Agnes was a young Christian of maybe one twelve or thirteen years of age when Diocletian’s regime came calling for her life.She was a Roman citizen living in Rome with her wealthy and influential parents when the persecutions began to claim her brothers and sisters in the Faith. As was the case with many wealthy Christian families at the turn from the third to the fourth centuries, Agnes and her family’s peaceful existence was turned on its head as the Empire demanded more and more and accepted less and less resistance. However, Agnes’ noble parents meant that they would simply be extorted and coerced instead of immediately killed–the time of noble death usually came after they had been bled dry of all their resources by a power-hungry ruling class that no longer cared for them. So, Agnes should have been okay–except Agnes was beautiful.
She was so beautiful that the prefect’s son prized her above all the other maidens and went to his father to see what could be done about gaining Agnes as his wife. The prefect was confident that the family would be all too happy to give their daughter over to his family as the bride of their son. So, he sent a courier asking what they thought of the proposal. Amazingly for the day, Agnes’ father wanted to know what Agnes thought about the proposition. She rejected the offer and word was sent back to the prefect as the family waited–holding their breath at the expected retaliation. The prefect was furious that they would dare deny him his wishes and his will. He didn’t understand why her father hadn’t forced her to marry his son and demanded that Agnes be brought before him. When Agnes arrived, she seemed confident in a way that surprised the prefect and so, instead of questioning her–somehow knowing she would continue to refuse even under threat–he ordered her to be killed. “But, prefect,” one of his advisers interjected,”she is a virgin and cannot be executed…it would be unseemly.” Everybody let out their breath feeling that surely Agnes’ life would be spared. They underestimated the cruelty of the Empire.
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” growled the prefect. His armed and trained guards stripped a young teenage girl of her clothing and chained her hands and feet. She was taunted and mocked for her nudity and age and then led naked through the streets of Rome. The guards led the defenseless girl at sword point as if she were a dangerous criminal–she who had refused the prefect’s wishes–and brought her to a brothel to be raped so that she might then be executed. When they tried to seize her they found themselves unable even though she did not resist them. It seemed that their bodies didn’t work right. When she was finally pushed into the brothel, men lined up to rape the young girl but were stricken blind as each of them tried to step forward and perpetrate that unholy act upon her. In fear, they took her from the brothel and tied her to a stake. As they tried to set the young girl on fire the wood refused to catch. In fear and panic, the commander drew his sword and drove it through Agnes’ throat. The naked little girl had brought an Empire to its knees only by refusing to be shaken or coerced. Her grave became a site of adoration and prayer and yet more Christians were gathered in by the empire for martyrdom upon visiting Agnes’ grave.