Agnes of Bohemia

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Saint Agnes of Bohemia
AnezkaPremyslovna.jpg
Agnes of Bohemia
Princess, philanthropist and abbess
Born 20 June 1211
Prague, Bohemia
Died 2 March 1282[1]
Prague, Bohemia
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church
(Order of St. Clare and the Czech Republic)
Beatified 1874 by Pope Pius IX
Canonized 12 November 1989, Vatican City, by Pope John Paul II
Major shrine Monastery of St. Agnes
Prague, Czech Republic
Feast 2 March
Patronage Czech Republic

Agnes of Bohemia, O.S.C., (Czech: Svatá Anežka Česká, 20 June 1211 – 2 March 1282), also known as Agnes of Prague, was a medieval Bohemian princess who opted for a life of charity, mortification of the flesh and piety over a life of luxury and comfort. Although she was venerated soon after her death, Agnes was not beatified or canonized for over 700 years.

Life[edit]

Childhood[edit]

Agnes was the daughter of King Ottokar I of Bohemia,[2] making her a descendant of Saint Ludmila and Saint Wenceslaus, patron saints of Bohemia. Agnes' mother was Constance of Hungary, who was the sister of King Andrew II of Hungary, so Agnes was a first cousin to St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

When she was three years old, Agnes was entrusted to the care of another aunt, St. Hedwig of Andechs, the wife of Duke Henry I the Bearded of Silesia.[3] Hedwig placed her to be educated by a community of Cistercian nuns in a monastery which she herself had founded in Trzebnica.[4] Upon her return to Prague, Agnes was entrusted to a priory of Premonstratensian Canonesses to continue her education.

Arranged marriages[edit]

At the age of eight, Agnes was engaged to Henry, son of the Emperor Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. Henry was ten years old and had just been crowned as King of the Romans. According to custom, Agnes should have spent her childhood at her future husband's court, so they could develop a friendship, as well as learn the language and culture of her new country. Emperor Frederick, as King of Sicily, had his court in Palermo, while his son Henry, now the German king, was being brought up in Germany at the palace of Archbishop Engelbert in Cologne.

It was decided to send Agnes to the court of Duke Leopold VI of Babenberg. Leopold, however, wanted the young Henry to marry his own daughter, Margaret. Due to these political manoeuvrings, after being betrothed for six years, the wedding of Agnes to Henry was cancelled. Like other noble women of her time, Agnes was a valuable pawn in the marriage game. In 1226 her father Otakar went to war against the Babenbergs as a result of the broken engagement. Otakar then planned for her to marry Henry III of England, but this was vetoed by the Emperor, who himself was interested in marrying Agnes.

Foundress[edit]

Agnes of Bohemia Tending the Sick by the Bohemian Master, 1482

Agnes refused to play any more part in a politically arranged marriage. She decided to devote her life to prayer and spiritual works, for which she sought the help of Pope Gregory IX. On land donated by her brother, King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia, she founded the Hospital of St. Francis (ca. 1232-33)[5] and two friaries for the Franciscan friars, who had just come to Bohemia at her brother's invitation. Through them Agnes learned of Clare of Assisi and her Order of Poor Ladies, the monastic counterpart of the friars. She began a correspondence with the Lady Clare (with whom she corresponded for over two decades but never met in person), which led to Clare's sending five nuns from the monastery in Assisi to Prague to begin a new house of the Order. This was the first Poor Clare community north of the Alps.

Agnes built a complex of monastery and friary attached to the hospital. There the Franciscan friars and the Poor Clare nuns who worked at the hospital resided.[4] This religious complex was one of the first Gothic buildings in Prague. In 1235 Agnes gave the property of the Teutonic Knights in Bohemia to the hospital. She herself became a member of the Franciscan Poor Clares in 1236.[6] As a nun, she cooked for and took care of the lepers and paupers personally, even after becoming the Abbess[7] of the Prague Clares the following year. As can be seen in their correspondence, Clare would write with deep maternal feelings toward Agnes, though they never met.[8]

A lay group working at the hospital was organized by Agnes in 1238 as a new military Order, dedicated primarily to nursing, known as the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star, following the Rule of St. Augustine. That next year, Agnes handed over all authority over the hospital she had founded to these monastic Knights. They were recognized as an Order by Pope Gregory IX in 1252.

Agnes lived out her life in the cloister, leading the monastery as abbess, until her death on 2 March 1282.

Legacy[edit]

The Monastery of the Holy Savior, renamed the Monastery of St. Agnes, (Czech: Klášter sv. Anežky) began to fall into decline after the Hussite Wars of the 15th century. The community was abolished in 1782. Restored in the 1960s, the monastery is now a branch of the National Gallery in Prague, featuring the medieval Central European and Bohemian collection.[9]

Veneration[edit]

Agnes was beatified only in 1874. Pope John Paul II canonized Blessed Agnes a few days before the Velvet Revolution, a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the authoritarian Communist government. While she was known by her contemporaries because of her supposed visions and healing, such as her prophecy that King Wenceslaus would be victorious in his battle against the Austrians, her canonization was based on her practice of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity to an extraordinary degree, and the Church's view is confirmed either through a miracle granted by God in answer to the saint's prayers or, as in this case, by the continuing devotion of the Christian faithful to a Saint's example across centuries.

Though Agnes died in 1282, she was still venerated by Christians around the world more than 700 years later. She was honored in 2011, the 800th anniversary of her birth, as the Saint of the Overthrow of Communism,[10] with a year dedicated to her by Catholics in the Czech Republic.

Cultural reference[edit]

Agnes is a featured figure on Judy Chicago's installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.[11]

Ancestry[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Seton, Walter W. Some New Sources for the Life of Blessed Agnes of Bohemia: Including a Fourteenth-Century Latin Version. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2010). ISBN 1-108-01760-6

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sarah Gallick (13 March 2007). The big book of women saints. HarperCollins. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-06-082512-6. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 
  2. ^ David Hugh Farmer (23 September 2004). The Oxford dictionary of saints. Oxford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-19-860949-0. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 
  3. ^ from The Franciscan Book of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald Press
  4. ^ Many sources have stated that Agnes was engaged to their son Boleslav, and that, after his premature death, she was returned to Prague at the age of six. Given the current accepted year of her birth as 1211, this is highly unlikely as the said duke seems to have died by 1208, which would be prior to her birth. The Vatican website giving her biography at the time of her canonization makes no mention of the young duke.
  5. ^ “Saint Agnes of Prague”. Saints.SQPN.com. 12 May 2012. Web. {2012-9-20}. [1]
  6. ^ Donovan, Stephen. "St. Agnes of Bohemia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 20 Sept. 2012 [2]
  7. ^ “Blessed Agnes of Bohemia”. New Catholic Dictionary. Saints.SQPN.com. 27 July 2012. Web. {2012-9-20}. [3]
  8. ^ Clare's Letters to Agnes: Texts and Sources. St. Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications. 2001. ISBN 978-1-57659-176-5. 
  9. ^ http://www.ngprague.cz/en/4/sekce/convent-of-st-agnes-of-bohemia/
  10. ^ Czechs Dedicate Year to Saint Who Felled Communism
  11. ^ "Agnes". Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Agnes. Brooklyn Museum. 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 

External links[edit]