Pope Benedict XVI marked the Feast of St. Agnes Saturday with a centuries-old rite: the blessing of the lambs from whose wool the Pallium will be made.
Two small lambs were carried to the Pope in baskets, as per tradition, by the Canons Regular of the Lateran Basilica. Agnes means “lamb” in Latin.
The saint of the same name was a martyr of the early 4th century, known for her consecrated virginity, who was killed for refusing to worship pagan gods. To symbolize St. Agnes’ purity, one of the lambs wears a crown of white flowers, while the other wears a red floral wreath to recall her faithful witness even unto death.
Reared in the convent instead of Tre Fontane in Rome, come Summer these same two lambs will be brought to the monastery of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere where in a custom that has remained in tact down through the centuries, they will be shorn to supply the wool from which the religious sisters will weave the Pallium .
These white stoles are worn by metropolitan archbishops around their necks as a symbol of their authority and unity with the pope. The Holy Father presents them to newly-appointed metropolitan archbishops each year on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.