The Basilica di Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura (Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls) is a 7th century church in Rome. It is notable for its mosaics, shrine of the virgin martyr St. Agnes, and catacombs.
History of Sant'Agnese in Agone
Saint Agnes was a member of Roman nobility born in 291 and raised in a Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at age 13 during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian, on January 21, 304.
According to tradition, the prefect Sempronius wished her to marry his son, and on her refusal condemned her to death. Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, so he ordered her to be raped beforehand, but her honor was miraculously preserved.
St. Agnes was led out to be burned at the stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn. The officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and struck off her head.
Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls. Folk custom called for them to practice rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20th-21st January) with a view to discovering their future husbands. This superstition has been immortalized in John Keats's poem, "The Eve of Saint Agnes."
She is represented in art as holding a palm-branch in her hand and a lamb at her feet or in her arms.
Today, the Church of St. Agnes is overseen by a French traditionalist order.
What to See at Sant'Agnese in Agone
The current basilica, as rebuilt by Honorius in the mid-7th century, stands over an early Christian catacomb. In the 4th century, the soft rock was hollowed out around Saint Agnes's tomb to create a gathering space, probably for her family to observe the anniversary of her death. The visits of her family and friends spread early to others in Rome, and the site became a place of pilgrimage.
By 340, Costanza, daughter of emperor Constantine, enlarged the underground area and built a large private mausoleum over it which is now known as the "mausoleo di Santa Costanza." According to legend, Constanza had been afflicated with leprosy and was cured after praying at the tomb of St. Agnes.
The church of Saint Agnes was then built next to the mausoleum in the 7th century. The floor level of the 7th-century church is at the level of the catacomb floor, and the public street entrances are at the level of the second floor gallery.
The body of St. Agnes lies in a silver sarcophagus that can be seen in the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls. Her head is in the Church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone in the Piazza Navona.
Festivals and Events
On January 21, the feast day of St. Agnes, two lambs are specially blessed by the pope after a pontifical high Mass, and their wool is later woven into pallia, ceremonial neck-stoles sent by the popes to new Metropolitan-archbishops to symbolise their union with the papacy.
Quick Facts on Sant'Agnese in Agone
|Names:||Sant'Agnese in Agone|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||41.898847° N, 12.472567° E|
|Hours:||weekdays 9:30-12:30, 4-7|
weekends and holidays 10-1, 4-8
|Lodging:||View hotels near Sant'Agnese in Agone|
- Personal visit (July 19, 2006).
- Matilda Webb, The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome (Sussex Academic Press, 2001), 96-98.
- Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura - official website
- St. Agnes of Rome - Catholic Encyclopedia
Map of Sant'Agnese in Agone, Rome
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