There once lived a woman who grew tired of being used as a political pawn, so she gave up her life of plenty in order to dedicate her entire being to helping those living in strife. She set up a hospital and personally took care of many lepers and paupers, increasing her own poverty and suffering in life but guaranteeing her place at the top table of heaven. No, I’m not talking about Mother Teresa, as you’ll notice there was no mention of spiritual hypocrisy or advantage-taking. I’m referring of course to the much-loved Agnes of Bohemia, or Agnes of Prague, or Svatá Anežka Česká. I’ll stick to Agnes.
Born in June of 1211 (the same year that Genghis Khan invaded northern China), Agnes spent the first 28 years of her life as a chess piece being lined up to marry a variety of suitors. Such was the life of the king’s daughter, and King Přemysl Otakar I and Constance of Hungary’s little girl was no different. By the age of three (3) she was already betrothed, to Bolesav of Silesia. She was whisked off to a monastery to be educated, only for her future husband to snuff up when she was just six years old.
Three years later another dude was lined up to marry her, none other than the son of Emperor Frederick II. Yes, I’m talking about Prince Henry! Agnes left again, to the Austrian court to learn German, and everything seemed to be moving along swimmingly until it transpired that Duke Leopold of Austria had arranged for his daughter to marry Henry. Another failed arranged marriage for Agnes. King Henry III of England was next, but the kibosh was put on this by the Emperor himself, who took it upon his own shoulders to carry the burden of marrying Agnes of Bohemia.
Understandably, Agnes was done with this shit by this point. Now 28 years old, she wrote to Pope Gregory IX expressing her lack of consent and asking for an intervention, expressing her desire to be done with all of this bullshit and to give her life to JC himself from here on out. Emperor Fred was remarkably okay with all of this, remarking that he ‘cannot take offence if she prefers the King of Heaven to me’. The Pope termed the deal null and void, and for the first time in her life Agnes of Bohemia was no longer a pawn on the political chessboard of Bohemia and Hungary.
Did she take this opportunity to put her feet up and enjoy her newfound freedom? Lord no. She dove headfirst into her new life of giving. The Franciscans were beginning to make inroads into this part of Europe, and it was through the friars that Agnes became acquainted with Clare of Assisi, an acquaintance she would keep for many years. Agnes used her resources to build a friary for the Franciscans, as well as a hospital and subsequently a convent for the Order of the Poor Clares (the first north of the Alps).
Just because she was going all pious doesn’t mean Agnes took the Teresa route of building something ramshackle and shoddy, oh no. The convent was ostentatious as heck, one of the first Gothic structures in that land that is today the Czech Republic. It was initially intended to become the final resting place for Kings and Queens, but long after Agnes’ passing it was fall on tough times on account of being destroyed. During Agnes’ life it was a place of sanctuary however, where the daughter of the king herself cared for the sick and dying with all the tenderness she could muster.
By the time Agnes herself died in 1282, the luxury that she had been born into had been replaced with sickness and poverty. Agnes was buried in the convent, but her remains were moved in the 14th century and subsequently lost to the world. Her spiritual legacy lived on however, and in the 15th century provost Papoušek of Litoměříce stated that Bohemia would not prosper until Agnes was canonised. Pope Pius IX beatified her in 1874, but canonisation and prosperity wouldn’t come to Agnes and the Czech lands until November 12th, 1989. Five days later the wheels began moving on what would become the Velvet Revolution. Such was the influence of Agnes of Bohemia, the Saint of the Overthrow of Communism.