In her book The Rituals of Dinner, Margaret Visser presented an assessment of the meanings, culture, and history involved in a single meal. Here the Christian author and anthropologist takes on a far bigger challenge — interpreting the history, politics, theology, anthropology, art, history, technology, iconography, and folklore of Sant'Agnese church in Rome, a place housing the remains of St. Agnes, a twelve-year-old virgin martyred in 305 A.D.
At the outset, Visser notes that this church "vibrates with intentionality. It is meaningful — absolutely nothing in it is without significance." Sadly enough, Visser seems unable to discipline her enthusiasm for detail — chapter after chapter contains arcane bits of information about St. Agnes, the narthex, the nave, the altar, the apse, the chapels, and much more.
The author discusses the three ideas informing the design of Christian churches — the cross, the human body, and destiny. She ponders the meaning of the Stations of the Cross, the significance of martyrdom in the early church, and the week of festivities in honor of St. Agnes. Since her name means "lamb" this symbol has been aligned with her spirit. St. Agnes is the patron saint of women before marriage and before their first experience of sex. Visser makes it clear that ancient churches are treasure troves of art, politics, and ecclesiastical history.