Thinking allowed

on the feast of St Agnes

Today we vis­ited the church of Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura — St Agnes out­side the Walls. It’s the feast day of St Agnes, a young girl of 12 or 13, who was killed in Rome for her Chris­ti­an faith near the end of the per­se­cu­tion under the Emper­or Dio­cletian, around the year 304. This is the church where she is bur­ied, and a great ser­vice is held in this church on this her feast day.

At the start, two tiny (live) lambs, gar­landed and bedecked with flowers are car­ried into the church on trays and placed on the altar. They are blessed, and then, dur­ing the Glor­ia, car­ried out in pro­ces­sion, and away to a con­vent. When they are old enough to be shorn, their wool is woven into the pal­li­ums which the Pope gives to all Roman Cath­ol­ic Arch­bish­ops (as a sym­bol of their met­ro­pol­it­an jurisdiction).

Mar­garet Vis­s­er has writ­ten an inter­est­ing book about this church and the cult of St Agnes, The Geo­metry of Love (see it at Amazon UK, and there are some pic­tures on her web­site). After the ser­vice one of our group spot­ted Mar­garet Vis­s­er in the church and she was kind enough to come and talk to us about the church and the book.

Here we wor­shipped; here we prayed, at this place (as Eli­ot wrote about Little Gid­ding) where pray­er has been val­id; to stand and pray at the shrine of this young girl, mar­tyred for her faith 1700 years ago today; to stand and pray with this young girl and for this young girl, who sur­rendered her life rather than offer incense and pray­ers to pagan gods; to stand and pray with the count­less num­bers who down the cen­tur­ies have stood in this same place, before the tomb-chest of Agnes, and who have sim­il­arly offered their pray­ers — this is a mov­ing exper­i­ence, although one rather won­ders what she would have made of the great church and the great ser­vice held in her name, let alone the incense offered at the altar over her tomb!