Today is the feast day of Saint Agnes of Montepulciano. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Agnes was named for Saint Agnes of Rome. Her father was an eminent Christian who dwelt in the village of Gracciano Vecchio, near the Lake of Perugia in central Italy. The birth of Agnes was marked by the first of many miraculous events in her life. At the moment of her birth, lit torches appeared, surrounding the house in which she was born, shining a bright and heavenly light on the inhabitants. From that moment on, Agnes demonstrated a simplicity and piety which her parents were unable to deny. At four years of age, Agnes was known to retire to her room, kneeling in the corner, praying Our Fathers and Hail Marys for hours on end. Her only wish, first verbalized at age 6, was to enter the convent at Montepulciano, and consecrate her life to the Lord.
Of course, her parents refused her wishes, given her young age, but permitted her to visit the sisters at the convent on occasion. On one such trip, as Agnes, her mother, and some women of the household were passing a section of road on which several brothels were located, a murder of crows descended from the sky, attacking Agnes. While the women were able to drive them off, this event unsettled the girl, who later proclaimed that the crows were devils, sent to drive her away as they knew she would someday build a convent on that land.
When she was nine she asked her parents to enter a monastery; they opposed this wish, not certain of the will of God. But after she had prayed fervently that opinions might be changed, she was allowed to join the Sisters of Monte Pulciano who were living under the Rule of Saint Augustine.
When she reached the age of fourteen, to test her they assigned to her the prosaic duties of stewardess of her monastery, an office in which she would have to provide for the material needs of the Sisters and keep accounts; they wanted to see whether these occupations would detach her from her spirit of uninterrupted prayer. They were edified to see her carry out her duties cheerfully, in perfect obedience, without murmuring in any way and without her piety being in any way altered. Whenever a Sister needed any service, the response of Saint Agnes was always characterized by grace and charity.
At fifteen, Agnes was made abbess of a nearby monastery in Procena, receiving special permission and dispensation from Pope Nicholas IV due to her young age. Agnes’ humility was challenged by this request, and she initially planned to refuse, until specifically urged by the Pontiff. With his request, she accepted obediently, building her community quickly. Upon her election of abbess, it is said that small white crosses appeared miraculously, and fell from the sky, raining down upon those present in the chapel to witness her consecration.
This experience would prepare her for a later important work, that of founding a large monastery in honor of the Mother of God at Monte Pulciano; the Blessed Virgin had already appeared to her and told her that it would be founded on faith in the Most High and undivided Trinity.
As the years passed, it occurred sometimes that where she knelt in prayer, flowers sprang up — violets, lilies and roses. One year, during the night of the Assumption, the Mother of the Saviour appeared to her again and placed the Infant Jesus in her arms. Saint Agnes succeeded in founding the foretold monastery, in which she presided over twenty cloistered Dominican Sisters; an Angel had told her to establish it under the Rule of Saint Dominic.
During her last illness, she was sent to bathe in curative waters; during her journey there she brought back to life a child who had drowned. Her health did not improve, but a spring welled up nearby which cured others and was named the water of Saint Agnes. Saint Agnes returned to her monastery and prepared for death. She died at the age of 43 on April 20, 1317. Miracles occurred at her tomb, as they had during her lifetime, and she was beatified in 1534, canonized in 1726. Her first biographer was Raymond of Capua, the confessor of Saint Catherine of Siena.
Agnes’s tomb was much visited by pilgrims including the Emperor Charles IV and St Catherine of Siena. In art she is sometimes represented with a model of her town in her hand. She is still greatly revered in Tuscany.
Image: Dominican-Order-church in Friesach: Main altar: Agnes of Montepulciano (7)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff