Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Festival of St. Agnes, at Her Church without the Walls

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.

Rome, Churches of

Festival of St. Agnes, at Her Church without the Walls

By Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham (1793–1870)

  • “O virgo felix, O nova gloria,
  • Cœlestis arcis nobilis incola.”
  • Inscription over the Tribune.

  • O QUAINTEST and most ancient fane,

    Whose simple beauty rears

    The memory of a pure life slain,

    Through thrice five hundred years!

    I journey down the stairs’ long line

    Beneath the hollow ground;

    For what I deemed the dusky shrine

    Of holy Agnes bound.

    But the half-buried church is bright

    With many a candle’s ray,

    And windows high pour on the sight

    The purer blaze of day.

    Nothing is dark or saddening there,

    Nothing is worn or old;

    Lo! colors rich and marbles rare,

    And virgin white and gold.

    No faded frescos stain the wall,

    No blackened paintings grim;

    ’T was glittering as a festival,

    And warming as a hymn.

    The sculptured Maid within her arm

    Her typic lamb caressed;

    While music, with its living charm,

    The silent pageant blest.

    And, see, two lambs to the altar brought!

    Not for a victim’s fate,

    But to express a gentle thought,

    And to be consecrate.

    Thus, yearly, keeps this ancient fane,

    With garlands, light, and song,

    The memory of one pure life slain,

    So tenderly and long.

    And thus, without the Roman wall,

    To all the world it saith:

    “Behold what shining honors fall

    Bound Innocence and Faith!”