Saints Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs of the early church at Carthage, are honored on March 7. These two women remained firm in their religion despite pressure from the government and family members.We are lucky to have the genuine account of Perpetua and Felicity’s bravery written by Perpetua herself, her teacher Saturus, and other people who knew them because information about the lives of many early martyrs are murky and frequently dependent on legend. In the early years, this story—known as “The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions”—became so well-known that liturgies included readings from it.
Who are Saints Perpetua and Felicity?
Perpetua and Felicity were third-century Christian martyrs (Latin: Perpetua et Felicitas). In the year 203, Vibia Perpetua was a newlywed, well-educated, 22-year-old noblewoman who was breastfeeding her young son at the time of her death, according to historical accounts. Felicity, an enslaved woman who was imprisoned with her and who was pregnant at the time, was sacrificed alongside her. Together with others, they were executed in Carthage in the African region of the Roman province of Africa (now known as Tunisia)
The women had been studying the Bible and preparing for baptism before their arrest. They were baptized in prison by their instructor, who was also incarcerated. Their religion so moved their prison warden that he converted. Perpetua and Felicity were sentenced to death as punishment for confessing the name of Christ. But, with God’s peace in their hearts, they faced their fate with composure.
The story of Perpetua begins with a disagreement between her and her father over his desire for her to change her mind about converting to Christianity. Although Perpetua objects, she is baptized just before being taken to prison. In the days before Perpetua’s martyrdom, she was imprisoned at Carthage. She wrote about these days and her struggles in her diary, recounting the physical and mental anguish she endured in prison. The intense heat, brutal prison guards, and the end of her regular nursing all contributed to Perpetua’s physical suffering. Perpetua also talked about how the prison conditions improved once she bribed the guards and the other martyrs transported to a different area of the prison. She was also permitted to breastfeed her child, relieving some of her physical sufferings. The most frequently mentioned bodily condition in Perpetua’s narrative—a cycle of anguish and relief—was the discomfort she experienced in her breasts. Perpetua asks for and experiences a vision in which she climbs a hazardous ladder with numerous weapons connected, encouraged by her brother. A serpent is at the bottom of the ladder, and Saturus and Perpetua face it in turn. The serpent does not hurt her, and she ascends to a garden. Perpetua’s dream ends with the realization that the martyrs will endure pain. Perpetua has a vision of herself defeating a wild Egyptian the day before she is martyred. She takes this to signify that she will have to fight not just wild animals but also the Devil.
In her diary, Perpetua describes the conversation with her father when he came to her, begging that she recant:
While we were still under arrest, my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution.
“Father,” said I, “do you see this vase here, for example?”
“Yes, I do,” said he.
And I told him: “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?”
And he said: “No.”
“Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”
Imprisoned with St. Perpetua, St. Felicity was a pregnant slave girl. Because St. Felicity did not keep a life journal like Perpetua did, little is known about her life. Felicity was also sentenced to die at the games after being imprisoned and tortured. Felicity gave birth to a daughter just a few days before she was put to death, and the child was secretly carried away and placed in the care of some of the Faithful.
Saints Felicitas and Perpetua are two of the martyrs named by name in the Roman Canon of the Mass. An old inscription with the names Perpetua and Felicitas was found in the Basilica Maiorum in Carthage. This church was built on top of the tomb of two martyrs. Perpetua and Felicity were placed in an arena with wild beasts but were not harmed by them. Sadly, Emperor Severus then ordered that they be executed with the sword.
The day of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, March 7, was observed as a feast day across the Roman Empire and was noted in the Philocalian Calendar, a calendar of martyrs from the fourth century that was widely observed in Rome. When Saint Thomas Aquinas’ feast was added to the Roman calendar and celebrated on the same day, these two African saints became, sadly, overlooked by those who had never heard their story.
How to Work with Saints Perpetua and Felicity
In the stories of these two saints, we are shown the dedication of a mother to her child, and also their dedication to their faith. Compared to the Five of Swords tarot card, what circumstance in your life is calling you to stand your ground, and win at all costs? You can call on the spirit of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas during those times when you must do whatever is necessary to protect your child, to stand firm in your fight for justice when you know you are correct and everyone around you is asking you to give concede.
To work with Saints Perpetua or Felicitas, use an orange candle to show your determination. Anoint the candle with a strength or Personal Power oil. Write out your petition, or prayer, to the Saint asking for their strength and guidance in your battle. Place the petition under the candle while it burns. While the candle is burning, allow their strength to enter your spirit and body. Assist the process by showing your confidence, walk with your head up and make eye contact, allow your energy to fill the space, and stand confidently with your back straight and your chest out.