Agnes was a Christian martyr who died in Rome c.350. Very few facts are known about her life, but later legends describe her as a particularly good-looking thirteen year old girl who refused to talk of marriage because she wished to remain a virgin and dedicate her life to Christ. She confounded all attempts to persuade and intimidate her, and despite being placed in a brothel and thrown into roaring flames, she is said two have survived with her virginity intact. She was finally killed by a dagger through her throat. Stories of cures and miracles at her tomb, and visions in which she figured prominently, spread her fame across the Christian world, and she became one of the most popular ‘virgin martyrs’ of the Middle Ages. In religious pictures, she is often pictured with a lamb, no doubt because her name resembles the Latin agnus, meaning lamb, and the animal is a widely accepted symbol for meekness and innocence.
In England, at least from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, Agnes was one of several female saints invoked by young women who wanted to predict or influence their future love lives.
[© Steve Roud: The English Year. 2006]