AGNES, SAINT: A saint commemorated in the Roman Church on Jan. 21 and 28 (the Gelasian Liturgy giving the former; the Gregorian, the latter date), and in the Greek Church on Jan. 14 and 21 and July 5. Since the oldest documents (the Calendarium Romanum, the Calendarium Africanum, and the Gothic and Oriental Missale) agree in fixing Jan. 21 as the day of her death, Bolland has rightly assigned to that day the acts of her martyrdom. The year of her death, according to Ruinart, was about 304. The cause and manner of her martyrdom are given in a very legendary manner by an undoubtedly spurious Passion in the older editions of the works of St. Ambrose, which states that, having made a vow of perpetual virginity while still a child, she successfully resisted the wooing of a noble youth, the son of Symphronius, the city prefect, and embellishes the narrative with many wonders. Her hair suddenly grew so long and thick as to serve for a cloak; a light from heaven struck her importunate lover lifeless to the ground; when she was bound to the stake the flames were extinguished in answer to her prayer. After she had been beheaded at the command of the prefect, and had been buried by her parents in their field on the Via Nomentana, outside of Rome, she appeared to her people in glorified form with a little lamb at her side, and continued to perform miracles, such as the healing of the princess Constantia, for which, it is said, she was honored under Constantine the Great by the erection of a basilica at her tomb (Sant' Agnese fuori le Mura). Evidence of the high antiquity of her worship is given by Ambrose in several of his genuine writings, by Jerome (Epist., cxxx., ad Demetriadem), by Augustine, by the Christian poets Damasus and Prudentius, and by others.
In medieval art St. Agnes is usually represented with a lamb, which indicates her character as representative of youthful chastity and innocence, but may have been derived from her name, which is to be connected with the Greek hagn‘; "chaste (cf. Augustine, Sermones, cclxxiii. 6). Two lambs are blessed every year on Jan. 21 in the Agnes basilica, mentioned above (one of the principal churches of Rome, after which one of the cardinal priests is called), and their wool is used to make the archiepiscopal pallia which are consecrated by the pope (see PALLIUM).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: For life and legends: Ambrose, Vita gloriosa virginis Agnetis, in folio 115 of his works, Milan, 1474; ASB, Jan., ii. 350-363; T. Ruinart, Acta Martyrum, Amsterdam, 1713, Ratisbon, 1859; A. Butler, Lives of the Saints, under Jan. 21, London, 1847; L. Santini, Leben der heiligen Agnes, Ratisbon, 1884; P. Franchi de' Cavalieri, Santa Agnese nella tradizione e nella leggenda, Rome, 1899. For representations in Christian art: H. Detzel, Christliche Ikonographie, vol. ii., Freiburg, 1896. For the Catacombs of St. Agnes: J. S. Northcote and W. C. Brownlow, Roma Sotterranea, London, 1879-80; M. Amellini, Il Cimiterio di S. Agnese, Rome, 1880: W. H. Withrow, Catacombs of Rome, London, 1888; V. Schultze, Archaologie der altchristlichen Kunst, Munich, 1895. For the mystery play of St. Agnes: Sancta Agnes, Provenzalisches geistliches Schauspiel, Berlin, 1869.