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Saint Agnes and the pallium

2016-01-21 10:11

Saint Agnes, apparently a very beautiful girl aged about twelve or thirteen, had no interest in marrying any of the eligible young men who approached her parents to ask for her hand in marriage. Revenge was quick. Betrayed as a Christian during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, martyrdom was both swift and brutal. Agnes died on 21 January 304 and, just like many other early Christians, was buried in the catacomb along the Via Nomentana in Rome. Her foster sister, Emerentia, refused to leave the site and was subsequently stoned to death for her Christianity.

When Christians were at last able to freely practise their beliefs in public, they built the basilica of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura above the catacomb and Agnes’ tomb, although her skull was subsequently moved to the church of Sant’Agnese in agone in the centre of the Piazza Navona.

Although there are many stories about the way in which Agnes died, because of the similarity between her name and the word for a lamb (“agnus”), since the sixth century, she has been artistically represented by a lamb.

Agnes also has a link with the place of the martyrdom of St Paul at Tre Fontane insofar as, on her feast, which is also the anniversary of her martyrdom, the Trappist monks Tre Fontane carry two of their baby lambs to Saint Agnes' Basilica. The lambs wear crowns and lie in "baskets decorated with red and white flowers and red and white ribbons—red for martyrdom, white for purity." After a special Mass, the lambs are presented to the Pope, who blesses them and hands them over to the Benedictine nuns at the convent of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, who care for them until they are shorn on Holy Thursday.

Once shorn, the wool is woven to make the pallium for twelve archbishops, traditionally presented by the Pope on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on 29 June as a symbol of both their pastoral authority and their unity with Saint Peter and his successors. This white liturgical vestment emblazoned with six black silk crosses represents the “yoke of Christ” and is a tradition dating back at least to 204, when Pope Saint Victor I gave the first recorded pallium to Saint Felician of Foligno. Each new pallium is placed on the tomb of Saint Peter on 28 June, to remain there overnight before being conferred on their new owners.

In 2014, Pope Francis decided that, instead of travelling to Rome, each newly-appointed metropolitan archbishop should formally receive the pallium during a ceremony held in their own archdiocese, by the Apostolic Nuncio as his representative. As Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool commented, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool said, “It makes sense to have a celebration in the Archdiocese with the people.”



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