Yesterday was the feast of St Agnes, a virgin martyr of (probably) the first years of the 4th century. After my Latin class yesterday, I had the opportunity to pop into the church of St Agnes (Sant’Agnese in Agone) on the Piazza Navona. The Piazza is the site of the Circus of Domition (c.98 AD) and was the scene of staged battles and gladatorial contests, resulting in blood and death - and it also marked the scene of the martyrdom of many Christians. I often think that those who bemoan the existence and influence of Christianity in Antiquity would realise the great benefits that the Church brought: it managed to ensure that such barbaric contests were banished from the Empire.
It is here in the Circus of Domitian that St Agnes is thought to have been martyred and hence the church dedicated to her honour. Inside the church in a chapel on the left hand side is the relic of her skull, enshrined in a beautiful reliquary. Yesterday many people gathered there to pray, with candles alit and flowers decorating the chapel. Some were reading the Bible, others reciting the Divine Office or the Rosary, or just simply kneeling before the shrine.
At the weekend I had the opportunity to go to Palazzola, the villa of the English College that sits on the slopes of Lake Albano, south of Rome. It is a beautiful place and I had the chance to pray and read my books concerning 4th century Church crises. The walk around the lake gives breathtaking views too. Here is a view from the room I was given: