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Stained Glass Witnesses: A Continuing Series

As it has been some time since our last entry in our series on the Dominican persons depicted in the stained glass windows in the Marble Chapel here at Emmaus, we thought it may be helpful to remind us all why we have this series. The purpose of this series is to give us all a bit of biographical crash course on the people pictured in one of the architectural splendors of the campus. Emmaus has been housed in this Dominican-built facility for almost forty years, close to half of its existence, and several “generations” of students have sat through many chapels, concerts, and ceremonies in this remarkable room, and most of us, I suspect, have glanced around the room on these occasions and wondered, “who are those guys?” This series is meant solely to answer that question – it is designed to be a biographical, factual survey. It is not intended as either a doctrinal endorsement or a repudiation of the beliefs of these people. We recognize the theological and practical distinctions between the Dominicans and Emmaus’s Plymouth Brethren heritage, but those distinctions are not the subject of this series. Simply, I wanted to know more about these people whose likenesses I’ve looked upon for most of my life, and I wanted to share that newfound, inexpert (and admittedly scanty) knowledge with you. I hope this experience is, shall we say, illuminating.

Agnes de Segni1268-1317

Agnes was born into the noble Segni family in what we may call today the “suburbs” of Montepulciano, in the village of Gracciano, in the province of Sienna in the region of Tuscany. At that time, Tuscany was part of the Papal States, and though Montepulciano was technically at peace, Agnes’s father preferred to stay in Gracciano, despite young Agnes’s desire to move closer to the convent in Montepulciano itself. In fact, Agnes wanted to join the convent at age 6, yet her parents urged patience and instead encouraged her to visit the local Franciscan convents frequently. On one such visit with her mother and attendants, Agnes was attacked on the way by a flock of crows outside a house of ill repute. Those who witnessed the event believed the crows were demonically influenced to attack the young and pure Agnes. Years later, a convent was built on that very spot to encourage Agnes to return to Montepulciano.

Agnes could wait no longer and entered the Franciscan convent in Montepulciano at the age of 9 (though some sources say in her early teens), with the Pope’s special permission, to join the “Sisters of the Sack” (due to the coarse habiliments the sisters wore). The austere life suited Agnes, as she often slept on the ground and fasted (or dieted on bread and water). At age 14 Agnes was appointed bursar of the convent. A year later, Pope Nicholas IV sent her to Proceno (about 24 miles away) to help found a new convent. Shortly thereafter, perhaps at age 20, Agnes was appointed abbess.

From Francis to Dominic

Agnes served in Proceno for twenty years, yet Montepulciano still desired her return, offering to build that convent on the spot of her crow attack in her youth. Around this time (circa 1306) she had a vision of Saint Dominic, impelling her to turn herself and the convent to the Dominican Order, which she did. Also around this time she is reported to have travelled to Florence (about 55 miles from Montepulciano) and helped build Santa Maria Novella, or at least function as a prioress there for some time. During her time as the prioress in Montepulciano, her experience as a bursar helped fund, build, and supply the convent, often to miraculous degrees, as some accounts say. Early in the establishment of the convent, walls fell down, revealing shoddy and dishonest craftsmanship. Agnes’s goodness and faithfulness inspired the countryside to help re-finance and rebuild the convent.

After a life of service to others, and reportedly bringing about many miraculous healings as well as ending many political squabbles in the region, Agnes spent the end of her life in severe physical pain. She travelled to many hot springs in search for restoration, but, having received none in this lifetime, Agnes passed away on April 20, 1317 at 49. April 20 has since become her Feast Day, having been canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. Her tomb soon became a spot for pilgrimage. Perhaps her most famous visitor was Catherine of Sienna, whom we shall meet later in this series.

Depictions

While Agnes is often portrayed as holding a lamb (see the picture above) or holding a replica of Montepulciano itself, in the Marble Chapel she is simply holding a gold cross on a necklace. One of her many reported visions of Mary occurred early in her life, when Mary offered Agnes to hold young baby Jesus, who was wearing that gold cross necklace. Agnes did not want to return baby Jesus to Mary, so Mary let Agnes keep the necklace, which Agnes was still holding when she woke up from that visitation.

Around her are falling flowers, roses and perhaps lilies. The closest story I could locate that may relate to this is the story of the day of her installation at Montepulciano. Purportedly white cross-like flakes fell all around her “like manna,” so perhaps the falling flowers represent that.

Resources

Aaron, Shirley. “The Miraculous Life of St. Agnes of Montepulciano.” Catholics Online. 16 April, 2019. http://francismary.org/the-miraculous-life-of-st-agnes-of-montepulciano/

Finnegan, M. J. “St. Agnes of Montepulciano.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. Berard L. Marthaler, executive editor. Catholic University of America, Gale, 2003. Vol. 1: A-Azt, p. 179.

“St. Agnes of Montepulciano.” Catholic Online. https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1181

“St. Agnes of Montepulciano.” Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia. https://www.nashvilledominican.org/community/our-dominican-heritage/our-saints-and-blesseds/st-agnes-montepulciano/

Wikipedia contributors. “Agnes of Montepulciano.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Mar. 2021. Web.

Posted by Christopher Rush

Christopher Rush graduated from Emmaus in 2003. After 15 years teaching high school in Virginia, he has returned to Emmaus and Dubuque to take over the English Department. His wife, Amy, is also an Emmaus graduate (2000). Amy is the principal of Tri-State Christian School here in Dubuque. They have two children, Julia and Ethan.

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