We really don’t hear much about St. Agnes these days. At least, I haven’t seen much about her on Catholic social media or even blogs. I wonder why that is, since she’s such a great saint. Perhaps it’s because people feel like they can’t relate to her. She was a 12-13 year-old consecrated virgin at the time of her death. While she’s a patron for young women and for meeting a future spouse, she’s overlooked in favor of other saints. Maybe that’s why the old traditions and rituals performed on her feast day no longer exist.
“What rituals?” you may be wondering. Good question. I first heard about the rituals that used to be done on the eve of the feast of St. Agnes in the early day of my reversion almost two decades ago but nada since. So, I did a little research to share these curious but forgotten traditions.
Around the Middle Ages, a tradition of single women doing specific rituals on the eve of the feast of St. Agnes to dream of their future husbands began. The rituals varied in different parts of the world. A common practice was fasting the day or evening before her feast. In some countries, the evening and night would consist of fasting and maintaining silence until daybreak while performing certain rituals such as praying an Our Father for each pin pulled out of a pincushion and walking backwards to bed without looking back.
In other countries like Scotland, single young women would meet in crop fields to throw grain into the soil at midnight while praying:
Agnes sweet and Agnes fair,
Hither, hither, now repair;
Bonny Agnes, let me see,
The lad who is to marry me.
One interesting ritual also included eating a boiled egg with the yolk being taken out and replaced with salt. It was sad that the young woman’s future husband would bring her water in a dream to alleviate the thirst she would experience. Gives “thirst trap” a more wholesome meaning. There are other rituals but you get the gist of it.
The traditions associated with the feast of St. Agnes were so widespread that they found themselves in literature, especially poetry. One of John Keats’ most famous poems, Eve of Sf. Agnes, was inspired by these traditions. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this poem as it has some rather saucy parts. Alfred Tennyson’s poem or St. Ambrose’s description of St. Agnes in his Concerning Virginity are much better picks if you wish to read something associated with the feast day.
What to instead
St. Agnes knew her vocation from a young age. It is written that she said, “I will have none other spouse but Him, I will seek none other. In no manner may I leave Him, with Him am I firm and fastened in love, which is more noble, more puissant and fairer than any other, Whose love is much sweet and gracious, of Whom the chamber is now for to receive me where the virgins sing merrily.”
Just like she was committed to her vocation, it makes sense to ask for her intercession regarding your own vocation. It doesn’t have to be one of consecrated virgin or consecrated (religious) life. Instead of doing the many traditions, which have some very superstitious rituals, doing a novena would be a great idea. You can start it on her feast day or at any time, really.
Are there any other traditions/rituals that have fallen out of fashion in the Catholic world? Very likely, but probably not as interesting as this one. Don’t try these at home… even if it is a few weeks away from Valentine’s Day.
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