Today being a day on which I am actually saying mass, I thought it worth posting a little bit (nicked gratefully from Wikipedia) on the Saint whose festival it is:
Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c.304) is a virgin–martyr, venerated by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholics, the Anglican Communion and in Eastern Orthodoxy. She is one of 7 women, excluding the Blessed Virgin, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. She is the patron saint of chastity, gardeners, girls, engaged couples, rape victims, and virgins. Agnes is depicted in art with a lamb, as her name resembles the Latin word for "lamb", agnus. The name "Agnes" is actually derived from the feminine Greek adjective "hagnē" (ἁγνή) meaning "chaste, pure, sacred".
According to tradition, Saint Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility born c. 291 and raised in a Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of 12 or 13 during the reign ofDiocletian, on January 21 304.
The Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and on Agnes' refusal he condemned her to death. As Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel. Various versions of the legend give different methods of her escape from this predicament. In one, as she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body. It was also said that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind. In another the son of the Prefect is struck dead, but revived after Agnes prayed for him, causing her release. There is then a trial from which Sempronius excuses himself, and another figure presides, sentencing her to death. When led out to die she was tied to a stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn, or the flames parted away from her, whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her, or, in some other texts, stabbed her in the throat. It is also said that the blood of Agnes poured to the stadium floor where other Christians soaked up the blood with cloths.
Agnes' bones are conserved in the church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura in Rome, built over the catacomb that housed Agnes' tomb. Her skull is preserved in a side chapel in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Rome's Piazza Navona.
An interesting custom is observed on her feast day. Two lambs are brought from the Trappist abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome to the Pope to be blessed. On Holy Thursday they are shorn, and from the wool is woven the pallium which the pope gives to a newly consecrated metropolitan archbishop as a sign of his jurisdiction and his union with the pope. Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls; folk custom called for them to practice rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands. This superstition has been immortalized in John Keats's poem, "The Eve of Saint Agnes".
The factual veracity of all this can not be guaranteed - but I certainly intend to remember the groups she is patron of at the altar today.