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Perpetua and Felicity, SS.


Martyrs. The Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis is one of the most ancient reliable histories of the martyrs and recounts the martyrdom of Perpetua, her slave Felicity, and companions in the arena of Carthage on March 7,202. Perpetua and Felicity were commemorated in Rome in the fourth century on March 7, and their names were inserted in the list of saints in the canon of the Mass.

During the persecution of Septimius Severus, the catechumens Vibia Perpetua, a noblewoman of 22 and her infant; Felicity, a pregnant slave; Revocatus; Saturninus; Secundulus; and later their catechist Saturus were arrested. While under arrest, they were baptized, and Perpetua's father besought her to apostatize. Perpetua, removed to prison, had a vision of a ladder guarded by a dragon and strewn with arms that prohibited ascent, but she walked over the dragon and reached a beautiful place. Again her father besought her, and he repeated his appeal in the forum before the people. They were condemned to the wild beasts for the feast in honor of Caesar Geta. Perpetua had another vision that her small brother, Dinocrates, who had died of cancer, was in heaven following her prayers for him. A few days before the spectacle they were transferred to a camp prison, where Perpetua had her last vision. At first Felicity was not with them, since it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman; but three days before the spectacle, Felicity gave birth prematurely to a girl. After being flogged, they were led into the amphitheater and eventually beheaded. In the Passio four other martyrs are recorded: Jocundus, Saturninus, Artaxius, and Quintus, who had already suffered in the same persecution.

Part of the Passio (310) was written by Perpetua, and part (1113) by Saturus; the introduction and conclusion, by an eyewitness, formerly thought to be tertullian. The Latin text is probably the original. The Passio is famous for its account of the visions and important for early Christian ideas on martyrdom. It was frequently quoted by St. augustine. These martyrs were greatly venerated in Carthage, and a basilica was erected there over their tomb, which was identified in 1907.

Feast: March 7 (formerly 6).

Bibliography: c. van beek, ed., Passio sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, Florilegium Patristicum, ed. j. zellinger et al, (Bonn 1904 ) 43; 1938. s. maitland, ed., The Martyrdom of Perpetua (Evesham 1996), incl. the sermons of St. Augustine. v. l. kennedy, The Saints of the Canon of the Mass (Vatican City 1938). j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1950) 1:181183. a. j. fridh, Le problème de la Passion des saintes Perpétue et Félicité (Göteborg 1968). r. petraglio, Lingua latina e mentalità biblica nella Passio sanctae Perpetuae: analisi di caro, carnalis e corpus (Brescia 1976). p. habermehl, Perpetua und der Ägypter, oder, Bilder des Bösen im frühen afrikanischen Christentum (Berlin 1992). c. m. robeck, Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian (Cleveland, Ohio 1992). j. e. salisbury, Perpetua's Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman (New York 1997).

[e. hoade]

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