Saint/s of the Day – 7 March – Saints Perpetua and Felicity – Martyrs (died c203) in Carthage (Roman province of Africa – modern day Tunisia) – Patrons of Mothers, Expectant Mothers, ranchers, butchers, Carthage, Catalonia
Vibia Perpetua was a married noblewoman, said to have been 22 years old at the time of her death and mother of an infant she was nursing. Felicity, a slave imprisoned with her and pregnant at the time, was martyred with her. They were put to death along with others at Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. According to the passion, a slave named Revocatus, his fellow slave Felicitas, the two free men Saturninus and Secundulus, and Perpetua, who were catechumens, that is, Christians being instructed in the faith but not yet baptised, were arrested and executed at the military games in celebration of the Emperor Septimus Severus’s birthday. To this group was added a man named Saturus (the Catechist of St Perpetua) who voluntarily went before the magistrate and proclaimed himself a Christian.
St. Perpetua kept a diary during her last days, while she awaited her execution. Her diary, along with an eyewitness’s account of her death, is one of the oldest, most reliable histories of a martyr’s sufferings. This account was passed down to encourage other Christians to witness to the world with their lives—to teach others that greater than life itself is knowing Jesus and being loyal to him.
Perpetua’s account records the events that took place in Carthage, Africa, in the year 202, when the Emperor Severus issued an anti-Christian law forbidding anyone to be baptized and become a Christian. At that time twenty-two-year-old Perpetua was a catechumen, studying to become a Christian. She was also the mother of an infant son. Perpetua was arrested along with four other catechumens, including Felicity, her slave woman, who was about to give birth to a child. All were tried and sentenced to be thrown to the wild beasts in the amphitheater during a national holiday. Their deaths would be scheduled along with sports events and various games.
During the days before their execution, their teacher Saturus voluntarily joined the catechumens so that he might die for Christ with them. Perpetua’s father, a wealthy pagan, pleaded with her to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods so she could be free, but she refused. She said, “Father do you see this water jar, or whatever it is, standing here? Could one call it by any other name than what it is? Well, in the same way I cannot be called by any other name than what I am—a Christian.”
While they were awaiting death, Perpetua and her companions were baptised. Shortly before the scheduled execution, Felicity gave birth to a baby girl. During childbirth, she had cried out in pain. Someone hearing her asked her how she would ever endure the suffering of martyrdom. She replied, “Now it is I who suffer what I am suffering; then, there will be another in me who will suffer for me, because I will be suffering for him.”
On the day of their execution, the martyrs left their prison “joyfully as though they were on their way to heaven” and entered the arena, where they were killed before the cheering crowd. Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded; the others were killed by wild beasts. Today these women are mentioned in the first Eucharistic Prayer.