A member of Roman nobility, Saint Agnes was born in 291 AD and was raised as a Christian by her very devout family. As she grew older, many suitors began inquiring but when she and her family declined all of them due to her devotion to remaining a virgin for her faith, the suitors turned her in as a Christian to the authorities (this was during the Diocletian persecutions). At the age of 13 she was arrested by the Prefect Sempronius and condemned to be drug through the streets naked to a local brothel. At the brothel, any man who attempted to rape her was struck completely blind.
When her trial came, she was immediately sentenced to death. She was tied to a stake to be burned alive, but the wood would not burn. Anytime the wood would burn, the flames miraculously parted from her. After much frustration and anger, an officer drew his sword and beheaded her. As her blood poured down onto the stadium floor, Christians soaked up the blood with rags. She was was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. When her foster sister Emerentiana was found praying by her tomb, she was arrested and stoned to death (Emerentiana would later be canonized as Saint Emerentiana, with a January 23 feast day). Constantina, the daughter of Emperor Constantine, was cured of leprosy when she prayed for Saint Agnes' intercession at her tomb.
Saint Agnes was venerated as a Saint by at least the time of Saint Ambrose who wrote a homily dedicated to her story. Today her relics are beneath the high altar in the church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura in Rome and her feast day is celebrated on January 21st.
On her feast day, two lambs are brought from the Trappist abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome to the Sant'Agnese in Agone church to be blessed by the Pope. The sheep are shorn on Holy Thursday and the wool woven into the pallium that the Pope gives to a newly consecrated archbishop as a sign of the union with the Pope.