Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, March 2, 2015

Agnes of Bohemia, a Pious Princess Gets Her Way

Agnes of Bohemia (died 2 March 1282)

Born in 1211 in Prague, Agnes was the youngest daughter of Ottokar, the king of Bohemia, and Constance of Hungary--making Agnes a descendant of Saint Ludmila of Bohemia (c. 860-921) and a first cousin of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231). As a child, she was educated in a convent founded by her aunt, yet another woman destined to become a saint, St. Hedwig of Andechs (1174-1273).

It should not be surprising, then, that although politically important marriages were planned for her, Agnes resisted. She had another kind of life in mind for herself. After early plans to marry her, first, to the son of the Holy Roman Emperor and, then, to the king of England, fell through, a third marriage was suggested for her, in 1231. 

At this point, Agnes appealed to the pope, Gregory IX, asking for his help. Here is one account of his response: 
And in order that she might more surely persevere in her resolution, which she conceived through God's inspiration, putting her hand to strong things, through trustworthy and discreet messengers, she made known her intention to the noble vicar of Christ, the Lord Pope Gregory IX. This felicitous pope rejoiced at the most generous devotion of the virgin, encouraged her by his gracious letter which he sent back by the same messengers, commended and confirmed her holy resolution, and with many spiritual gifts invited her to be his adopted daughter and accorded her his devoted paternal affection all the rest of his days.
The daughter of Christ was filled with spiritual consolation by these things that she received by way of reply from the High Pontiff. . . . 
Inspired by the model of Francis of Assisi and of his associate and disciple, Clare of Assisi, Agnes founded the Hospital of St. Francis. With the assistance of Clare, who sent five nuns to Prague, Agnes established a convent for a community of Poor Clares.

Agnes entered the Monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer on 11 June 1234, when she was twenty-three years old, serving as its first abbess. She found herself in conflict with the pope who had earlier helped her dedicate herself to a religious life--Gregory IX endowed her establishment with revenues that Agnes felt violated the Franciscan ideal of absolute poverty. She eventually prevailed.

Agnes's letters to Clare of Assisi and to Pope Gregory IX do not survive, but their letters to her do, allowing us insight into this remarkable woman. To read the letters to Agnes, click here.

The convent founded by St. Agnes in 1231,
the "oldest Gothic building in Prague,"
now the National Gallery
Although Agnes's cousin, Elizabeth of Hungary, was canonized in 1235, just four years after her death, Agnes of Bohemia had to wait a bit longer. She was beatified some six hundred years after her death, in 1854, by Pope Pius IX. She was finally canonized, becoming Saint Agnes, in 1989, by Pope John Paul II. 

For Walter Seton's edition of a medieval life of St. Agnes, click here. The texts are in Latin and German, which you may not read, but this volume is still worth checking out for its great introduction, which includes a long biographical section. 

You might also enjoy Joan Mueller's The Privilege of Poverty: Clare of Assisi, Agnes of Prague, and the Struggle for a Franciscan Rule for Women. Mueller has also published an edition of Clare's letters to Agnes, Clare of Assisi: The Letters to Agnes--each letter is introduced and followed by a discussion of its context and an analysis of its "contemporary relevance."

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