02 Mar Saint Agnes of Bohemia, Abbess
Today is the feast day of Saint Agnes. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Agnes (Saint Agnes of Prague) was born at Prague in the year 1200; died probably in 1281. She was the daughter of Ottocar, King of Bohemia and Constance of Hungary, a relative of St. Elizabeth. At an early age she was sent to the monastery of Treinitz, where at the hands of the Cistercian religious she received the education that became her rank.
Agnes was educated by Cistercian nuns at Trebnitz, Germany. Though she early perceived a call to religious life, Agnes was for years promised into a series of arranged marriages for political reasons. At age three she was promised to a prince named Boleslaus. When he died prior to the marriage, she was betrothed to Prince Henry, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. When Henry chose to marry another, young Agnes was betrothed to Emperor Frederick himself. With the help and intervention of Pope Gregory IX, though affronted, Frederick released Agnes from her marriage obligations, acknowledging that he had lost her to the king of heaven.
The servant of God entered the Order of St. Clare in the monastery of St. Saviour at Prague, which she herself had erected. She was elected abbess of the monastery, and became in this office a model of Christian virtue and religious observance for all. God favoured her with the gift of miracles, and she predicted the victory of her brother Wenceslaus over the Duke of Austria.
During her time in Prague, Saint Agnes build a Franciscan hospital, as well as a monastery and convent for the sisters and monks who worked there. She initiated the formation of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star, a religious order dedicated to serving the poor in medical settings. Pressured to become abbess by the pope, a position she reluctantly agreed to, Agnes never tired of cooking for her sisters, attending to the poor and ill, mending clothes of lepers, and generally living a life of profound humility and service. She preferred to be called “senior sister,” and the only sign of her authority was her unwavering expectation that her sisters follow the rule of poverty espoused by the Poor Clares.
Saint Agnes is reported to have had miraculous healing properties and ecstatic visions. Agnes was always free with her wealth in service of the poor. She enjoyed cooking for the other sisters, and mending the clothes of lepers. She had the gifts of healing and prophecy, and was given to ecstasies. Though they never met, she and Saint Clare of Assisi kept up an extensive correspondence for two decades, and some of the letters have survived to today.
Saint Agnes died 6 March 1282 at Saint Saviour convent, Prague, Bohemia of natural causes. She remained much loved, ironically appearing on currency! Saint Agnes inspires us to turn away from selfishness, greed, and pride, and to instead embrace the suffering of others with charity, generosity, and humility. She is a model of virtue which we can learn from during our Lenten period of self-examination and contrition.
- 3 December 1874 by Pope Pius IX (cultus confirmation)
- 11 February 1989 by Pope John Paul II (decree of heroic virtues)
- 12 November 1989 by Pope John Paul II at Rome, Italy
Image: Agnes of Bohemia (3)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff