he will. He scorns this modest fear, which checks the froward eye.—But lo! an Angel, swift as lightning, strikes and blinds the wanton wretch. He falls, and writhes amidst the dust. His fellows raise him from the ground, lifeless, as he seems to them; and, weeping and lamenting, bear the corpse away.

Ibat triumphans virgo, Deum Patrem,
Christumque sacro carmine concinens,
Quod sub profani labe periculi
Castum lupanar, nec violabile
Experta victrix virginitas foret.

Agnes had triumphed: and in a hymn of praise, she sings her thanks to God the Father and his Christ, for that they had turned the den of infamy into a shelter for her treasure and made virginity victorious.

Sunt, qui rogatam rettulerint preces
Fudisse Christo, redderet ut reo
Lucem jacenti: tum juveni halitum
Vitæ innovatum visibus integris.

Some say, that she was prayed to pray to Christ, that he would restore the prostrate sinner to the vision he had lost: she did so, and the youth regained his consciousness and sight.

Primum sed Agnes hunc habuit gradum
Cœlestic nulæ, mox alius datur.
Accensus iram nam furor incitat
Hostic cruenti. Vincor, ait gemens;
I, stringe ferrum, miles, et exere
Præcepta summi regia principis.

But this was only one advance in heaven for our Saint; a second is to come. The cruel tyrant boils with furious wrath, and choked with disappointment exclaims: “Shall I be baffled by a girl? Draw thy sword, soldier, and do the royal biddings of our sovereign lord.”

Ut vidit Agnes, stare trucem virum
Mucrone nudo, lætio hæc ait:
Exsulto, talis quod potius venit
Vesanus, atrox, turbidus armiger,
Quam si veniret languidus, ac tener
Mollisque ephebus tinctus aromate,
Qui me pudoris funere per deret.

Agnes looked up, and saw the savage minion standing with his unsheathed sword, and thus she spoke with beaming face: “Oh! happy, happy change! A wild, fierce, boisterous swordman, for that young lovesick, smooth-faced, soft perfumed murderer of the chaste soul!

Hic, hic amator jam, fa teor, placet:
Ibo urruentis gressibus obviam,
Nec demorabor vota calentia:
Ferrum in papillas omne recepero,
Pectusque ad imum vim gladii traham.
Sic nupta Christo transiliam poli
Omnes tenebras æthere celsior.

“This is a suitor that does please me. I will not run from him, nor deny him what he asks. His steel shall nestle in my bosom, and his sword shall warm in my heart’s best blood. Thus wedded to my Christ, I shall mount above this dark world to the realms beyond the clouds.

Æterne rector, divide januas
Cœli, obseratas terrigenis prius;
Ac te sequentem, Christe, animam voca,
Quum virginalem, tum Patris hostiam.

“Eternal King! the gate of heaven, closed to men before thy coming on our earth, is opened now—ah! let me enter in. Call to thyself, my Jesus, a soul that seeks but thee: thy virgin-spouse, and thy Father’s martyr—call me, Lord, to thee.”

Sic fata, Christum vertice cernuo
Supplex adorat, vuluus ut imminens
Cervix subiret proua paratius.
Ast ille tantam spem peragit manu:
Uno sub ictu nam caput amputat.
Sensum doloris mors cita prævenit.

Thus did she pray; and then, with bended head, adored her Lord, and in this posture was the readier to receive the uplifted sword. The soldier’s hand was raised, and all the hopes of Agnes were fulfilled, for with a single blow he beheads the holy maiden, and death comes speedily to leave no time for pain.

Exutus inde spiritus emicat,
Liberque in aurus exilit: Angeli
Sepsere euntem tramite candido.

Quickly her spirit quits its garb of flesh, and speeds untrammelled through the air, surrounded, as it mounts, by a choir of lovely Angels.

Miratur orbem sub pedibus situm,
Spectat tenebras ardua subditas,
Ridetque, solis quod rota circuit,
Quod mundus omnis volvit, et implicat,
Rerum quod atro turbine vivitur,
Quod vana secli mobilitas rapit:

She sees this orb of ours far far below, and all beneath her seems a speck of dark. All earthly things are now so dwindled to her spirit’s eye, that she looks at them and smiles: yea, all seems poor: the space traversed by the Sun—the globe with all its system—all that lives in the stormy whirlwind of creation, and changes with the vain fickleness of the world.

Reges, tyrannos, imperia et gradus,
Pompasque honorum stulta tumentium:
Argenti et auri vim, rabida siti
Cunctis petitam per varium nefas,
Splendore multo structa habitacula,
Illusa pictæ vestis inania,
Iram, timorem, vota, pericula:
Nunc triste longum, nunc breve gaudium,
Livoris atri fumificas faces
Nigrescit unde spes hominum et decus,
Et, quod malorum tetrius omnium est,
Gentilitatis sordida nubila.

Kings and tyrants, empires and grades, and the pompous pageantry of honors big with folly—the sovereignty of gold and silver, which all men seek with rapid thirst, and gain by varied crime—sumptuous dwellings—rich colored garbs, mere graceful lies—wrath and fear, hope and peril—grief so long, and joy so brief—black envy’s smoky flames, which blight men’s hopes and fame—and last but worst of all earth’s ills, the gloomy cloud of pagan superstition.

Hæc calcat Agnes, hæ pede proterit,
Stans, et draconis calce premens caput:
Terrena mundi qui ferus omnia
Spargit venenis, mergit et inferis,
Nunc virginali perdomitus solo,
Cristas cerebri deprimit ignei,
Nec victus audet tollere verticem.

Agnes sees all this, and tramples on them all. She stands, and crushes with her foot the serpent’s head. This monster, with his venom, taints all things on earth, and plunges into hell the fools that are his slaves; but, now, he crouching lies beneath a virgin’s foot, droops his fiery crest, and dares not raise his vanquished head.

Cingit coronis interca Deus
Frontem duabus martyris innubæ
Unam decemplex edita sexies
Merces perenni lumine conficit:
Centenus extat fructus in altera.

And now, our God girds with two crowns the Virgin-Martyr’s brow: one is a sixty-fold of light eternal and reward: the other is the hundredfold of fruit.

O virgo felix, o nova gloria,
Cœlestic arcis nobilis incola,
Intende nostris colluvionibus
Vultum gemello cum diademate:
Cui posse soli Cunctiparens dedit
Castum vel ipsum reddere fornicem.

O happy Virgin! Singular in thy glory! Noble inhabitant of heaven! Decked with a twofold crown! Oh! look upon us who live in misery and sin; for, to thee alone did our Heavenly Father give the power to change impurity’s abode into the shelter of chastity.

Purgabor oris propitiabilis
Fulgore, nostrum si jecur impleas.
Nil non pudicum est quod pia visere
Dignaris, almo vel pede tangere.

Fill my heart with the bright ray of thine intercession, and I shall be cleansed; for all is pure, that can from thy pity gain a look or loving visit.

There is still another Hymn to the praise of Agnes. It is from the pen of Adam of Saint-Victor, and is one of the finest of his Sequences.


Animemur ad agonem
Recolentæ passionem
Gloriosæ virginis.

Let us get courage for our own battle, by honoring the martyrdom of the glorious virgin Agnes.

Contrectantes sacrum florem,
Respiremus ad odorem
Resperesæ dulcedinis.

Let us look at this sweet flower at our feast, and inhale into our souls the virtues of its fragrance.

Pulchra, prudens et illustris,
Jam duobus Agnes lustris
Addebat triennium.

Agnes was fair, and wise, and rich, and had reached her thirteenth year.

Proles amat hanc præfecti:
Sed ad ejus virgo flecti
Respuit arbitrium.

The Prefect’s son saw and loved her; but the maiden could not be induced to grant his suit.

Mira vis fidei,
Mira virginitas,
Mira virginei
Cordis integritas.

How great is the power of faith! How wonderful is Virginity! How admirable the purity of a virgin heart!

Sic Dei Filius,
Nutu mirabili,
Se mirabilius
Predit in fragili.

’Tis thus that Jesus, by a wonderful dispensation, shows himself strongest in the weakest.

Languet amans: cubat lecto:
Languor notus fit præfecto;
Maturat remedia.

Sick, then, with love, the suitor takes to bed; his sickness is made known to the Prefect; the cure is prepared.

Offert multa, spondet plura,
Periturus peritura;
Sed vilescunt omnia.

Gifts in abundance, promises without end; but, giver and gifts, both are perishable things; and Agnes thought both beneath her.

Nudam prostituit
Præses flagitiis:
Quam Christus induit
Comarum fimbriis
Stolaque cœlesti.

The Prefect condemns her to the worst of insults; Jesus protects her with the flowing tresses of her head, and a garment he sends her from heaven.

Cœlestis nuncius
Assistit propius:
Cella libidinis
Fit locus luminis;
Turbantur incesti.

He sends an Angel to stand by her. The den of infamy becomes a mansion of light; and consternation checks the wanton crowd.

Cæcus amans indignatur,
Et irrumpens præfocatur
A maligno spiritu.

The blind suitor is angry, and, rushing at his prey, is chocked by the wicked spirit.

Lugest pater, lugent cuncti:
Roma flevit pro defuncti
Juvenis interitu.

The father mourns, and all mourn; Rome wept for the death of the young man.

Suscitatur ab Agnete,
Turba fremit indiscrete:
Rogum parant Virgini

Agnes raises him to life; the crowd is in confusion, and prepares a fire on which to burn the virgin.

Rogus ardens reos urit,
In furentes flamma furit.
Dans honorem Numini.

The fire burns the guilty; the flame raves against these ravers, and avenges the honors of God.

Grates agens Salvatori,
Guttur offert hæc lictori,
Nec ad horam timet mori,
Puritatis conscia.

The Saint gives thanks to her Jesus; offers her head to the executioner, and dies unfearingly, for her purity was safe.

Agnes, Agni salutaris
Stans ad dextram gloriaris,
Et parentes consolaris
Invitans ad gaudia.

O Agnes, standing at the right hand of the Lamb, thy Savior, thou art now in glory, and thou consolest thy parents, inviting them to bliss.

Ne te flerent ut defunctam
Jam cœlesti Sponso junctam:
His sub agni forma suam
Revelavit, atque tuam
Virginalem gloriam.

Thou biddest them not mourn for thee as for one that was dead, for that thou wast now united to the heavenly Spouse; and he, under the form of a Lamb, reveals to them his own and thy virginal glory.

Nos ab Agno salutari
Non permitte separari,
Cui te totam consecrasti:
Cujus ope tu curasti
Nobilem Constantiam.

Suffer us not to be separated from the Lamb, our Savior, to whom thou didst consecrate thy whole being; and by whose power thou didst heal the lady Constance.

Vas electum, vas honoris,
Incorrupti flos odoris,
Angelorum grata choris,
Honestatis et pudoris
Formam præbes sæculo.

Vessel of election! vessel of honor! flower of unfading fragrance! beloved of the choirs of Angels! thou art an example to the world of virtue and chastity.

Palma fruens triumphali,
Flore vernans virginali,
Nos indignos speciali
Fac sanctorum generali
Vel subscribi titulo.

O thou, that wearest a Martyr’s palm and a Virgin’s wreath! pray for us, that, though unworthy of a special crown, we may have our names written in the common list of Saints.



How sweet and yet how strong, O Agnes! is the love of Jesus, thy Spouse! It enters an innocent heart, and that heart becomes full of dauntless courage! Thus was it with thee. The world and its pleasures, persecution and its tortures—all were alike contemptible to thee. The pagan judge condemned thee to an insult, worse than a thousand deaths—and thou didst not know that the Angel of the Lord would defend thee!—how is it that thou hadst no fear? It was because the love of Jesus filled thy heart. Fire was nothing; the sword was nothing; the very hell of men’s making, even that was nothing to thee! for thy love told thee that no human power could ever rob thee of thy Jesus; thou hadst his word for it, and thou knewest he would keep it.

Dear Child! innocent even in the capital of pagan corruption, and free of heart even amidst a slavish race, we read the image of our Emmanuel in thee. He is the Lamb; and thou art simple, like Jesus: he is the Lion of the Tribe of Juda; and, like Him, thou art invincible. Truly, these Christians, as the pagans said, are a race of beings come from heaven to people this earth! A family that has Martyrs and heroes and heroines, like thee, brave Saint!—that has young virgins, filled like its venerable Pontiffs and veteran soldiers, with the fire of heaven, and burning with ambition to leave a world they have edified with their virtues—is God’s own people, and it never can be extinct. Its Martyrs are to us the representation of the divine virtues of our Lord Jesus Christ. By nature, they were as weak as we; they had a disadvantage, which we have not—they had to live in the very thick of paganism, and paganism had corrupted the whole earth; and notwithstanding all this, they were courageous and chaste.

Have pity on us and help us, O thou, one of the brightest of these great Saints! The love of Jesus is weak in our hearts. We are affected, and shed tears at the recital of thy heroic conduct; but we are cowards in the battle we ourselves have to fight against the world and our passions. The habitual seeking after ease and comfort has fastened upon us a certain effeminacy; we are ever throwing away our interest upon trifles; how can we have earnestness and courage for our duties? Sanctity! we cannot understand it; and when we hear or read of it, we gravely say that the Saints did very strange things, and were indiscreet and were carried away by exaggerated notions! What must we think on this thy Feast of thy contempt for the world and all its pleasures, of thy heavenly enthusiasm, of thy eagerness to go to thy Jesus by suffering? Thou wast a Christian, Agnes! Are we, too, Christians? Oh! pray for us that we may love like Christians, that is, with a generous and active love, with a love which can feel indignant when asked to have less detachment from all that is not our God. Pray for us, that our piety may be that of the Gospel, and not the fashionable piety which pleases the world and makes us pleased with ourselves. There are some brave hearts who follow thy example, but they are few; increase their number by their prayers, that so the Divine Lamb may be followed, whithersoever he goeth in heaven, by a countless number of Virgins and Martyrs.

Innocent Saint! we meet thee, each year, at the Crib of the Divine Babe, and we delight, on thy Feast, to think of the wonderful love there is between Jesus and his brave little Martyr. This Lamb is come to die for us too, and invites us to Bethlehem; speak to him for us; the intercession of a Saint who loved him as thou didst can work wonders even for such sinners as we. Lead us to his sweet Virgin Mother. Thou didst imitate her virginal purity; ask her to give us one of those powerful prayers which can cleanse even worse hearts than ours.

Pray also, O Agnes! for the holy Church, which is the Spouse of Jesus. It was she that gave thee to be his, and it is from her that we, also, have received our life and our light. Pray that she may be blessed with an ever-increasing number of faithful virgins. Protect Rome, and City which guards thy Relics and loves thee so tenderly. Bless the Prelates of the Church, and obtain for them the meekness of the lamb, the firmness of the Rock, the zeal of the good Shepherd for his lost sheep. And lastly, O Spouse of Jesus! hear the prayers of all who invoke thee, and let thy charity for us, thy exiled brethren, learn from the Heart of Jesus the secret of growing more ardent as our world grows older.


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