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. Since she is mentioned in the Roman Canon, her association with the pallium is an important symbol of unity with the successor of Saint Peter.
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, emblematic of her 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 palliums, which are white stoles with six black crosses worn by archbishops to show their unity with the Pope and their apostolic authority. The vestment dates back to at least the fifth century.