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Saints Perpetua and Felicity

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
  • Century: 3rd Century
  • Patronage: Mothers, Expecting Mothers, Ranchers, Butchers
  • Feast Day: March 7th

Many of the early martyrs of our church are shrouded in legend.  We are fortunate to have the records of Perpetua and Felicity from Perpetua’s own hand.  The account of their lives know as “The Martydom of Perpetua and Felicity” was so popular in the early centuries, that it was read during Liturgies.  In 203, Perpetua made the decision to become a Christian, although she knew it could mean her death during the Septimus persecution.  Her brother followed her leadership and became a catechumen as well.  

Her father was frantic with worry and tried to talk her out of her decision.  One could easily understand his concern. At 22, this well-educated, high-spirited woman had every reason to live, including a baby son who was still nursing.  We know she was married by her writings, but never any mention of her husband so it is assumed she is a widow.  Her answer was simple, “See that pot over there?  Can you call it by any other name?  Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am, a Christian”.  Her father was so upset that he attacked her, but she reports that after that incident she was glad to be separated from him for a few days, even though it meant arrest and imprisonment.  

Perpetua was arrested with four other catechumens, including two slaves – Felicity being one of them.  She was quickly baptized before taken to prison.  Perpetua was known for her gift of “The Lord’s Speech”, receiving messages from God.  She tells us that at the time of her baptism, she was told to pray for nothing but endurance in the face of her trials.  

The prison was so crowded with people that the heat was suffocating. There was no light anywhere and Perpetua “had never known such darkness.” The soldiers who arrested and guarded them pushed and shoved them without any concern. Perpetua had no trouble admitting she was very afraid, but in the midst of all this horror her most excruciating pain came from being separated from her baby. 

The young slave, Felicity was even worse off for Felicity suffered the stifling heat, overcrowding, and rough handling while being eight months pregnant.  Two deacons who ministered to the prisoners paid the guards so that the martyrs would be put in a better part of the prison.  From there, her mother and brother were able to visit Perpetua and bring her baby to visit her.  When she received permission for her baby to stay with her, her prison suddenly became a “palace” for her.  Once more her father came to her, begging her to give in, kissing her hands, and throwing himself at her feet. She told him, “We lie not in our own power but in the power of God.” 

When she and the others were taken to be examined and sentenced, her father followed, pleading with her and the judge. The judge, out of pity, also tried to get Perpetua to change her mind, but when she stood fast, she was sentenced with the others to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena.  While praying in prison, she suddenly felt “gifted with the Lord’s speech” and called out the name of her brother Dinocrates who had died at seven of gangrene of the face, a disease so disfiguring that those who should have comforted him left him alone. Now she saw a vision that he was even more alone, in a dark place, hot and thirsty, not in the eternal joy she hoped for him. She began to pray for Dinocrates and though she was put in stocks every day, her thoughts were not on her own suffering but on her prayers to help her brother. Finally she had another vision in which she saw Dinocrates healed and clean, drinking from a golden bowl that never emptied.

Meanwhile Felicity was also in torment. It was against the law for pregnant women to be executed. To kill a child in the womb was shedding innocent and sacred blood. Felicity was afraid that she would not give birth before the day set for their martyrdom and her companions would go on their journey without her. Her friends also didn’t want to leave so “good a comrade” behind.  Two days before the execution, Felicity went into a painful labor. The guards made fun of her, insulting her by saying, “If you think you suffer now, how will you stand it when you face the wild beasts?” Felicity answered them calmly, “Now I’m the one who is suffering, but in the arena another will be in me suffering for me because I will be suffering for him.” She gave birth to a healthy girl who was adopted and raised by one of the Christian women of Carthage.

Perpetua told the guards, “We’re supposed to die in honor of Ceasar’s birthday. Wouldn’t it look better for you if we looked better?” The officer blushed with shame at her reproach and started to treat them better.  There was a feast the day before the games so that the crowd could see the martyrs and make fun of them. But the martyrs turned this all around by laughing at the crowd for not being Christians and exhorting them to follow their example. 

When those at the arena tried to force Perpetua and the rest to dress in robes dedicated to their gods, Perpetua challenged her executioners. “We came to die out of our own “free will” so we won’t lose our freedom to worship our God.  We gave you our lives so that we wouldn’t have to worship your gods”.   The two men were attacked by bears, leopards, and wild boars. The women were stripped to face a rabid heifer. When the crowd, however, saw the two young women, one of whom had obviously just given birth, they were horrified and the women were removed and clothed again. Perpetua and Felicity were thrown back into the arena so roughly that they were bruised and hurt. Perpetua, though confused and distracted, still was thinking of others and went to help Felicity up. The two of them stood side by side as all martyrs had their throats cut. Perpetua’s last words to her brother were, “Stand fast in the faith and love one another”.  

Practical Take Away 

St. Perpetua knew that God was the answer, and in following His ways and becoming a Christian, meant to lay down her life.  She gladly laid down her life to follow her God.  She did so, by being a witness and friend to Felicity, who suffered with her and also was martyred.  They truly set an example so strong, that the early church used her writings in the Liturgy to help be a witness to others.  Their strong examples of faith strengthened the faith of other early Christians, and instead of their deaths putting an end to Christianity it helped Christianity to grow.  May our faith, always hold the same merits to those around us – causing them to grow in faith as well.