HEROES AND HEROINES OF THE FAITH
SAINTS PERPETUA AND FELICITAS AND COMPANIONS
St. Augustine makes frequent and honourable mention of these Saints in his Works, and was wont to hold them up to the people as examples of fidelity to Jesus Christ.
The Emperor Severus published an edict commanding all Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods to be put to death; whereupon Minutius, the proconsul of Africa, caused five young persons to be arrested at Carthage, who were as yet catechumens, and, together with them, Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus.
Perpetua was a young married woman, only twenty-two years of age, who led a very devout life, and had an only child. Felicitas was still younger, but also married, and a most exemplary person. The Martyrs were kept for some time in a private house, guarded by soldiers; during which time the father of St. Perpetua, came to see her, and being a Pagan, used all his endeavours to make her abandon the Faith. In the original Acts of these Martyrs, we find that the occurrences which took place up to the eve of their Martyrdom were written by Saint Perpetua herself: The following are the principal facts:
“My father,” writes the Saint, “used all his endeavours to pervert me. I resolutely answered: ‘Father, I am a Christian.’ He instantly threw himself upon me in a rage, as if to tear out my eyes, and used the most injurious language. A few days afterwards, we all received holy Baptism, and were led to the public prison, where I was horrified by the darkness, the noisome smell, and the great heat occasioned by the number of prisoners. I had the happiness to have my child brought to me here, which greatly consoled me. My brother came to see me, and desired me to pray to the Lord to let me know whether I was to obtain the crown of Martyrdom. I accordingly placed myself in prayer, and saw, in a vision, a golden ladder which reached to the heavens; it was very narrow, and to the sides were fixed sharp knives and iron spikes. At the foot of this ladder was a dragon, which appeared ready to devour those that would attempt to mount it. The first that went up was a certain Christian named Saturus, who invited me to follow him. I ascended, and found myself in a spacious garden, where I met a man of very fine aspect, who said to me: ‘Thou art welcome, my daughter.’ After this vision I knew that we were all destined to suffer Martyrdom, and I told my brother so.
“My father came again to see me at the prison, and throwing himself at my feet in a flood of tears: ‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘have pity on me, a poor old man, that am thy father; have pity, at least, on thy child, and bring not ruin upon us all by thy obstinacy.’ I was pierced with grief, but remained immovable in my resolution.
“On the following day I was brought before the auditor, Hilarian, who, by reason of the death of the proconsul, acted as judge. My father appeared with me, holding my child in his arms, whereupon the judge said: ‘Perpetua, have pity on thy father and on thy son–sacrifice to the gods.’ I answered that I was a Christian, and that we were all ready to die for our Faith. The judge then condemned us to be devoured by wild beasts.
“We received the sentence with joy, and were brought back to prison, where we were met by my father, who tearing his hair and his beard, threw himself upon his face on the earth, lamenting that he lived to see that day. He once endeavoured to pull me off the platform, but the judge commanded him to be beaten off, and he received a blow with a stick, at which I was much grieved; but the Lord continued to grant me strength.”*
*The Acts of the Martyrs tell us that St. Perpetua was favoured with wonderful visions. She had a young brother named Dinocrates, who died when he was only seven years of age, of a most hideous ulcer in the face. She recollected his death during her imprisonment; and having prayed for his repose, saw him in a vision, with the ulcer on his face, having a most squalid appearance, and endeavouring to drink from a vessel which he could not reach. After the vision she knew that her brother was in pain, and continued to pray fervently for his relief. She was accordingly favoured with a second vision, in which she saw him quite clean, refreshing himself with the water, and retaining only a scar where the ulcer had formerly been. “I knew,” she says, “from this vision that he had been released from pain.”
Secundulus died in prison of his sufferings, and Saturus had already obtained his crown. Felicitas desired to suffer with the rest, but she was with child, and the law forbade women to be put to death in that state. Her companions therefore prayed for her, and on that very day she was delivered of a daughter. The Saint moaned by reason of her pains, and one of the guards said to her: “Dost thou moan? What wilt thou do when thou shalt be devoured by wild beasts?” She answered: “It is now myself that suffers: but then I shall have Jesus Christ with me, and by His grace I will endure all things for His sake.”
Upon the appointed day the Martyrs went forward to their execution with a joy that was manifest to all.
The other Saints having being torn by the wild beasts, Saints Perpetua and Felicitas were wrapped in nets and exposed to a mad cow. St. Perpetua was first attacked, and having been tossed in the air, she fell upon her back. Then sitting up, she perceived her clothes torn, and was endeavouring to cover herself when she was again knocked down; but recovering herself, she stretched forth her hand to raise St. Felicitas, whom she perceived prostrate upon the ground, much hurt. The populace were at length moved to compassion, and the two Saints were led into the centre of the amphitheatre, and dispatched by the gladiators. Thus did they receive, with their companions, the heavenly crown, on the 7th March, in the year 203.
St. Augustine cites the Acts of their Martyrdom, and Tertullian and St. Fulgentius have passed the most magnificent encomiums on Saints Perpetua and Felicitas. They are mentioned also in the Canon of the Mass. Their relics are in Rome.