Agnes was born in the little town of Graciano Vecchio in Tuscany in 1268. Drawn to a life of intimate prayer even from her infancy, she was 9 years old when her parents finally allowed her to consecrate herself to God in the religious life. The radiant young girl joined a convent of sisters in nearby Montepulciano who were renowned for their prayer, penance, and poverty—they were called “del Sacco,” or “of the Sack,” because of their rough habits. Once in the monastery, Agnes grew rapidly in the love of God and the practices of the religious life. When the nuns were asked to found a new monastery in another town, her Novice Mistress chose Agnes to join her in making the foundation. There at Procena, with the express permission of the Holy Father, the 15-year-old Saint was soon named Abbess of the budding community.
Agnes’ installation as Abbess was marked by a miracle of falling “manna,” a mysterious substance composed of little white flakes shaped like crosses (seen in the image above). Indeed, heavenly miracles seemed to confirm many of her virtues: her love of the Eucharist, which she received miraculously at the hand of an angel for nine Sundays in a row; her tender devotion to Our Lady, who once appeared to her and let her hold the Infant Jesus; her remembrance of Christ’s Passion, once rewarded by an angel who gave her a handful of earth from the Garden of Gethsemane. Agnes’ generosity to the poor did not deplete the community stores, as several time provisions were miraculously supplied or multiplied, and her charity for the suffering had practical effect in the deliverance of possessed persons and the miraculous conversion of sinners.
In Agnes’ two decades as Abbess, her virtue became famous—but although a nun, she was not yet a Dominican! One day, as Agnes implored God in prayer to show her clearly what he seemed to be asking of her, St. Francis, St. Augustine, and St. Dominic appeared to her in a vision. Each Saint stood at the helm of his own ship, and invited her to join him on board. The poverty she had espoused as a Sister “del Sacco” endeared her to St. Francis; it was St. Augustine’s Rule she continued to follow as Abbess at Procena; but St Dominic spoke with authority: “Agnes will sail in my ship; that is the Will of God.” With that, he took her hand and drew her aboard.
This vision, which has counterparts in the lives of many of our Saints and Blesseds, shows in a striking way how our Holy Father St. Dominic is truly the Father of all those chosen by God and himself to join his religious family. Following the heavenly instructions, Agnes indeed returned to Montepulciano and founded there a monastery of Dominican nuns. She died in 1317 at the age of 49 at the head of her Dominican community, full of virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, after a life of intense love and suffering in union with Christ. Her story also has a Dominican post-script: only a few decades later, when St. Catherine of Siena visited St. Agnes’ tomb to venerate her incorrupt relics, the holy deceased nun actually raised her foot (lying there in the coffin) as the holy still-living tertiary bent to kiss it in reverence, so as to spare her the trouble of bending further down.
In the Liturgy
As Nuns of the Dominican Order, we celebrate our sister St. Agnes of Montepulciano on April 20 with the liturgical rank of a Feast. In the following Benedictus antiphon, her name, Agnes, from the Latin for “lamb,” is paired with the divine Lamb of the Book of Revelation, calling to mind the virgins who follow Him wherever He goes. The Alleluia is sung at the end because her feast is celebrated during the Easter Season.
Prayers and Practices