Stories of the Saints for Children – Saint Agnes

detail of the Saint Agnes of Rome stained glass window, Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA; artist unknown; photographed by the author, summer 2003There were many martyrs who died nobly for their faith during the early ages of the Church, under the bitter persecutions of the emperors of Rome, yet perhaps not one of these honoured names is known and loved as dearly as the little virgin saint and martyr of thirteen years old.

Agnes was of a rich and noble Roman family, and her rank, her beauty, and her gentle sweetness gained her much esteem and love, but unfortunately they won for her a love she did not prize, as she had already given all her heart to God, leaving no place there for any creature. As she went to and from school many eyes followed her graceful form admiringly, and a Roman youth, whose father was a great and powerful man in the city, began to love her so much that he always met her. in those streets through which she had to pass.

As soon as possible he made himself known to her, begging that she would give him her affection; but remembering the promise she had made to her dear Lord, she answered him at once that she was already given to one Who deserved all her love.

Still the young man thought of her as a maiden who might be persuaded to answer him differently some other time, so he tried to win her by rich presents, laying at her feet costly jewels of the rarest kind.

Did Agnes waver? No; never for an instant could those thoughts which were all given to God, that love which had been so early promised to a Divine Spouse, turn to the pagan youth, and so she spurned his gifts as she spurned his affection, with cold, firm words.

That base, mean love changed then to bitter hatred, and as his revenge, the young Roman accused Agnes before his father’s court of being a Christian. That name was enough in those cruel days to bring down the sentence of imprisonment and a terrible death, so the gentle Agnes was seized and brought before the heathen governor and the other nobles. They questioned her, they threatened her, but Agnes was strong with the strength God gave her, and she only answered that Jesus was her over and she would never give her heart to any other, however great and noble.

The governor laughed scornfully and said that he would find such a way of treating her that her Christ should have no more love for her.

“I am not afraid of anything you can do to me, for I have an angel of God to protect me everywhere,” was Agnes’ reply; and when the wicked man had her sent to a terrible house, where bad people met together, whose thoughts and words were all sin, the place was filled with a resplendent brightness in which appeared an angel from heaven, whilst the wretched creatures fled trembling from her presence, crying out that “the God of Agnes was omnipotent.”

The pure young Roman girl must have felt as her Master felt when He was exposed to the rude gaze of the multitude, and yet God’s presence made her forget the shame and suffering in the fervent prayer which absorbed her soul.

During this time the young pagan who had tried to win her love, came to gaze rudely at her with a party of his bad companions; he stretched out his hand to touch her, but as he did so an unseen power struck him dead upon the floor.

There was great fear in Rome then as the news spread, ” The governor’s son lies dead at the feet of Agnes the father came in terror and haste, and kneeling before the maiden, begged her to obtain from her God the life of his son; and Agnes prayed (for no revengeful feeling was in her pure heart), and even as she spoke the young man opened his eyes and went away, confessing the truth of the Christian’s faith.

A great crowd were there then who called out that she was a sorceress, and would have her burned; but the governor’s voice was not Among these, he could not condemn to death the maiden who had asked from God the life of his son, so he hurried away, declaring that if she was sentenced to die it should not be by him; and so Aspasius – the next in power – ordered the gentle Agnes to be burned as one who had dealings with evil spirits.

Into the great amphitheatre they dragged her, where a large fire was set burning, and they cast her into the very midst of the cruel flames; but even there she prayed, and the flames dividing, showed her perfectly unhurt.

The fierce anger of the people grew fiercer now, and at their clamour Aspasius gave her over to the executioner’s axe, yet she showed no fear; her cheek was fresh, her lips were still and calm, whilst he who was to take away her life stood pale and trembling. Then, amidst shouts of triumph from the multitude, and the hidden tears and sorrow of those few who shuddered to see her die, the brave and loving soul of Agnes passed to the arms of her heavenly Bridegroom.

Strange it may seem that one so young and gentle should meet a cruel death without a word or sign of fear, but the secret of her strength is, that it all came from God, and through Him, Agnes could ” do all things,” as we, too, in our smaller way, can bear any shame or suffering which comes to us, for the sake of the same dear Lord Christ Jesus.

– from Stories of the Saints for Children, by Mary F Seymour