Saint Agnes

Of S. Agnes

The blessed virgin S. Agnes was much wise, and well taught, as S. Ambrose witnesseth, and wrote her passion. She was fair of visage, but much fairer in the christian faith, she was young of age, and aged in wit, for in the thirteenth year of her age she lost the death that the world giveth, and found life in Jesu Christ, which when she came from school the son of the prefect of Rome, for the emperor, loved her, and when his father and mother knew it, they offered to give much riches with him if he might have her in marriage, and offered to S. Agnes precious gems and jewels, which she refused to take, whereof it happed that the young man was ardently esprised in the love of S. Agnes, and came again and took with him more precious and richer adornments, made with all manner of precious stones, and as well by his parents as by himself offered to S. Agnes rich gifts and possessions, and all the delights and deduits of the world, and all to the end to have her in marriage. But S. Agnes answered to him in this matter: Go from me thou fardel of sin, nourishing of evils and morsel of death, and depart, and know thou that I am prevented and am loved of another lover, which hath given to me many better jewels, which hath fianced me by his faith, and is much more noble of lineage than thou art, and of estate. He hath clad me with precious stones and with jewels of gold, he hath set in my visage a sign that I receive none other espouse but him, and hath showed me over-great treasures which he must give me if I abide with him. I will have none other spouse but him, I will seek none other, in no manner may I leave him, with him am I firm and fastened in love, which is more noble, more puissant and fairer than any other, whose love is much sweet and gracious, of whom the chamber is now for to receive me where the virgins sing merrily. I am now embraced of him of whom the mother is a virgin, and his father knew never woman, to whom the angels serve. The sun and the moon marvel them of his beauty, whose works never fail, whose riches never minish, by whose odour dead men rise again to life, by whose touching the sick men be comforted, whose love is chastity. To him I have given my faith, to him I have commanded my heart; when I love him then am I chaste, and when I touch him then am I pure and clean, and when I take him then am I a virgin, this is the love of my God. When the young man had heard all this he was despaired, as he that was taken in blind love, and was over sore tormented, in so much that he lay down sick in his bed for the great sorrow that he had.

Then came the physicians and anon knew his malady, and said to his father that he languished of carnal love that he had to some woman. Then the father enquired and knew that it was this woman, and did do speak to S. Agnes for his son, and said to her how his son languished for her love. S. Agnes answered that in no wise she would break the faith of her first husband. Upon that the provost demanded who was her first husband, of whom she so much avaunted, and in his power so much trusted. Then one of her servants said she was christian, and that she was so enchanted that she said Jesu Christ was her espouse. And when the provost heard that she was christian the provost was much glad because to have power on her, for then the christian people were in the will of the lord, and if they would not reny their God and their belief all their goods should be forfeited. Wherefore then the provost made S. Agnes to come in justice and he examined her sweetly, and after cruelly by menaces. S. Agnes, well comforted, said to him: Do what thou wilt, for my purpose shalt thou never change. And when she saw him now flattering and now terribly angry she scorned him. And the provost said to her, being all angry: One of two things thou shalt choose, either do sacrifice to our gods with the virgins of the goddess Vesta, or go to the bordel to be abandoned to all that thither come, to the great shame and blame of all thy lineage. S. Agnes answered: If thou knewest who is my God thou wouldst not say to me such words,but for as much as I know the virtue of my God, I set nothing by thy menaces, for I have his angel which is keeper of my body.

Then the judge all araged made to take off her clothes, and all naked to be led to the bordel. And thus S. Agnes that refused to do sacrifice to the idols, was delivered naked to go to the bordel, but anon as she was unclothed God gave to her such grace that the hairs of her head became so long that they covered all her body to her feet, so that her body was not seen. And when S. Agnes entered into the bordel anon she found the angel of God ready for to defend her, and environed S. Agnes with a bright clearness in such wise that no man might see her ne come to her. Then made she of the bordel her oratory, and in making her prayers to God she saw tofore her a white vesture, and anon therewith she clad her and said: I thank thee Jesu Christ which accountest me with thy virgins and hast sent me this vesture. All they that entered made honour and reverence to the great clearness that they saw about S. Agnes, and came out more devout and more clean than they entered. At last came the son of the provost with a great company for to accomplish his foul desires and lusts. And when he saw his fellows come out and issue all abashed, he mocked them and called them cowards. And then he, all araged, entered for to accomplish his evil will. And when he came to the clearness, he advanced him for to take the virgin, and anon the devil took him by the throat and strangled him that he fell down dead.

And when the provost heard these tidings of his son he ran weeping to the bordel, and began crying, to say to S. Agnes: O thou cruel woman, why hast thou showed thy enchantment on my son? and demanded of her how his son was dead, and by what cause. To whom S. Agnes answered: He took him into his power to whom he had abandoned his will. Why be not all they dead, said he, that entered here tofore him? For his fellows saw the miracle of the great clearness and were afeard and went their way unhurt, for they did honour to my God which hath clad me with this vestment and hath kept my body, but your villainous son, as soon as he entered into this house began to bray and cry, and when he would have laid hand upon me, anon the devil slew him as thou seest. If thou mayst raise him, said he, it may well appear that thou hast not put him to death. And S. Agnes answered: How well that thy creance is not worthy to impetre ne get that of our Lord, nevertheless because it is time that the virtue of God be showed, go ye all out that I may make my prayer to God. And when she was on her prayers the angel came and raised him to life, and anon he went out and began to cry, with a loud voice, that the God of christian men was very God in heaven, and in earth, and in the sea, and that the idols were vain that they worshipped, which might not help them ne none other.

Then the bishops of the idols made a great discord among the people, so that all they cried: Take away this sorceress and witch that turned men's minds and alieneth their wits. When the provost saw these marvels he would gladly have delivered S. Agnes because she had raised his son, but he doubted to be banished, and set in his place a lieutenant named Aspasius for to satisfy the people, and because he could not deliver her he departed sorrowfully. This Aspasius did do make a great fire among all the people and did do cast S. Agnes therein. Anon as this was done the flame departed in two parts, and burnt them that made the discords, and she abode all whole without feeling the fire. The people weened that she had done all by enchantment. Then made S. Agnes her orison to God thanking him that she was escaped from the peril to lose her virginity, and also from the burning of the flame. And when she had made her orison the fire lost all his heat, and quenched it. Aspasius, for the doubtance of the people, commanded to put a sword in her body, and so she was martyred. Anon came the christian men and the parents of S. Agnes and buried the body, but the heathen defended it, and cast so stones at them, that unnethe they escaped. She suffered martyrdom in the time of Constantine the great, which began to reign the year of our Lord three hundred and nine.

Text taken from Medieval Sourcebook: The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda) - Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, 1275 - Englished by William Caxton, 1483.