March 2nd is the anniversary of a saint who like our Mother Angelica, founded both Clarian and Franciscan monasteries, and an order of Franciscan brothers. Her name is St. Agnes of Bohemia, a contemporary of St. Francis and St. Clare, she established the first Poor Clares Monastery north of the Alps in 1234. Although she never met St. Clare face-to-face, their correspondence is a moving testament to the deep love of Christ that bound these two 'sisters' together in holy zeal to pursue a life of poverty, prayer, and service. St. Agnes was canonized by Pope John Paul II 5 days before the fall of the Iron Curtain in Czecho-Slovakia. The newly liberated nation was honored to have her as patroness of Czecho-Slovakia.
Agnes was born in Prague sometime around the year 1211. She was the daughter of the Czech King Premysl Ottokar I of Bohemia and Queen Constancia. Her father promised that she would marry the son of German Emperor Friedrich II, later King Henry VII, Duke of Swabia, and sent her to the Austrian Babenberg court to study court manners. However, Duke Leopold VI of Babenberg persuaded the Emperor to allow his son to marry with his daughter Margaret – so Agnes returned to Bohemia. She was later engaged to marry the English king Henry, and even his father, emperor Friedrich II, who in the meantime had become a widower. However, when inspired by the holy life of Francis and Clare of Assisi, who left their rich families and lived in smaller monasteries and shared the destiny with the poor, Agnes decided to become a bride of Christ.
In around 1232, supported by her brother and mother, Agnes founded the Hospital of St. Francis for poor and ill people, and established the Hospital Brotherhood that later developed into the Order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star. A year later, two monasteries were founded near the Hospital: the male monastery for the Smaller Brothers of St. Francis, and the female convent for the Clares. The three building complex created the first dominating Gothic landmark in Prague which could compete with the residential palace at Hradčany.
Imbued by the ideals of St. Francis and St. Clare, Agnes sought strict adherence to the original rules and was in written contact with St. Clare as well as with popes Gregory IX, Innocent IV and Urban IV. The energetic nun was a pious follower of the Franciscan ideal as well as a wise advisor to her royal family. In 1249, thanks to her influence, King Wenceslas I was reconciled with his son Premysl, Margrave of Moravia. Later she had a diplomatic role in settling a dispute between a nephew of Premysl Ottocar II and Rudolf I of Habsburg.
Agnes died in March 1282 in the St. Agnes Convent. and the story of her her extraordinary life spread quickly.
As early as 1328, her cousin, St. Elisabeth of Bohemia asked for her canonisation, but her request was not met for many centuries, in spite of powerful intercessions of Prague’s archbishops, sovereigns and grandmasters of the Order of the Knights of the Cross. The obstacle appears to be that St. Agnes's body was missing. It had disappeared during the violent Hussite wars in the land. Only in 1874, at the request of Archbishop Schwarzenberg, was she recognized as blessed, and could then be worshiped publicly outside the Order of the Knights of the Cross. She was canonised on 12 November 1989 by Pope John Paul II. Saint Agnes of Bohemia, a peacemaker, is rightly associated with the fall of the Czecho-Slovak totalitarian regime on 17 November of that same year.
At the occasion of the eight-hundredth anniversary of St. Agnes’ birth, from 25 November 2011 to 25 March 2012, the Monastery of St. Agnes in Prague – Old Town is the venue of a very unique exhibition called Saint Agnes of Bohemia – Princess and Nun. The exhibition honours this extraordinary personality of Czech history and shows visitors her life reflected in numerous artistic works and historic links. An exhibition of this type, dedicated to St. Agnes of Bohemia, took place some 80 years ago. The current exposition presents nearly 300 exhibits, of which the most valuable include the Latin version of the legendary Candor lucis aeternae from the year 1328 and copies of submissions asking for canonisation.
The exhibition is organised by the Prague Archbishopric in cooperation with the National Gallery in Prague. The partners are the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star, the National Archives and Charles University. The event takes place under the auspices of the Czech President Václav Klaus, the Czech Minister of Culture Jiří Besser, and the Mayor of Prague Bohuslav Svoboda.
More information about this unique event can be found here.
The First Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague
To the esteemed and most holy virgin, the Lady Agnes, daughter of the most excellent and illustrious King of Bohemia: Clare, an unworthy servant of Jesus Christ and useless handmaid of the Cloistered Ladies of the Monastery of San Damiano, her subject and servant in all things, presents herself totally with a special reverent [prayer] that she attain the glory of everlasting happiness.
As I hear of the fame of Your holy conduct and irreproachable life, which is known not only to me but to the entire world as well, I greatly rejoice and exult in the Lord. I am not alone in rejoicing at such great news, but [I am joined by] all who serve and seek to serve Jesus Christ. For, though You, more than others, could have enjoyed the magnificence and honor and dignity of the world, and could have been married to the illustrious Caesar with splendor befitting You and His Excellency, You have rejected all these things and have chosen with Your whole heart and soul a life of holy poverty and destitution. Thus You took a spouse of a more noble lineage, Who will keep Your virginity ever unspotted and unsullied, the Lord Jesus Christ:
When You have loved [Him],
You shall be chaste; when You have touched [Him],
You shall become pure; when You have accepted [Him],
You shall be a virgin.
Whose power is stronger,
Whose generosity is more abundant,
Whose appearance more beautiful,
Whose love more tender,
Whose courtesy more gracious.
In Whose embrace You are already caught up;
Who has adorned Your breast with precious stones
And has placed priceless pearls in Your ears
and has surrounded You with sparkling gems
as though blossoms of springtime
and placed on Your head a golden crown
as a sign [to all] of Your holiness.
Therefore, most beloved sister, or should I say, Lady worthy of great respect: because You are the spouse and the mother and the sister of my Lord Jesus Christ, and have been adorned resplendently with the sign of inviolable virginity and most holy poverty: Be strengthened in the holy service which You have undertaken out of an ardent desire for the Poor Crucified, Who for the sake of all of us took upon Himself the Passion of the Cross and delivered us from the power of the Prince of Darkness to whom we were enslaved because of the disobedience of our first parents, and so reconciled us to God the Father.
O blessed poverty,
who bestows eternal riches on those who love and
O holy poverty,
to those who possess and desire you
God promises the kingdom of heaven
and offers, indeed, eternal glory and blessed life!
O God-centered poverty,
whom the Lord Jesus Christ
Who ruled and now rules heaven and earth,
Who spoke and things were made,
condescended to embrace before all else!
The foxes have dens, He says, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man, Christ, has nowhere to lay His head, but bowing His head gave up His spirit.
If so great and good a Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin's womb, chose to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty and want and in absolute need of heavenly nourishment might become rich in Him by possessing the kingdom of heaven, then rejoice and be glad! Be filled with a remarkable happiness and a spiritual joy! Contempt of the world has pleased You more than [its] honors, poverty more than earthly riches, and You have sought to store up greater treasures in heaven rather than on earth, where rust does not consume nor moth destroy nor thieves break in and steal. Your reward, then, is very great in heaven! And You have truly merited to be called a sister, spouse, and mother of the Son of the Father of the Most High and of the glorious Virgin.
You know, I am sure, that the kingdom of heaven is promised and given by the Lord only to the poor: for he who loves temporal things loses the fruit of love. Such a person cannot serve God and Mammon, for either the one is loved and the other is hated, or the one is served and the other despised.
You also know that one who is clothed cannot fight with another who is naked, because he is more quickly thrown who gives his adversary a chance to get hold of him; and that one who lives in the glory of earth cannot rule with Christ in heaven.
Again, [you know] that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, you have cast aside Your garments, that is, earthly riches, so that You might not be overcome by the one fighting against You, [and] that You might enter the kingdom of heaven through the straight path and narrow gate.
What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.
Because of this I have resolved, as best I can, to beg Your excellency and Your holiness by my humble prayers in the mercy of Christ, to be strengthened in His holy service, and to progress from good to better, from virtue to virtue, so that He Whom You serve with the total desire of Your soul may bestow on You the reward for which You long.
I also beg You in the Lord, as much as I can, to include in Your holy prayers me, Your servant, though unworthy, and the other sisters with me in the monastery, who are all devoted to You, so that by their help we may merit the mercy of Jesus Christ, and together with You may merit to enjoy the everlasting vision.
Farewell in the Lord. And pray for me.
Clare of Assisi
National Gallery of Prague: St. Agnes of Behemia Exibits | http://www.prague.eu/en/object/places/768/national-gallery-in-prague-convent-of-st-agnes-of-bohemia | http://www.ngprague.cz/objekt-detail/klaster-sv-anezky-ceske/
The Princess Saint | http://www.discerninghearts.com/?p=2617
Gloria TV Special: http://gloria.tv/media/Z19b6DfWqiY