Saints Perpetua and Felicity, early African Christian martyrs

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Saints Perpetua and Felicity, early African Christian martyrs

Feast Day: March 7

Saints Perpetua and Felicity were two young women who were killed for their faith by being thrown to wild animals during Roman games in northern Africa at the beginning of the third century.

The surviving account outlining the two saint’s imprisonment and subsequent execution, partly written by St Perpetua herself, was considered one of the earliest first-hand accounts of Christian martyrdom and the earliest text written by a Christian woman. 

Born into a wealthy family in Carthage, situated in modern-day Tunisia, St Perpetua was a 22-year-old widowed mother when, in the face of constant protests from her pagan father, she decided to follow her mother’s example and become a Christian. 

St Felicity was a married slave girl who was heavily pregnant at the time of the recorded events.

Both women were catechumens receiving instruction in the faith when they were arrested with four other Christian companions under an edict of the Emperor Severus which forbade new conversions to Christianity. 

St Perpetua kept a diary during her imprisonment.  The diary outlines the many sufferings she endured including being separated from her newborn baby son whilst in prison.

During the group’s trial, in which all six were sentenced to death, the diary records St Perpetua’s famous words when frantically asked to recant her Christian faith by her father;

“Just as a water jug is not known by any other name, neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am - a Christian.”

In the days before their deaths, the diary records both women being baptised and St Felicity giving birth to a baby girl who was adopted out and raised in secret by a Christian family in Carthage.

Completed by an anonymous narrator, the diaries give an eye-witness account of their deaths; after being attacked by wild animals, the women were beheaded by Roman gladiators.

St Perpetua’s journal, known as ‘the Passion of Sts Perpetua and Felicity’, became an important text for the early Christian community in northern Africa and is mentioned in the writings of St Augustine. 

Today, Sts Perpetua and Felicity are mentioned in the first Eucharistic prayer of the Mass. 

The patron saints of expectant mothers, their feast is celebrated on March 7.