Virgin and Martyr
Agnes, a young and beautiful girl of good family, lived in the great imperial city of Rome at the beginning of the 4th Century. Full of Christian faith, she had, even by an early age, chosen to consecrate her life and virginity to God and this sinless purity of soul was reflected in her innocent countenance which created a supernatural aura around her.
One day her modesty and great beauty attracted the attention of Eutropius, son of the powerful Governor of Rome. Eutropius fell at once in love with Agnes, and being unable to get her out of his mind, asked her parents for her hand in marriage. Her loving mother and father protested, noting that their child was only twelve years of age. Undaunted, Eutropius decided to tell Agnes of his love and offer her some precious jewels. Agnes declined and answered firmly, “Leave me! There is another who possesses my whole heart. I love Him more than my own life and soul. He is so great, noble, and beautiful that I will ever remain true to Him.” Not understanding the full importance of these holy words, but feeling the rejection, Eutropius soon fell ill.
When his father learned the cause of his son’s illness, he sent an emissary to ask Agnes to accede to the wishes of his son. Agnes remained adamant. By now the matter had become a topic of controversy at the Governor’s palace and one of his officers sarcastically remarked, “Agnes, being a Christian, is a witch and imagines Christ to be her bridegroom.” Hearing these words, the Governor saw his chance and ordered Agnes to be arrested, hoping to coerce from her a favorable reply for his son. He added promises of honors and rich estates if she would consent, but to no avail.
Then he began to threaten. He told her to renounce Christ and agree to the marriage or to offer sacrifice to the goddess Vesta. If she refused both these choices, he would force her to be the plaything of the lowest wretches from the streets. “I will neither renounce Christ nor offer sacrifice to Vesta. The one true God only do I adore. You threaten me with disgrace, but I have an angel of the Lord as my protector. He will guard my frail body. You shall soon learn that my God is a God of purity. He will bring your wicked purpose to naught.”
Enraged, the Governor ordered her to be stripped of her clothing and led to a brothel. But God, who prizes greatly the virtue of chastity, caused her rich hair to grow in such a profusion of length and thickness that it covered her whole body.
Upon reaching the designated place, an angel of God, sent there for her protection, handed her a heavenly white garment of light. It was a garment of divine protection and none dared to approach her. Eutropius, however, stepped forward to take hold of her and was immediately struck blind by the angel and fell to the floor dead.
Soon the city was ablaze with the news and Agnes was accused of witchcraft. The Governor accused her of killing his son. Agnes replied, “He perished by his own wicked rashness. Unlike others who came here, he did not heed the brightness of this room, or respect the great God and the angel who guards my virginity; and Heaven instantly chastised his blind and brutal obstinacy”.
The governor pleaded with her to restore his son to life so that all may know it was not magic. Despite the Governor’s unworthiness, Agnes prayed so that Rome may know the power and glory of God and Eutropius arose proclaiming, “the idols are devils. The God of the Christians is the only true God, and He alone is to be adored!”
This sealed Agnes’ fate, for the pagan priests feared these divine manifestations and incited the mob to ask for the death of the sorceress. The Governor cowered before the crowd and ordered a subordinate to accomplish the deed.
She was placed on a funeral pyre, the fire was set, and soon Agnes was surrounded by flames. But she sat untouched, singing the praises of God. The heathen priests demanded that a sword be put through her neck. Agnes turned to the executioner and said “Do not hesitate. Perish this body, which is pleasing in the eyes of those whom I desire not to please.”
Her beloved Bridegroom came to claim His spotless bride who through Him had conquered the flesh, the demon, and the power of Rome!
St. Agnes was buried with all honor by her parents. They often prayed on her tomb and on the eighth night she appeared to them saying “My dearest father and mother, mourn not as if I were dead, but rejoice with me that I am now in Heaven, crowned with fadeless glory.”
Prayer to Saint Agnes
Saint Agnes, bright gem in the grand court of Heaven,
— E.M.V. Bulger in the Ave Maria