Saint Agnes of Assisi was the younger sister of Saint Claire of Assisi and one of the first abbesses of the Order of Poor Ladies. She was born into a life of wealth as she was a younger daughter of Count Favorino Scifi. There is some debate as to what her given name was but most scholars hypothesize it was Caterina. Her name Agnes was the name she took when she became a nun. Much of Saint Agnes’ childhood was passed between her father’s palace in the city and his castle of Sasso Rosso on Mt. Subasio.
Her mother, Ortolana, also joined the Order founded by her daughters later in her life. It was a bit of a surprise at the time as Ortolana hailed from the noble family of the Fiumi. Their cousin Rufino was one of the original “Three Companions” of Francis of Assisi.
On the 18th of March in 1212, her eldest sister Clare did a life-changing decision. She was inspired by the example of St. Francis of Assisi and left their father’s home in secret in order to become one the saint’s followers. In the wake of this, 16 days later, Agnes ran off to the Benedictine Monastery of St. Angelo where St. Francis had brought her sister.
Agnes had made the decision to join her sister in a life of poverty and penance. This was met with much displeasure from their father. Angry at having lost two of his daughters, their father sent his brother Monaldo, and several relations and armed followers to the monastery to force Agnes, if persuasion failed, to return home. Monaldo drew his sword to strike his niece, but his arm allegedly dropped to his side, withered and useless. The others dragged Agnes out of the monastery by her hair, striking her and kicking her repeatedly. Agnes’ body reportedly became so heavy, perhaps due to the help of her sister, that her assailants dropped her in a field nearby. Agnes’ relatives, purportedly realizing that something divine protected her, allowed the sisters to remain together.
Saint Francis was purportedly the one who cut Agnes’ hair and gave her the religious habit in recognition of her dedication. Saint Francis later established a cloister for Clare and Agnes at the rural chapel of San Damiano where they were soon joined by other noble women of the city. It was then that the Order of Poor Ladies, later known to be the Poor Clares, began with Clare as its first abbess.
In 1221, the Abbess Clare chose her sister to lead a community of Benedictine nuns in the village of Monticelli (now part of the city of Florence) who wished to embrace the way of life of the Poor Ladies. Agnes went on to establish other communities of the Order, including those of Mantua, Venice, and Padua.
According to oral and written history, Agnes was said to be very virtuous. As abbess, she ruled with a benevolent kindness, knowing how to make the practice of virtue appealing to her Sisters.
Agnes nursed her sister Clare during the latter’s illness, and shortly thereafter died herself on November 16, 1253. The sisters’ remains were to be interred at the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi.
Saint Agnes’ feast day is the anniversary of her death: November 16.