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. (4)
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. (4)
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.
To test Agnes’ holiness and commitment to her prayer life, the sisters gave her difficult duties to perform in the convent. They were greatly edified to see that Agnes regularly completed her duties without complaint, and that she continued with her prayer life and regular acts of charity. In fact, it was about this time that Agnes could be observed absorbed in prayer while seemingly unaware that she was suspended nearly two feet above the ground, or violets, lilies or roses would be found growing up through the stones where Saint Agnes had just prayed. (6)
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. (2)
There are many miracles recorded at this time involving St Agnes of Montepulciano. She frequently multiplied loaves, as Christ did in the gospels, to feed those in need. She had also apparently reached such a level of sanctity that invalids and those afflicted with different types of mental illness would be restored to health just by being brought into her presence. (6)
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. (2)
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.
In 1435 during exhumation, it was discovered that her body was incorrupt, with sweet perfume trickling from both her hands and feet. (4)
Image: Dominican-Order-church in Friesach: Main altar: Agnes of Montepulciano (7)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff