The picture of St. Agnes is in the Cathedral at Pisa, and is a great favorite of the lovers of Andrea del Sarto. So ancient is the worship paid to St. Agnes that next to the Evangelists and Apostles there is no saint whose effigy is older. It is found on the ancient glass and earthen vessels used by the Christians in the early part of the third century. She is the favorite saint of the Romans. She was born in Rome. She was a Christian from her youth, and was as celebrated for her goodness, her humility and her gracious sweetness as she was for her wonderful beauty. She was only thirteen when the son of the Prefect of Rome, as he rode through the city, saw her, and fell desperately in love with her. He asked her hand in marriage but was steadfastly refused. He brought her presents of great value, and magnificence, jewels, gems and all kinds of precious ornaments, but Agnes was not in the least dazzled by them. She rejected him and his gifts, telling him she was already betrothed to one who was greater and fairer than any earthly suitor. The young man, not knowing who she meant, went home sick with rage and jealousy, sick unto death. The physicians could not help him. Finally the youth told his father unless he had Agnes for his wife he would surely die. Then the Prefect, whose name was Sempronius, came to Agnes and be-sought her to accept his son. Agnes made the same answer as before. The Prefect did not understand and asked the neighbors to what great prince Agnes was betrothed. They said,
“Do you not know that Agnes is a Christian, and that the husband of whom she spoke is none other than Jesus Christ ?” The Prefect rejoiced at this, for now he thought he had her in his power. He sent for her, told her as she would not accept his son she should enter the service of the goddess Vesta. She refused, saying she would not serve a false God. Sempronius in his rage ordered her limbs loaded with chains and that she be dragged before the altar of the Gods. At last he ordered her burned at the stake. When the fire was kindled it was as suddenly extinguished. Finally one of the executioners put her to death with a sword. Her friends took her body and carried it to the cemetery outside the gates and day and night the Christians assembled there to pray. One day St. Agnes appeared before them in shining raiment and by her side a snow white lamb. She told them not to weep for her for she was forever united to Him whom she preferred to all others on earth. The lamb was ever after her emblem. In this picture she holds the palm of the martyr and the lamb is by her side.
The picture hangs on the last column on the right of the nave as you face the high altar and not far from the lamp whose swaying suggested to Galileo the pendulum. The picture is beautiful. The colors are as fresh as if painted yesterday. All Cathedrals are dark, so the picture cannot be seen at its best. The light is never good, and on a dark day it is almost impossible to see it, which is a matter of regret to all tourists.
( Originally Published 1912 )
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