1. Agnes of Rome (c. 291 AD – c. 304 AD)
Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility, born in AD 291 and raised in an early Christian family. The Christians met privately for prayers and teachings, and were immensely committed to Christ. Many were even ready to become martyrs like Christ and proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus inspite of opposition. This was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The Roman kings were heartless and did not care for children or girls, but on the contrary, very cruelly ill-treated them.
Agnes, a very beautiful girl of 12 and approaching her teenage year, was from a wealthy family. Not only was she intelligent and dynamic, she was very religious and spiritual too. She was highly impressed by the life of Christ and his teachings, his compassionate and merciful heart. She was taken up by his love for the poor and the afflicted and how he had challenged the Jewish authority for justice, peace and order. Though young, she believed that Jesus was the true God and the Savour of the world.
Many boys from noble families had an eye on this lovely girl. When they could not get her in marriage, they complained to the king that she had converted to Christianity and needed to be punished. The Prefect Sempronius’s son, who also wanted to marry her, was refused too. She had wanted to offer herself to Christ and to be pure, sacrificing her virginity to God. He took it as an insult and wanted to penalise her with severe punishment. He told the king to condemn her to death. She was condemned to be dragged naked through the streets to a brothel. In one account, as she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body at once, and her enemies saw this miracle with their own eyes.
It was also said that all the men who had attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind. The son of the Prefect was struck dead, but after she prayed for him, he was revived, which lead to her being released. After that, there was a trial from which Sempronius excluded himself from the case and another person presided and sentenced her to death. On 21 January 304, she was led out and tied to a bundle of wood to be burnt, but either the bundle of wood would not burn, or the flames parted away from her, whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and stabbed her in the throat. It is also said that her blood poured to the stadium floor where other Christians soaked it up with cloths.
Agnes thus became a virgin martyr, venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism. She is one of seven women who, along with the Blessed Virgin, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.
Agnes is depicted in art with a lamb, evoking her name which is based on the Latin word for "lamb", agnus, and the given name is Greek, from hagnē which means "chaste, pure". She is the patron saint of chastity and virgins.
The story of her martyrdom is authentic. Archaeological evidence indicates that a young girl of about thirteen years of age, a virgin named Agnes, was martyred in Rome and honoured for her sacrifice. A church was built over her tomb, and her relics venerated.
Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. A few days after her death, her foster-sister, Emerentiana, was found praying by her tomb; she claimed to be the daughter of Agnes' wet nurse, and was stoned to death after refusing to leave the place and reprimanding the pagans for killing her foster sister. Emerentiana was also later canonised. The daughter of Constantine I, Saint Constance, was said to have been cured of leprosy after praying at Agnes' tomb.
2. Agatha of Sicily (c. 231 AD – c. 251 AD)
St. Agatha, also called St. Agatha of Sicily, is one of the most shining stars and highly venerated virgin martyrs of the Catholic Church. It is believed that she was born around 231 in Palermo, and baptised in the Catholic faith with the early Christians, who were very zealous and dedicated to Jesus alone, who for them was one true living God. She was firm in faith and outstanding in moral character. She was born in Sicily, Italy, to a rich and noble family, as a blessing. She had the courage to be a Martyr and confront all suffering rather than give in to the hands of evil doers
Like the early Christians, they lived in a high degree of community life of fellowship and service encouraging and supporting each other with a real bond of unity. From her very early years, the notably beautiful Agatha followed the steps of Jesus and was a true disciple. At the age of 15, she dedicated her life to God and became a consecrated virgin, a state in life where young women choose to remain celibate and give themselves wholly to Jesus and the Church in a life of prayer and service. She was a model of all virtues and truly consecrated to God. That did not stop men from desiring her and making unwanted advances toward her.
One of the men who wanted Agatha in marriage was Quintianus. He was of a high diplomatic ranking and thought he could force her to turn away from her vow and marry him. However, his persistent proposals were consistently spurned by Agatha, She was firm in her decision; so Quintianus, a revengeful man, knowing she was a Christian during the persecution of King Decius, had her arrested and brought to court before the judge. He was the Judge during that period.
He expected her to give in to his demands when she was faced with torture and possible death, but she simply reaffirmed her belief in God by praying: "Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil." With tears falling from her eyes, she prayed for courage.
To force her to change her mind, Quintianus had her imprisoned in a brothel. Agatha never lost her confidence in God, even though she suffered a month of assault and efforts to get her to abandon her vow to God and go against her virtue. Quintianus heard of her calm strength and ordered that she be brought before him once again. During her interrogation, she told him that to be a servant of Jesus Christ was her true freedom.
Frustrated with her answer and becoming enraged, Quintianus sent her off to prison instead of back to the brothel -- a move intended to make her even more afraid, but it was probably a great relief to Agatha.
Young Agatha with all the unbearable suffering and pain fearlessly continued to proclaim Jesus as her Savior, Lord, Life and Hope. Quintianus felt defeated and getting even more angry ordered her to be rigorously tortured. He had her tied and stretched on a rack to be torn with iron hooks, burned with torches, and whipped. Noticing that Agatha was enduring all the torture with a sense of cheer, he commanded his soldiers that she be subjected to a worse form of torture! This devilish man ordered that her breasts be cut off.
He then sent her back to prison with an order of no food or medical attention. But the Lord gave her all the care she needed. He was her Sacred Physician and protector. Agatha had a vision of the apostle, St. Peter, who comforted her and healed her wounds through his prayers.
After four days, Quintianus ignored the miraculous cure of her wounds. He had her stripped naked and rolled over hot coals which were mixed with sharp shards. When she was returned to prison, Agatha prayed, "Lord, my Creator, you have ever protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul."
Agatha is believed to have passed into Heaven around the year 251. Her body was discovered incorrupt in the 11th century.
3. St. Cecilia (birth 2nd century AD; death 3rd century AD)
Cecilia was born in the 2nd Century AD to a wealthy Roman family and was a Christian from her infancy.
In the fourth century, because of King Constantine, Christianity was accepted in Rome and lots of people became Christians, as the oppression and suppression of the converts had been stopped. Christianity flourished and became a major religion, as Constantine himself was converted. The liberty of practising the Christian faith was even legalised. Hidden churches were openly celebrating the liturgy and the teachings of Jesus were becoming prominent. One such church was Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, built over the house of St. Cecilia.
Even as a child, Cecilia had loved Jesus and had tendency to be more religious and spiritual. She adopted the asceticism that was popular among pious Christians of her time, wearing rough sackcloth next to her skin, fasting and praying to the saints and angels to guard her virginity. As a young girl, Cecilia was interested in serving the poor and feeding the hungry. She would spend time with the sick, teaching them how to love the one true God and praise and worship Jesus. She was forcibly given in marriage by her parents to a noble pagan youth, Valerianus. When, after the celebration of the marriage, the couple had retired to the wedding-chamber, Cecilia told Valerianus that she was betrothed to an angel who jealously guarded her body; therefore Valerianus must take care not to violate her virginity or he would be punished.
As a young man and Non-Christian, he did not believe Cecilia. But out of respect for her he said, “Tell your angel to meet me”. Cecilia sent him to meet Bishop (Pope) Urbanus. Valerianus was thrilled to meet the Pope, who instructed him, blessed him and baptised him. Valerianus returned as a Christian to Cecilia. An angel then appeared to the two and crowned them with roses and lilies.
When Tiburtius, the brother of Valerianus, came to them, he was deeply influenced by what he experienced with the two vigorously spiritual people, and baptised too. They became true disciples of Jesus. As zealous children of the faith, both brothers generously distributed rich alms and buried the bodies of the confessors who had died for Christ. They were known as outstanding Christians and promoted faith among all. The prefect, Turcius Almachius, condemned them to death; an officer of the prefect, Maximus, was appointed to execute this sentence, but he himself was converted and suffered martyrdom with the two brothers. Their remains were buried in one tomb by Cecilia.
And now, Cecilia was alone. She was greatly pained but she believed that Jesus was her strength. She herself was sought by the officers of the prefect. Before she was taken prisoner, she arranged that her house should be preserved as a place of worship for the Roman Church. After a glorious profession of faith, she was condemned to be suffocated in the bath of her own house. But as she remained unhurt in the overheated room, the prefect had her decapitated in that place. The executioner let his sword fall three times without separating the head from the trunk, and fled, leaving the virgin bathed in her own blood. She lived three days, made dispositions in favour of the poor, and provided that after her death her house should be dedicated as a church. Urbanus the Pope buried her among the bishops and the confessors, i.e. in the Catacomb of Pope Callistus
Her body was exhumed in 1599, and discovered to be still incorrupt, seeming to be asleep.