Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Saints of the Roman Canon: St Agnes, January 21st

This past Sunday, January 21st, was the feast of St Agnes. Early and Eastern images portray Agnes without attributes; and even as late as the 9th-century, she is pictured in this Roman mosaic as simply a generic virgin martyr.
On the other hand, as early as the sixth century, she begins to be portrayed with a lamb, as seen below in a sixth century mosaic from Ravenna. This becomes the attribute most commonly used to identify her. Of course, this is because her name is so close to the Latin word for lamb, “agnus“ ”, and furthermore to Christ, the Lamb of God, as he is often called in John 1, 29-31, and hence in the liturgy.

To emphasize this symbolism, some portraits even give the lamb a halo.

Besides the lamb and the palm branch, Agnes may be portrayed with the sword of her martyrdom or standing on the flames which, according to her passion, parted and moved away from when the persecutors attempted to burn her alive. The sculpture below is by Ercole Ferrata, St Agnes on the Pyre, and is over the high altar of the church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone in Rome. After the fire refused to touch her, she was stabbed in the throat.
This painting by the Spanish 16th-century painter, Alonso Berruguete.
This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon - Eucharistic Prayer I - and the major feasts of the year. I have created the tag Canon of Art for Roman Rite to group these together, should any be interested in seeing these articles as they accumulate. For the fullest presentation of the principles of sacred art for the liturgy, take the Master’s of Sacred Arts, www.Pontifex.University.

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