Vatican City, Jan 21, 2015 / 13:05 pm
Pope Francis observed the feast of St. Agnes with the time-honored custom of the blessing of lambs, whose wool will be used to make stoles worn by archbishops and known as palliums.
The two small lambs, traditionally less than a year old, were placed in baskets and carried to the Casa Santa Marta on Wednesday where they received the Holy Father's blessing.
St. Agnes, whose name means "lamb" in Latin, was a young girl when she consecrated her virginity to God. Although stories of her martyrdom vary, tradition holds that the beautiful young girl was pursued by various men, whom she refused because of her promise to God.
Feeling slighted, these men then turned her over to Roman authorities, outing her as a Christian. She was then put to death by the sword after refusing to give up her virginity or denounce her faith, at the young age of 12 or 13.
The young saint is buried in the Basilica named for her, located on Rome's Via Nomentana.
During the blessing of the lambs, one lamb wears a white crown symbolizing the saint's purity, and the other lamb to wear a red crown, symbolic of the saint's martyrdom.
St. Agnes is usually depicted as carrying a lamb in her arms, and she is the patron saint of young girls, engaged couples, and victims of sexual assault.
When the sheep are shorn in the summer, religious sisters will collect the wool and use it to weave the Pallium, which are white stoles with six black crosses worn by archbishops to show their authority and unity with the Pope.
After the Pallium are woven, they are kept in an urn at the tomb of St. Peter until the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, when the Pope presents the stoles to the newly appointed archbishops.