St. Agnes was one of the most celebrated saints of the Middle Ages. Saints Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine all preached sermons about her exemplary life. She died somewhere near the age of thirteen. We wonder how a child could be so commendable. She hadn’t been tried through years of testing or proven through accomplishment. Her parents were well-to-do Romans of the 4th century, so she would not have suffered poverty or neglect, and may even have been spoiled.
Agnes did not become a saint by how she lived, but by how she died. She became a Christian in a time of persecution, and held on tenaciously to her faith, despite all odds. In today’s language, she knew who she was, what she wanted, and would not let anyone, or any situation, push her off-course. She was one of the “overcomers” in Revelation 12:11 who “loved not their lives unto death.” The fact that she was only 12 (or 13) is awe-inspiring.
Her difficulties began when she spurned the son of a Roman prefect. When he found out she was a Christian, he denounced her. Many attempts were made to force her to give up her faith, and she rejected them all. According to accounts, she went to her death happily knowing she had remained true to herself and her God. The year was 304, during the last wave of Christian persecution under Diocletian. Two years later, Constantine became the new Roman Emperor. In 313, the Edict of Milan was issued, which ended all the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Who knows how the well-known story of Agnes’ bravery may have influenced this change.
The name “Agnes” is like the Latin agnus, which means lamb. She is often portrayed in art holding or alongside a lamb.