Saturday, January 21, 2012

Feast of St Agnes

One of the early and young martyrs of the church is the beloved Saint Agnes. According to tradition, Saint Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility born c. 291 and raised in a Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, on 21 January 304.
The Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and on Agnes' refusal he condemned her to death. As Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel. Various versions of the legend give different methods of escape from this predicament. In one, as she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body. It was also said that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind.  When eventually she was led out to die she was tied to a stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn, or the flames parted away from her, whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her. 
It is also said that the blood of Agnes poured to the stadium floor where other Christians soaked up the blood with cloths. A few days after Agnes' death, her foster-sister, Saint Emerentiana was found praying by her tomb; she claimed to be the daughter of Agnes' wet nurse, and was stoned to death after refusing to leave the place and reprimanding the pagans for killing her foster sister. Emerentiana was also later canonized. Agnes' name may have derived from the Latin 'agnus', meaning lamb, and she is always represented with a lamb near her. Then there is another beautiful tradition......

Pope Benedict blesses the lambs, whose wool will be used to make the palliums
On this day, the feast of St Agnes, the Pope traditionally blesses two lambs raised by Trappist monks near Rome. The lambs are sheared and the wool is given to the cloistered Benedictine nuns at Rome’s Basilica of St. Cecilia. The nuns use the wool to make palliums, which are bands that the heads of archdioceses wear around their shoulders during liturgical functions. Every year on the June 29 feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Pope places the bands around the necks of archbishops who have taken office in the past year. Today, after blessing the animals, the pope also asked God to “bless the pastors who will receive the palliums made from the wool of these lambs.”

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