Saint Agnes was born in 1274 in the walled city of Montepulciano, Italy. She became a religious at the age of 9. Through Divine Providence, she met some Dominican Friars and was inspired to found a monastery of Dominican Nuns in her home town outside the walls where a house of “ill repute” had once been. The Monastery is now a Priory for the Dominican Friars. Agnes was a wonder-worker in life and in death.
Catherine of Siena had several nieces who entered St. Agnes’ monastery. During a nine year period she would travel to visit them. On one occasion when Catherine came to venerate the remains of Agnes, the deceased nun raised her foot so Catherine would not have to stoop down so low. Her incorrupt body remains in this position as a remembrance of the miracle. Agnes died on April 20, 1317, at the age of 43. She was beatified in 1534 and canonized in 1726. Blessed Raymond of Capua, wrote her biography in 1366. He would later write the biography of St. Catherine of Siena.
My first year to study at the Angelicum in Rome, the former Master General at the time, Fr. Aniceto Fernández, O.P., invited me to go with him to Montepulciano for the special festivities. The days from Agnes’ feast (April 20) to that of Catherine (April 29) make a perfect novena filled with fun, food and fanfare. The celebrations came to a peak on May 1, with medieval parades, speeches, veneration of St. Agnes’ relics and Holy Mass. It was a fascinating experience I shall never forget. For those who visit the Church, the stories of her mystical experiences become more than legends, for the room off the right side of the nave is filled with items from her life and legacy. There are several jars of the “manna” that fell from heaven when she prayed and a little cross and chain she pulled off the neck of the Infant Jesus when she was trying to prolong her encounter with him.
I think Agnes appealed to me as someone a bit different. Even though she entered religious life at a very young age, her journey took many twists and turns until she found her final home as a Dominican Nun in her own home town. She had originally entered a group called the “Sisters of the Sack” and made a foundation to Proceno. Then after a few years she learned of the Dominicans and made another foundation back in her hometown and affiliated the community with the Order. Agnes was a wise administrator as well as a mystic. She was, and still is, very popular among the people of her area, as well as Dominican Nuns throughout the world. St. Agnes is the first canonized nun of our Dominican Family.