Eve of St Agnes
Tonight is the Eve of St Agnes.
According to folklore, if you follow certain rituals before going to bed, you will see your future husband in your dreams.
So what rituals should you perform?
Well, of course, that depends on who you believe!
You could go into a crop field at midnight, throw grain onto the soil, and pray:
Agnes sweet and Agnes fair,
Hither, hither, now repair;
Bonny Agnes, let me see
The lad who is to marry me.
Or take a row of pins, and pulling out every one, say a paternoster for each…
You could eat a yolkless boiled egg with salt filling the cavity where the yolk had been (the dream husband is supposedly prompted to provide a glass of water)
Or make a special cake called a “dumb cake,” walking backward with it to bed, and eating it. (Dumb cake was, as its name suggests, made in absolute silence and contained a high proportion of salt, soot, or urine….).
Take your pick!
Who was Agnes?
Agnes was a beautiful Italian girl, who, when she was 13, refused to marry the son of a high-ranking Roman official saying she was already married to Jesus.
Exposed as a Christian, she was ordered to choose between sacrificing to pagan gods or being thrown into a brothel. She chose the brothel. It is said that her original suitor, approaching her there, was struck blind.
Needless to say, she was accused of enchantment and killed.
She is the patron saint of girls, virgins, engaged couples, rape victims…and gardeners.
In 1819 Keats wrote a 42 stanza poem based on the ‘eve of St Agnes’ superstition, which inspired a number of artists, including Clarke and Millais.
The Feast of St Agnes is still celebrated by the Catholic Church. Two lambs are brought to the Church of St Agnes on the 21st January in baskets decorated in red (martyrdom) and white (purity). The lambs are blessed by the Pope and then taken to the Convent of St. Cecilia, where the Sisters care for them. Their wool is used to weave the palliums worn by the Pope and his Archbishops.
Simpson, J., Roud, S. 2003 A Dictionary of British Folklore Oxford: Oxford University Press