Monday, October 27
Two Variations on S. Agnes
S. Agnes, who was martyred at an early age, is shown here as a richly-attired thirteen-year-old girl, holding her emblem of the lamb, here represented as Christ the Lamb of God Himself. While Agnes’ name derives from the Greek hagne, signifying “pure,” it is often punned on agnus, Latin for “lamb,” and her tomb is inscribed Agne sanctissima, the most holy lamb. Her jewelry and dress also incorporate symbols of her passion and death in their design, and her aristocratic blood is represented by her lavish, fur-trimmed costume.
In Bl. Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Sanctorem, Agnes tells the love-struck son of the pagan Prefect Sempronius, that she has espoused Christ already, and He has given her five marks of His love—a wedding ring representing fidelity, a robe “woven with gold and jewels” signifying virtue, a necklace of precious stones, a “mark on [her] forehead” signifying her unique relationship with Christ—here represented by the hair ornament, “and his blood has tinted my cheeks,” which is represented by the pink flush to her face.
The prefect, his father, enraged, had her arrested. She was subsequently humiliated by being stripped naked, but her hair then grew to a miraculous length to cover her body. An angel later bestowed upon her a shining garment, which is echoed by the seamless tunic of Christ shown at the node on the cross tucked into the neckline of her dress. Her martyrdom by fire is shown by the flame-shaped details of her hair ornament, as well as the smoke-like pattern on her dress, while the final deathblow struck by a Roman officer’s blade is shown by the sword on her earrings, which also repeats the flame motif. Christian suffering is also signified by the small crown of thorns motif repeated in several places.
The example of S. Agnes remains deeply relevant to us today, as it so vividly illustrates that even the young can have the courage to stand up for Christ, and Christian chastity.
Agne Sanctissima. Image of S. Agnes commissioned as a confirmation present for a young girl in Minnesota. 4" x 6", ink on vellum with marker. July 2008. Private collection, Minnesota.