From the inside of the beautiful baroque church of St.
Agnes in Agone you can enter the underground, where
according to ancient tradition, there was one of the
brothels of the Stadium of Domitian. Going down the
stairs of the crypt you are in front of a work of Algardi
depicting St. Agnes with an Angel, next to it there is a
plaque with this inscription:
HUNC TURPITUDINIS LOCUM
When translated, this phrase means: “The entrance to the place of turpitude where the Angel sent by God intervened to save Agnes”.
Agnes, a delightful thirteen-year-old girl, attracted the attention of Diocletian’s nephew. The same Emperor Diocletian who on February 24, 303 declared Christianity outlawed and began the persecution of both those who professed the faith and those who were only sympathizers of this religion. Agnes, taking a vow of chastity, had consecrated herself totally to God. Diocletian’s young nephew, who was in love with her, tried to use violence against her but the girl rejected him.
The young man left with an angry heart; then Diocletian had the girl arrested and had her locked up in brothel together with the prostitutes where, not protected by domestic walls and exposed in her nakedness, she would have suffered violence from Diocletian’s nephew.
When the boy, who had gone to the brothel, tried to possess her, an Angel of God arrived, touched him and he fell dead at the feet of the girl. But Agnes, taken by pity, asked for the intercession of the Lord and the boy rose again. But this was not a great help to her, indeed Agnes was accused of witchcraft and condemned to burn at the stake. Carried on the pyre and naked, she had yet another miracle. Suddenly her hair grew and protected her from the curious and lascivious eyes as the flames split in two without touching her body. In the end, a soldier with a sword pierced her throat like an immolated lamb and the young woman died, right in the place where today lies the Crypt of St. Agnes in Agone in Piazza Navona. The year was 305.
Her body was taken to the family tomb on Via Nomentana, where the emperor Constantine’s daughter erected a basilica in her name. In the ninth century the Popes brought the head of St. Agnes to their private chapel, until in 1900 Pope Pius X donated it to St. Agnes in Agone in Piazza Navona,
where it is now in a special shrine in the Chapel of the Holy Head.