St. Agnes of Assisi
Younger sister of St. Clare and Abbess of the Poor Ladies, born at Assisi,
1197, or 1198; died 1253. She was the younger daughter of Count Favorino Scifi.
Her saintly mother, Blessed Hortulana, belonged to the noble family of the Fiumi,
and her cousin Rufino was one of the celebrated
Three Companions of St.
Francis. Agnes's childhood was passed between her father's palace in the city
and his castle of Sasso Rosso on Mount Subasio. On 18 March, 1212, her eldest
sister Clare, moved by the preaching and example of St. Francis, had left her
father's home to follow the way of life taught by the Saint. Sixteen days later
Agnes repaired to the monastery of St. Angelo in Panso, where the Benedictine
nuns had afforded Clare temporary shelter, and resolved to share her sister's
life of poverty and penance. At this step the fury of Count Favorino knew no
bounds. He sent his brother Monaldo, with several relatives and some armed
followers, to St. Angelo to force Agnes, if persuasion failed, to return home.
The conflict which followed is related in detail in the
Chronicles of the
Twenty-four Generals. Monaldo, beside himself with rage, drew his sword to
strike the young girl, but his arm dropped, withered and useless, by his side;
others dragged Agnes out of the monastery by the hair, striking her, and even
kicking her repeatedly. Presently St. Clare came to the rescue, and of a sudden
Agnes's body became so heavy that the soldiers having tried in vain to carry her
off, dropped her, half dead, in a field near the monastery. Overcome by a
spiritual power against which physical force availed not, Agnes's relatives were
obliged to withdraw and to allow her to remain with St. Clare. St. Francis, who
was overjoyed at Agnes's heroic resistance to the entreaties and threats of her
pursuers, presently cut off her hair and gave her the habit of Poverty. Soon
after, he established the two sisters at St. Damian's, in a small rude dwelling
adjoining the humble sanctuary which he had helped to rebuild with his own hands.
There several other noble ladies of Assisi joined Clare and Agnes, and thus
began the Order of the Poor Ladies of St. Damian's, or Poor Clares, as these
Franciscan nuns afterwards came to be called. From the outset of her religious
life, Agnes was distinguished for such an eminent degree of virtue that her
companions declared she seemed to have discovered a new road to perfection known
only to herself. As abbess, she ruled with loving kindness and knew how to make
the practice of virtue bright and attractive to her subjects. In 1219, Agnes,
despite her youth, was chosen by St. Francis to found and govern a community of
the Poor Ladies at Monticelli, near Florence, which in course of time became
almost as famous as St. Damian's. A letter written by St. Agnes to Clare after
this separation is still extant, touchingly beautiful in its simplicity and
affection. Nothing perhaps in Agnes's character is more striking and attractive
than her loving fidelity to Clare's ideals and her undying loyalty in upholding
the latter in her lifelong and arduous struggle for Seraphic Poverty. Full of
zeal for the spread of the Order, Agnes established from Monticelli several
monasteries of the Poor Ladies in the north of Italy, including those of Mantua,
Venice, and Padua, all of which observed the same fidelity to the teaching of St.
Francis and St. Clare. In 1253 Agnes was summoned to St. Damian's during the
last illness of St. Clare, and assisted at the latter's triumphant death and
funeral. On 16 November of the same year she followed St. Clare to her eternal
reward. Her mother Hortulana and her younger sister Beatrice, both of whom had
followed Clare and Agnes into the Order, had already passed away. The precious
remains of St. Agnes repose near the body of her mother and sisters, in the
church of St. Clare at Assisi. God, Who had favoured Agnes with many heavenly
manifestations during life, glorified her tomb after death by numerous miracles.
Benedict XIV permitted the Order of St. Francis to celebrate her feast. It is
kept on 16 November, as a double of the second class.
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