Agnes, Saint (d. possibly c. 304)

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Agnes, Saint (d. possibly c. 304)

Christian martyr. Name variations: Formerly Annes, Annis, Annice; (French) Agnès. Born in Rome, though date of birth unknown; some historians place her death around 254 (under emperor Decius), some about 304 (under Diocletian); daughter of a noble Roman family; foster sister of St. Emerentiana (d. around 305).

Legend has it that Agnes was 12 when her beauty excited the desires of wealthy suitors who vainly sought her in honorable marriage. When she refused them, saying she wanted to devote her life to Christ, they denounced her to the Roman governor as a Christian. Unmoved by threats of torture, she was sent to the public brothel. There, only one man dared touch her, and he was stricken blind until his sight was restored in answer to the young girl's prayers. Though scholars disagree as to the date of Agnes' death, it is thought that she was beheaded in Rome by order of the emperor Diocletian who, in an attempt to wipe out Christianity, had decreed in 303 that churches be torn down, sacred writings be destroyed, Christians be removed from public office, and all Christians be subject to torture. Through the centuries, young girls observed St. Agnes' Eve (January 20–21) with rites that supposedly divined the form of their future husbands. John Keats used this superstition as mise en scène for his poem "The Eve of St. Agnes" (1819). Another poem, "Saint Agnes' Eve," was written by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

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Agnes, Saint (d. possibly c. 304)

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