Domitilla, Flavia, Ss.
DOMITILLA, FLAVIA, SS.
The name of two famous Christian women whose history stems from the obscure period of the Church at the close of the first century. The first and most famous was a niece of the Emperors domitian and Titus and the wife of Flavius Clemens, consul in 95. Domitian is reputed to have executed him for embracing Christianity, and to have exiled Flavia Domitilla to the island of Pandataria, outside the Gulf of Gaeta. The pagan historians Suetonius (In Domit. 15.1) and Dion Cassius (Hist. Roman 67.14) stated that both husband and wife were condemned for the crime of atheism or sacrilege, which later historians presume to be a reference to Christianity since in Roman legal terminology the crime meant refusal to honor the gods of the empire. According to Eusebius (Histoire ecclesiastique 3.18.4), their niece, also named Flavia Domitilla, was exiled to the isle of Pontia, some 25 miles north of Pandataria. Jerome speaks of this exile "as a long martyrdom" (Epistolae 108 Ad Eust.; Corpus scriptorum ecclasiasticorum latinorum 552:312), and it has been suggested that there was only one Flavia Domitilla, mention of a second being due to the martyrology of florus.
The identification of the catacomb excavated by G.B. de Rossi in 1864 on the Via Ardeatina as that of Domitilla stems from two pagan inscriptions found above the underground cemetery attributing sepulchers "to the indulgence of Flavia Domitilla" (Corpus inscriptionum latinarum 6.16246, 8942), a fifth-century passio, and a late Roman Index of Cemeteries, all of which associate Domitilla with the martyrs Nereus and Achilleus (d. c. 100).
Feast: May 7.
Bibliography: c. j. hefele, Histoire des conciles d'aprés les documents originaux tr. h. leclercq (Paris 1907–), 4.2:1404–06. u. fasola, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques (Paris 1912–), 14:630–634. j. knudsen, "The Lady and the Emperor: A Study of the Domitian Persecution," Church History 14 (1945) 17–32. e. kirschbaum and l. hertling, The Roman Catacombs and Their Martyrs, tr. m. j. costelloe (Milwaukee 1956). e. vacchina, Flavia Domitilla (Genoa 1969).
[e. g. ryan]