(Fourth Day of Prayer For Christian Unity)
Agnes is a Christian martyr who died at Rome around 304 in the persecution of Diocletian: the last and fiercest of the persecutions of Christianity by the Roman emperors. The anniversary of her martyrdom is observed on 21 January. Her name means "pure" in Greek and "lamb" in Latin. She is said to have been only about twelve or thirteen when she died, and the remains preserved in St Agnes' Church in Rome are in agreement with this. It is said that her execution shocked many Romans and helped bring an end to the persecutions.
Some said, "It is contrary to Roman law to put a virgin to death. Our leaders say that it is necessary to kill Christians in order to preserve the old Roman ways: but they are themselves scorning those ways in the process."
Others said, "Do young girls constitute such a threat to Rome that it is necessary to kill them?"
Others said, "If this religion can enable a twelve-year-old girl to meet death without fear, it is worth checking out."
There is a narrative poem by Keats, called "The Eve of Saint Agnes." It is a romantic poem with a mediaeval setting, about an elopement the night before St Agnes' Day. The only tie-in with Agnes is that (presumably because she died as a young virgin), Agnes is regarded as the patron of young unmarried girls, and there is a folk-belief that a girl who goes to bed supperless on the eve of St Agnes's Day will dream that night about her husband-to-be.
Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the World deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr Agnes, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Almighty and everlasting God, you choose those whom the World deems powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of your youthful martyr Agnes, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.