Saint Agnes (Anezka)

By Erin Naillon

Saint Agnes (Anežka) of Bohemia is one of the most famous saints in the region, and one of only two women. Her statue is one of those flanking the equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas at the top of Wenceslas Square in Prague.

A Rich Saint

Agnes, like Wenceslas, was a member of a noble family. As a matter of fact, she was descended from him, though not directly. Her father was King Ottokar (Otakar) I of the Přemyslid dynasty, the same family that claimed Saint Ludmila and Wenceslas himself as to its members. On her mother’s side, Agnes’ uncle was King Andrew II of Hungary.

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Agnes and Marriage

At the early age of three, Agnes was put in the hands of educators at the Cistercian Order in Trzebnica. It was also arranged that she would marry Boleslav, the son of Duchess Hedwig of Silesia, who founded the monastery. However, Boleslav died and Agnes came back to Prague at the ripe old age of six.

Two years later, eight-year-old Agnes has engaged again, to the ten-year-old King Henry VII of Germany. Ordinarily, Agnes would have been sent to Germany to grow up at Henry’s court so the two would form a relationship; however, plans were made to send her to the court of Duke Leopold VI of Babenberg. This plan became complicated when it was known that Leopold wanted his own daughter, Margaret, to marry the young king. The engagement between the two children lasted for six years, eventually ending without a marriage service. Talk of a union between Agnes and King Henry III of England also came to nothing; Emperor Frederick II wanted her for himself and vetoed the idea.

Agnes and the Clares

Agnes, who had a mind of her own, now decided that she’d had enough of this marriage talk. She had already decided to devote her life to religion, so she joined the Poor Clares, an order founded by her long-time correspondent Saint Clare of Assisi. Around the year 1232, she founded a hospital, the Hospital of St. Francis; her brother, Wenceslas I, donated the land. A convent was also built for the nuns who cared for the patients (lepers and the poor), and Saint Clare sent five nuns from San Damiano to join it. Agnes became Mother Superior of the Prague Clares in 1234.

Death and Sainthood

A famine struck the land in the year 1281, and Agnes drastically reduced her food consumption so that the nuns of her convent would have more to eat. She gradually wasted away and died on March 2, 1281, or 1282, having outlived her parents, brother Wenceslas, and two nephews.

Even in her lifetime, many miracles were attributed to Agnes. Petitions were made to have her canonized, but it wasn’t until 1874 that beatification took place. Another century, and then some, passed before she was canonized in Rome, on November 12, 1989. (As an odd afternote, it was only five days later that the Velvet Revolution ended Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.)

In 2011, tributes were paid to Saint Agnes on the 800th anniversary of her birth. She is known widely as the Saint of the Overthrow of Communism. Her feast day is March 2.

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