St. Agnes was martyred at the age of 12. Pope Damasus adorned her tomb with sacred poetry. St. Agnes is represented with a martyr’s palm and a lamb. On her feast day, the Pope blesses the Pallium, a stole made from lambs wool which is worn by metropolitans. St. Agnes is the Patron Saint of Children of Mary, girls, and young girls.
Saint Agnes was a wealthy and beautiful young girl. She turned away many generous eligible suitors, all in the name of her faith, for Christ was her bridegroom. Living in the time of the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian, she was under constant threat of torture and death, but she did not falter. Her resolve in the face of all of these threats also strengthened the resolve of the Romans. In an attempt to break the young girl of her faith, she was turned over to a brothel; however, the men that were sent to her could not find it within themselves to violate her. Annoyed at this news, the Roman governor had enough and sentenced her to death. At her execution she remained faithful and strong, encouraging her executioners to hasten the task, for she despised the beauty which brought out the lust and desires of the young Roman men.
News of this saintly young girl and her courage spread wide and fast. Emperor Constantine, the first Roman emperor to accept the Christian religion thus ending the persecutions of the time, was so impressed by the legend of Saint Agnes that he traveled to the spot of her burial place to baptize his own daughter. (From scborromeo)
For almost 130 years, nuns have cared for lambs blessed by pope
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Certain things — such as a bath and getting dressed up — are universal before a personal meeting with the pope, and the rule holds even for lambs.
As he does every year, Pope Benedict XVI blessed two little lambs Jan. 21, the feast of St. Agnes.
Raised by Trappist monks on the outskirts of Rome, the lambs spent the night before their papal audience in the center of Rome on the rooftop terrace of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, interviewed Holy Family Sister Hanna Pomnianowska about her convent’s role in the ancient tradition which makes a connection between the name of St. Agnes, an early Christian martyr, and “agnus,” the Latin word for lamb.
The wool of the lambs blessed on the feast day is woven by a different community of nuns and becomes the fabric for the “pallium,” a circular stole, which the pope gives each June to new archbishops from around the world.
Sister Pomnianowska said her order got involved in 1884 when a group of elderly sisters living nearby could no longer handle the task of preparing the lambs to attend a Mass and then be blessed by the pope.
She said that as soon as the Trappists arrive with the lambs, “we take them to the top floor of our house, where we have a large terrace and laundry room. As you can imagine, they are the joy of the entire community, especially of the younger sisters.”
“The first thing we do is wash them. We put them in a tub with baby soap to delicately wash the dirt away. Then we dry them. We used to use towels, but now we use a blowdryer. We are careful not to leave their skin damp because they are young and could get sick,” she said.
The baby lambs spend the night in the laundry room, in a covered pen filled with straw to keep them warm.
The morning of their big blessing day, she said, a decorative blanket is placed on each lamb. One blanket is red to recall St. Agnes’ martyrdom; the other is white to recall her virginity.
“Then we weave two crowns of flowers — one red and one white — and place them on their heads. And we tie bows around their ears,” she said.
After they are adorned, the lambs are placed in baskets, the sister said. “We are forced to bind them to prevent them from running away; once, in fact, I saw a lamb jump up and run from the altar.”
Once they are prepared, the lambs are taken to Rome’s Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls, where they are placed on the altar over the martyr’s tomb and are blessed. Then Vatican workers arrive to take the lambs to the pope, she said.
The lambs are blessed again by the pope, usually in the Chapel of Pope Urban VIII in the apostolic palace, she said. The ceremony is attended by two of the Holy Family Sisters — usually two who are celebrating a significant anniversary of religious profession, she said.