Image: St. Agnes by Giovanni Battista Moroni
Lambs are often used in religious art as symbols of purity and innocence. Jesus Himself is called the Lamb of God for His sinless nature; He is often depicted as a shepherd or even holding a lamb.
The name ‘Agnes’ is Greek for ‘lamb.’ Like St. Cecilia and St. Maria Goretti, St. Agnes understood the importance of the purity that God had given her. These admirable Virgin Saints are among many revered for preserving God’s gift of purity.
Like these two Virgin Saints, Agnes’ beauty would bring her unwanted attention. She would join her sisters in defending her gift of holy purity–with her life.
The Lamb Promised to God
St. Agnes was born in 291 AD to a Christian family in a world dominated by Pagans. It was a dangerous time to be a Christian, but her family was one of the many that risked death in order to worship the true God.
There are different versions of St. Agnes’ story, but the message is the same. Agnes was a beautiful young woman who caught the eye of many high-ranking men. She received several offers of marriage and declined them all, saying that she had already been promised to Jesus Christ.
Agnes was putting her life at great risk every time she turned down a suitor. They began to give her name to persecutors, accusing her of Christianity. Unafraid, Agnes refused to renounce her faith, building her treasures in Heaven as she awaited the day she would enter it.
The Beginning of the Slaughter
Agnes had already sent away many powerful men when the Governor’s son took an interest in her. His name was Procop, and he was a dangerous suitor to turn down, but she saw no value in his high position. She had been promised to Jesus Christ, and none of the riches that Procop could offer would sway her.
Proud as he was, Procop tried to change her mind. He presented to her beautiful jewels and priceless works of art; he offered her riches and luxuries. Agnes was not moved, for she knew that the riches she had stored in Heaven were worth more than gold and diamonds.
When bribery failed to move her, Procop lost his patience. He chose instead to punish the woman into submission. He could not accept that a woman would turn him down, so he condemned her to a series of horrific tortures in hopes that it would change her mind about Christianity.
Procop was about to discover that, though this lamb was pure, she was anything but weak.
The Trials of the Lamb
Even the Pagans watching wept to see a beautiful woman subjected to the tortures of Procop. She faced each test with bravery, trusting in the One Who had already given His life for her–and the only One Who would make her happy.
First Procop had Agnes bound in chains, hoping that claustrophobia would break her will. He was wrong: instead of collapsing under the weight of the chains that bound her, Agnes was seen to glow with joy. Rather than stealing her freedom, the chains might have been setting her free. Angels must have comforted her, for all the light reported to have radiated from her eyes.
Next, Procop sent Agnes to a place of sin, where he planned to rid her forcibly of her purity. Angels protected her in this terrible place, as well; whenever a wicked man tried to take her, he would be struck blind and flee. Agnes emerged from the second trial stainless as she had been when she’d entered.
A Beautiful Bride of Christ
Procop could not explain how one woman with such a gentle demeanor could be more powerful than his punishments or the torture of his soldiers. He ordered for her to be put to death, and the Bride of Christ bowed her head for the sword, eager to meet her bridegroom.
St. Agnes and the other Virgin Martyrs became Saints because they understood that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit. They would not be swayed by riches or luxury to give away their most precious possession: their purity.
These days, purity is thrown away as if it is worth nothing. Once it is gone, it cannot be returned, and many people–men and women–later look back with regret on how easily they handed theirs to a stranger.
The Virgin Saints teach us to be careful with what we do with our purity and who we give it to; we are worth more in God’s eyes than palaces were to the Governor, or precious jewels to Pagans.