Heroines of the faith: Saints Perpetua and Felicity

I never knew there was a saint with the same name as mine until I started researching Perpetua.

Perpetua was a Christian noblewoman, aged around 22, who was martyred in 202 or 203 AD. She lived with her husband, young son and her slave, Felicitas in Carthage (modern day Tunis). When Emperor  Septimus Severus decided to persecute Christianity, he focused on North Africa. A group of five new converts who were preparing for baptism, including Perpetua, was among the first to be arrested.

Perpetua’s father came to visit her in prison and begged her to renounce Christianity. Despite the fact that she was nursing a young child, she refused to recant. She was allowed to keep the child in prison with her, but conditions in the prison were so terrible, she feared for his safety. She was baptized in prison.

At the trial, the other four in the group were questioned first. Each, in turn was asked if they were Christians. All of them replied, “yes” and each refused to worship the emperor. Then came Perpetua’s turn. At that point,  her father burst into the courtroom carrying her young baby. The judge again asked her, for the sake of her father and her child, to deny her faith. She, too, refused to deny Christ. They were all sentenced to die in the arena.

Felicitas, who was subsequently arrested, was eight months pregnant at the time, and anxious that she, too, be allowed to suffer martyrdom, but the law prevented the execution of pregnant women. She gave birth to her daughter in time to join the others in the arena.

When the day of their martyrdom arrived, Perpetua and Felicitas entered the arena clad in simple belted tunics. Wild beasts and gladiators roamed the arena as the crowd roared for blood. A wild heifer stormed the group and Perpetua was tossed into the air. Blood-stained, she rose to her feet to help her slave.  She called out to the other Christians, encouraging them to keep their faith and to love each other. Finally, a swordsman was appointed to execute her. He missed her neck, hitting her collarbone instead, so she guided the sword to her neck so that he might finish the job.

I sometimes ask myself, would I be willing to face martyrdom rather than deny my faith in Jesus Christ. I hope so.

Photo credit: http://www.rpmministries.org/2012/03/

A moving, and mostly first person account of their last days can be found here.

Other information for this post was found here and here.