Rome: the basilica of Sant’Agnese Fuori le Mura

Saint Agnese/Agnes of Rome was a fourth century Christian who was martyred at the age of around 12 or 13 during the persecutions of Diocletian. She is the patron saint of girls and chastity who eventually would give her name to the church in Piazza Navona that marks the site of her martyrdom in the ancient stadium of Domitian. However, as was the Roman custom, she was buried on a northern route out of Rome, the Via Nomentana. Hence the name “outside the walls”. It is here that a church was built over her original burial place in ancient catacombs that can also be visited. The complex also includes the famed Mausoleum of Costanza, which has its own blog post.

The church as we see it today dates from the 7th Century, and has a peaceful courtyard setting. Access via the via di Sant Agnese presented us with this view – hard to believe that the hustle and bustle of Roman life was only a few stops away on the metro.

The mosaics in the apse are considered quite unusual in that Agnese is at the centre, as opposed to the usual Christ figure.

Agnese’s symbol is the lamb, given the similarity of her name to agnus, Latin for lamb. There also seems to be an association with white flowers as the church was full of them.

The church is free to visit although there is a small cost to visit the catacombs. It can be approached via the metro line B (stop Agnese/Annibaliano) or on Via Nomentana. The complex includes a convent, gardens, Santa Costanza and visible ruins from the earlier church and imperial buildings. There’s also a little bar (coffee shop) on site to offer a welcome break from the heat.

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