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A lamb holding a Christian banner is a typical symbol for Agnus Dei.
Medieval Agnus Dei with halo and cross; Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, Croatia.
Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, with gushing blood.
Eucharistic Pall, embroidered with the Agnus Dei reposing on the book of the Seven Seals.
The seal of the Moravian Church, featuring the Agnus Dei.
Lamb with vexillum and chalice.

Agnus Dei is a Latin term meaning Lamb of God, and was originally used to refer to Jesus Christ in his role of the perfect sacrificial offering that atones for the sins of humanity in Christian theology, harkening back to ancient Jewish Temple sacrifices. The phrase "Agnus Dei" refers to several uses of this image.



In Christian iconography, an Agnus Dei is a visual representation of Jesus as a lamb, since the Middle Ages usually holding a standard or banner with a cross. This normally rests on the lamb's shoulder and is held in its right foreleg. Often the cross will have a white banner suspended from it charged with a red cross (similar to St George's Cross), though the cross may also be rendered in different colours. Sometimes the lamb is shown lying atop a book with seven seals hanging from it. This is a reference to the imagery in the Book of Revelation 5:1-13, ff. Occasionally, the lamb may be depicted bleeding from the area of the heart (Cf. Revelation 5:6), symbolizing Jesus' shedding of his blood to take away the sins of the world (Cf. John 1:29, 1:36).

In Early Christian art the symbol appears very early on. Several mosaics in churches include it, some showing a row of twelve sheep representing the apostles flanking the central Agnus Dei, as in Santi Cosma e Damiano, Rome (526-30).

The Moravian Church uses an Agnus Dei as their seal with the surrounding inscription Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur ("Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him.").

Although the depiction of Jesus as the Lamb of God is of ancient origin, it is not used in the liturgical iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The reason for this is that the depictions of Jesus in the Orthodox Church are anthropomorphic rather than symbolic, as a confession of the Orthodox belief in the Incarnation of the Logos. However, there is no objection to the application of the term "Lamb of God" to Jesus. In fact, the Host used in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is referred to as the Lamb (Greek: άμνος, amnos; Slavonic: Агнецъ, agnets).

In the Roman Catholic Church it is also a tablet of wax stamped with a representation of Jesus as a lamb bearing a cross, then blessed by the Pope as a sacramental.


In the Mass of the Roman Rite and also in the Eucharist of the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Church, and the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church the Agnus Dei is the invocation to the Lamb of God sung or recited during the fraction of the Host.[1] It is said to have been introduced into the Mass by Pope Sergius I (687–701).[2]

Based upon John the Baptist's reference in John 1:29 to Jesus ("Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world"), the text in Latin is:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

which means:

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

The following three versions of the Agnus Dei are particularly common in English-speaking churches. They are all found, for example, in the Church of England's Common Worship liturgical resources.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.
Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world, grant us peace.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.

Notice that the verse John 1:29 has "sin of the world" rather than "sins of the world".

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, § 83, states: "The supplication Agnus Dei, is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace)."

Historically, in Requiem Masses, the first two invocations ended with "dona eis requiem" (give them rest) instead of "miserere nobis", and the last with "dona eis requiem sempiternam" (give them rest eternal).

The priest again uses the phrase "Lamb of God", in a more complete quotation from John 1:29, when displaying the consecrated Host (or the Host and Chalice) to the people before giving them Holy Communion. He says: "Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. (Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.) Happy are they who are called to His Supper."

Famous composers have set to at times elaborate music this part of the Ordinary of the Mass.

The Agnus Dei chant also appears in the Eucharistic liturgies of other Communions. Lutherans and (usually) Anglicans almost always use it prior to or at the beginning of the administration of Holy Communion. Lutheran celebrants will often genuflect at the beginning of the three phrases.

In the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church, the Agnus Dei is listed (along with Pascha Nostrum) as one of several Fraction Anthems that may be used at the breaking of the bread. A form of the Agnus Dei also appears in the Litany at the Ordering of Deacons in the Book of Common Prayer, 1662.


This liturgical text has been set to music by many composers, usually as part of a Mass setting, but sometimes it stands alone, e.g., it is the lyrics for the choral arrangement of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Agnus Dei is also the name of several other songs, which may not have the traditional words:

Architectural examples

  • St Leonards Church, Speeton has a fine example of a carved Norman Agnus Dei[7]
  • All Saints church, Crondall



1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

AGNUS DEI, the figure of a lamb bearing a cross, symbolical of the Saviour as the "Lamb of God." The device is common in ecclesiastical art, but the name is especially given in the Church of Rome to a small cake made of the wax of the Easter candles and impressed with this figure. Since the 9th century it has been customary for the popes to bless these cakes, and distribute them on the Sunday after Easter among the faithful, by whom they are highly prized as having the power to avert evil. In modern times the distribution has been limited to persons of distinction, and is made by the pope on his accession and every seven years thereafter.

Agnus Dei is also the popular name for the anthem beginning with these words, which is said to have been introduced into the missal by Pope Sergius I. (687-701). Based upon John i. 29, the Latin form is Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. In the celebration of the mass it is repeated three times before the communion, and it is also appended to many of the litanies. By the judgment in the case of "Read and others v. The Bishop of Lincoln" it was decided in 1890 that the singing of the Agnus Dei in English by the choir during the administration of the Holy Communion, provided that the reception of the elements be not delayed till its conclusion, is not illegal in the Church of England.

For the various ceremonies in the blessing of the Agnus Dei see A. Vacant, Dict. de theologie (cols. 605-613).

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Latin Agnus Dei (lamb of God).


  • (UK) IPA: /ˈagnəs ˈdeɪi/, /ˈagnəs ˈdiːaɪ/


Agnus Dei

Agnus Deis

Agnus Dei (plural Agnus Deis)

  1. (Roman Catholicism) A part of the mass beginning with the words "Agnus Dei", or the music to which it is set.
  2. (Roman Catholicism) A small model of a lamb with a cross.
  3. (Roman Catholicism) A bar of wax imprinted with a similar shape and blessed by the Pope.
    • 1796, Matthew Lewis, The Monk, Folio Society 1985, p. 194:
      Matilda continued her incantations; at intervals she took various items from the basket, the nature and name of most of whichwere unknown to the friar: but among the few which he distinguished, he particularly observed three human fingers, and an agnus dei, which she broke in pieces.



Agnus Dei (usually capitalized)

  1. Literally, "Lamb of God"
  2. title applied to Jesus Christ, as Son of God the Father and someone willing to sacrifice himself
  3. prayer in the Mass, and musical composition of that prayer, which begins with the words "Agnus Dei...."
    Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi...
    Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world...

Related terms


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