The beautiful teenage girl, martyr at thirteen
Inés, whose Latin name is derived from agnus, lamb, has the meaning of “ovejita” and evokes tenderness and innocence. His father was a wealthy patrician who converted to Christianity along with his family; so the beautiful Ines – she was indeed very attractive – was greatly favored in her religious instruction by the fervent Christian community of which she became a part. She was born in Rome at the end of the 3rd century and was martyred in the early years of the 4th century, during the persecution of Diocletian, the emperor who abdicated in 305. When the dramatic event of his martyrdom took place, Ines was just thirteen years old. She was, then, a teenager. She was sentenced to die charged with the crime of contempt of the official religion of the Empire; in fact, by being a Christian and, if we go further, by the spite of a knight of the Roman nobility whose marriage proposal she resolutely rejected, not because of her young age, but because of a commitment of faithful and total love that she had already established with Jesus Christ. It seems that the suitor was the son of the prefect of Rome; I’m sure he was a very influential person in the court of Emperor Diocletian, a declared enemy of Christians. It is easy to understand why, in the trial and in the judgment against Inés, so many irregularities were recorded. She was nothing but a little girl and could not be put on trial or sentenced against her. But hate can out of the law and slander is an effective argument for inocuous judges.
In this attack on the dignity and life of the Christian young woman, other crimes were used to legally justify the repugnant outrage. For example, we know that Roman law did not consent to the death sentence against a woman who was a virgin. Well, that was why, before taking Inés to the site of the sloop, she was led to a brothel for the soldier to abuse.
The pious memory that sublimates the facts
Christian memory always refused to recognize the first torment suffered by Ines – that of his vexes – and gave rise to legends that transformed the facts by sublimating them; Thus emerged, for example, the tradition according to which, in trying the rapists to rip in Inés the garments, the young woman’s hair grew prodigiously and covered her whole body, so that no gaze would desecrate her nudity. There was also talk of a minion that tried to get to her without achieving it because, before she could touch her, a devouring fire began to burn her chest.
The legendary river of Saint Aés is flowing and even very beautiful and even with poetic tints, but it is not the case to repeat it, to avoid the risk of suffocating the historical elements that truly give credit to the testimony of this admirable virgin and martyr.
“My church will never fall”
In Rome’s famous Navona square stand out two monumental works: the beautiful concave facade of the church of Santa Inés, one of the best creations of Borromini, and the gigantic fountain of the four rivers devised by Bernini. The rivalry that existed between the two Italian architects was embodied in the confrontation of these two works. At Bernini’s fountain, the giant representing one of the four rivers, he shows his arms raised as announcing an imminent fall from the facade of the church made by Borromini. For their part, the devotees of Saint Aés say that the gigantic metallic statue of the saint inside the church seems to say, with its safe and defiant body: “My church will never fall”.
In the aforementioned temple of Santa Inés, in Piazza Navona, there are ladders through which you can descend until you find residues of Roman constructions; tradition points to this place as the site of the Roman young woman’s double martyrdom. Next to that site are the archaeological remains of the ancient stadium of Domitian. It is easy to see how Piazza Navona preserves on its perimeter the figure of the old stadium.
Inside the church of Santa Inés there is a small chapel where, in an urn, it is exposed to the veneration of the faithful, what remains of the skull of the Christian martyr. Because of the dimensions of that skull, it is understood that it belonged to a teenage girl.
Pope Dámaso I, the same one who entrusted St Jerome with the translation of the Bible that we now know as the “Vulgate”, wrote during his pontificate (366-384), a famous Latin poem that sings the glories of Saint Aes. Another Latin poet who exalted Saint Aurelius Prudencio.
Saint Ambrose (340-397), one of the most prominent fathers and doctors of the Church, from his chair as Archbishop of Milan, promoted with great eloquence the knowledge and veneration of the Roman virgin and martyr whose name soon entered the liturgy; indeed in the Roman Canon, Saint Aés is evoked together with other saints of the first centuries: “Happiness and Perpetual, Agueda, Lucia, Ines, Cecilia, Anastasia…”.
From the Treaty of St Ambrose on virgins, I train some very eloquent phrases which excellently synthesize the merits of Saint Atheists:
“Today we celebrate the birth for heaven of a virgin, let us imitating her integrity; she is also a martyr, let us offer her sacrifice […] He emphasizes in his martyrdom, on the one hand, the cruelty that did not stop at such a tender age; on the other hand, the strength that instills faith, capable of bearing witness in the person of a young woman […] She, undaunted among the executioner’s bloody hands, unalterable by being dragged by heavy, squeaky chains, offers her whole body to the sword of the enraged soldier, ignoring even what death is, but willing to suffer it … a new kind of martyrdom? She was not yet old enough to be condemned, but she was already ripe for victory; the struggle presented itself difficult, the crown easy; what seemed impossible for his young age made possible his consummate virtue […] The executioner did his best to terrorize her, and also to lure her with flattery; many wished to marry her, but she said, ‘It would be an insult to my Husband to wait to see if I like another; he’s chosen me first, he’ll have me.'”
The iconography relating to Saint Aés was configured on a par with the growth of the devout admiration professed to her. In general, she is depicted as a young woman in a prayerly attitude, holding a lamb at her feet or hands. His martyrdom is usually expressed with the sign of a palm, and its purity with lilies. In some altarpieces you can see in the neck of Saint Aes a kind of fine white steed. This detail, allusive to the pallium, requires a brief explanation: by an ancient tradition related to Saint Aés, the white wool of a lamb is collected annually and preserved in St Peter’s Basilica; With this wool are made the palios, which are distinctive insignia of the Pope, archbishops and other ecclesiasticals. The pallium is like a white ribbon made of virgin wool and adorned with black crosses.
Saint Ines, whose liturgical feast is 21 January, is considered patron saint of adolescent girls, young women and women who are preparing for a Christian marriage. The witness and intercession of Saint Aés, far from being somewhat anachronistic and meaningless today, is more opportune than ever, for one of the misfortunes of our time is the misuse of sexuality. There are many girls who, even with good training, end up seduced by all kinds of morbid provocations or suffer sexual violence. Ω