Saints of the week: Fecility & Perpetua

March 7 is the feast day of two early Christians who were martyred together. Perpetua was a Roman noblewoman and convert to Christianity, and Felicity was a slave imprisoned with her. They were killed in the arena at Carthage in the early third century. Perpetua actually provides us with the first part of her own passion narrative, a diary she wrote in prison. This is one of the earliest memoirs, one written by a young woman no less.

We have far more information on Perpetua than we do Felicity. She was married, and only around 22. She had recently had a child, and was allowed to nurse it before her gruesome death. Her father visited her and encouraged her to renounce Christianity to save her own life. She refused. He came to her again and seemed to at least understand her decision despite not agreeing with it. She experienced a number of visions, including one of her younger brother who died years previously. In one part of the vision, he is too short to drink from a vessel, but later is able to reach. In another vision, she is physically transformed into a man, fights an Egyptian and wins. She also imagines herself climbing a ladder covered in weapons and instruments of torture.

Felicity, Perpetua’s companion, is pregnant, and in accordance with Roman law, pregnant women could not be executed. So her persecutors waited for her to give birth before the martyrdom commenced.

Felicity and Perpetua were martyred together, and gored by various animals before being finished off by an armed soldier. She actually guided his spear towards her throat, and the crowd was astonished by her bravery.

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