The Martyrdom of St. Agnes

Late 17th century
Cathedral of St. Stephen, Passau, Germany

The fresco collapses the two phases of Agnes's execution. It was when she was put into the flames that she stretched out her arms and prayed to God for protection, whereupon the fire was miraculously extinguished. Only then did the executioner kill her with a sword.

Here the sword pierces the saint's side, a break with the traditional account. Jerome, "On Virgins," speaks of the sword piercing Agnes in the neck. In Bokenham (116) and in the South English Legendary (184) it is driven into her throat. Perhaps the artist chose to show it piercing her side as a parallel to the wound in the side of Christ.

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Photographed at the cathedral by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.