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Saints Perpetua and Felicitas
Stained-glass window of St Perpetua of Carthage (church of Notre-Dame of Vierzon, France, 19th century): martyrdom of St Pepetua and her fellows in the stadium of Carthage; saint Felicity on her left
Born  ?
Died 203?, Carthage, Roman Province of Africa (modern-day Tunisia)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Anglican Communion, Lutheran Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast March 6
March 7
Patronage Mothers, Expectant Mothers, ranchers, butchers, Carthage, Catalunya
Perpetua redirects here. For other uses, see Perpetua (disambiguation)

Perpetua and Felicity (died on 7 March 203) are Christian martyrs of the 3rd century. Perpetua (born in 181) was a 22-year old married noble, and a nursing mother. Her co-martyr Felicity, an expectant mother, was her slave. They suffered together at Carthage in the Roman province of Africa.

The record of the "Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions" is said to preserve the actual words of the martyrs and their friends. According to this Passion, in the year 203, during the persecutions of the emperor Septimius Severus, five catechumens were arrested for their faith. The group consisted of a slave named Revocatus, his fellow slave Felicitas, two free men (Saturninus and Secundulus), and Perpetua. Perpetua's father was a pagan, her mother and two brothers Christians, one of the brothers being a catechumen. These five prisoners were soon joined by Saturus, who seems to have been their catechist and who now chose to share their punishment. Initially, they were all kept under strict guard in a private house. Perpetua wrote a vivid account of what happened. Their sufferings while in prison, the angry attempts of Perpetua's father, which became more desperate, to induce her to renounce Christianity, the vicissitudes of the martyrs before their execution, the visions of Saturus and Perpetua in their dungeons, were all committed to writing by the last two, in a genre of text called a "Passion".



Their date of their martyrdom is traditionally given as 203. The association of the martyrdom with a birthday festival of the Emperor Geta, however, might seem to place it after 209, when Geta was made "Augustus" (having held the junior title Caesar since 198 when his elder brother had been made "Augustus"), though before 211, when he was assassinated. The Acta notes that the martyrdom occurred in the year when Minucius Timinianus was proconsul in the Roman province of Africa, but as Timinianus is not otherwise attested in history, this information does not clarify the date.


The details of the martyrdoms survive in both Latin and Greek texts (see below). Saint Perpetua's account is apparently historical; it is the earliest surviving text written by a Christian woman[citation needed]. After a brief introduction (chapters i–ii), the narrative and visions of Perpetua (iii–1x) are followed by the vision of Saturus (xi–xiii); the account of their deaths, written by an eyewitness, are appended (xiv–xxi).

By order of Emperor Septimius Severus (193–211), all imperial subjects were forbidden under severe penalties to become Christians or Jews. Only recent converts were affected.[1] As a result , all five were seized and cast into prison, but before being led away, they were baptized.

According to her "Acts," the terrors of imprisonment were increased for St. Perpetua by anxiety for her unweaned child. Two deacons succeeded in gaining admittance by bribing the jailer, and Perpetua's mother brought Perpetua's son in her arms, whom she was permitted to nurse and keep with her, "and straightway I became well and was lightened of my labour and care for the child; and suddenly the prison was made a palace for me." A vision assured her of her approaching martyrdom: Perpetua saw herself treading on a dragon's head and ascending a perilous bronze ladder leading to green meadows, where a flock of sheep was grazing. According to the "Acta," a few days later St. Perpetua's father, hearing that the trial of the imprisoned Christians would soon take place, again visited their dungeon and besought her not to bring this disgrace on their name; but Perpetua remained steadfast. The next day the trial of the six took place, before the Procurator Hilarianus. All six resolutely confessed their Christian faith. St. Perpetua's father, carrying her child in his arms, approached her again and attempted, for the last time, to induce her to apostatize; the procurator also remonstrated with her, but in vain. She refused to sacrifice to the gods. The procurator thereupon had the father removed by force; in the process he was struck with a whip.

The Christians were then condemned to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, for which they gave thanks to God.

In a vision St. Perpetua saw her brother Dinocrates, who had died from a disfiguring disease and unbaptized at the early age of seven, in a place of darkness and distress. She prayed for him and later had a vision of him happy and healthy, his disfigurement only a scar. In another apparition, she apparently saw herself defeating a savage Egyptian, and her interpretation of this was that she would have to do battle not merely with wild beasts but with the Devil himself.

Saturus, who also recorded his visions, saw himself and Perpetua transported Eastward by four angels to a beautiful garden, where they met with four other North African Christians who had suffered martyrdom during the same persecution, viz. Jocundus, Saturninus, Artaius, and Quintus.

He also saw in this vision Bishop Optatus of Carthage and the priest Aspasius, who besought the martyrs to arrange a reconciliation between them. Meanwhile, the birthday of Emperor Geta approached, on which occasion the condemned Christians were to fight with wild beasts in the military games; they were therefore transferred to the prison in the camp.

St. Perpetua had another significant vision as well, which repeated the first. In this vision, Perpetua saw a ladder leading to heaven. At the bottom of the ladder was a serpent, attacking the Christians trying to climb the ladder to heaven. From this vision Perpetua claimed that she would have to fight Satan rather than just the beast of the arena. Furthermore, she learned that she would not be defeated in her quest and was defiantly confident. Pudens, who was their gaoler, had come to respect his charges, and he permitted other Christians to visit them. Perpetua's father was also admitted and made another fruitless attempt to dissuade her from her impending matyrdom.

Secundulus died in prison. Felicitas, who was eight months pregnant, was apprehensive that she would not be permitted to suffer martyrdom with the others, since the law forbade the execution of pregnant women, but two days before the games she gave birth to a daughter, who was adopted by a Christian woman. On the day of the games, the five were led into the amphitheatre. At the demand of the crowd they were first scourged; then a boar, a bear, and a leopard, were set on the men, and a wild cow on the women. Wounded by the wild animals, they gave each other the kiss of peace and were then put to the sword. "But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman's hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain (being feared of the unclean spirit) had she not herself so willed it." So end the Acta.

Their bodies were interred at Carthage.


In Carthage a magnificent basilica was afterwards erected over the tomb of the martyrs, the Basilica Majorum, where an ancient inscription bearing the names of Perpetua and Felicitas has been found.

Saints Felicitas and Perpetua (mentioned in that order) are two of seven women commemorated by name in the second part of the Canon of the Mass. The Blessed Virgin Mary is commemorated in the first part.

The feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, March 7, was celebrated even outside Africa, and is entered in the Philocalian Calendar, the fourth-century calendar of martyrs venerated publicly at Rome. When Saint Thomas Aquinas' feast was inserted into the Roman calendar, for celebration on the same day, the two African saints were thenceforth only commemorated. This was the situation in the Tridentine Calendar established by Pope Pius V and remained so until the year 1908, when Pope Pius X brought the date for celebrating them forward to March 6.[2] Owing to the reform of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in the year 1969, the feast of Sts Perpetua and Felicity was restored to their March 7 date.[3] Their feast is still celebrated on March 6 by Traditional Roman Catholics. [4]

Other Churches also, including the Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church, commemorate these two martyrs on March 7.

Controversy over Dinocrates

The account of St Perpetua comforting her dead brother has been a point of controversy. The text gives no indication that the child had been baptized. Renatus used this account to bolster his claim that unbaptized infants could attain paradise, if not the kingdom of heaven. Augustine in turn proposed an explanation for how Dinocrates could have been baptized but later estranged from Christ by his pagan father.[5]

In popular culture

The once-flowering rambling rose "Félicité et Perpétue" (R. sempervirens x 'Old Blush'[6]) with palest pinks buds opening nearly white, was introduced by Robert Jacques[7] in 1828.[8]

Two historical fiction novels have been written from the point of view of Perpetua. Amy Peterson's Perpetua: A Bride, A Martyr, A Passion (ISBN 978-0972927642) was published in 2004, and Malcolm Lyon's The Bronze Ladder (ISBN 978-1905237517) in 2006.


  • Ronsse, Erin Ann: Rhetoric of martyrs: Transmission and reception history of the "Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas". Ph.D. diss., University of Victoria (Canada), 2008, 438 pages; AAT NR40485
  • Rex Butler: The New Prophecy and "New Visions": Evidence of Montanism in the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas: Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press: 2006: ISBN 0-8132-1455-6
  • Dronke, Peter. Women Writers of the Middle Ages. Cambridge, 1984.
  • Sara Maitland (introduction): The Martyrdom of Perpetua: Evesham: Arthur James: 1996: ISBN 0-85305-352-9
  • Edward Nolan: Cry Out and Write: A Feminine Poetics of Revelation: New York: Continuum: 1994: ISBN 0-8264-0684-X
  • Cecil Robeck: Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian and Cyprian: Cleveland: Pilgrim Press: 1992: ISBN 0-8298-0924-4
  • Joyce Salisbury: Perpetua's Passion: New York: Routledge: 1997:ISBN 0-415-91837-5
  • Marie-Luise Von Franz: The Passion of Perpetua: A Psychological Interpretation of Her Visions: Toronto: Inner City Books: 2004: ISBN 1-894574-11-7


  • Perpetua: Early Church Martyr (2009) - documentary.
  • Torchlighters: The Perpetua Story (2009) - animated DVD for children ages 8-12.


  1. ^ Dale Irvin and Scott Sunquist, History of World Christian Movement (Orbis Books. Maryknoll, NY, 2001), 82-83
  2. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 89
  3. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 119
  4. ^ See the General Roman Calendar as in 1954, the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII, and the General Roman Calendar of 1962
  5. ^ Church Fathers Volume 14 Augustin
  6. ^ Its French equivalent name is R. 'Noisette'.
  7. ^ Robert Jacques was director of horticulture for King Louis-Philippe.
  8. ^ Marie-Thérèse Haudebourg, Roses et jardins Hachette, ISBN 2-01-236947-2, p.177

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