2013-01-21 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI marked the Feast of St. Agnes Monday with a centuries-old rite: the blessing of the lambs, from whose wool the Pallium will be made. Listen:
The small lambs, traditionally less than a year old, were carried to the Pope in baskets, as per tradition, by the Canons Regular of the Cathedral of St John Lateran. Reared by religious sisters in the Saint Lawrence convent in Panisperna, Rome, come Summer these same lambs will be brought to the Saint Cecilia convent in Trastevere. There 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.
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 when she was between 12 and 13 years of age for refusing to worship pagan gods. She is buried in the basilica named for her, located on Rome’s Via Nomentana. 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.
The Pallium are white woollen stoles, decorated with six black crosses worn by metropolitan archbishops around their necks as a symbol of their authority and unity with the Pope. Once woven they are custodied in an urn at the tomb of St Peter until the Holy Father presents them to newly-appointed metropolitan archbishops on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.