Memorial of St. Perpetua and Felicitas
March 7th, 2014Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicitas. Bizantine hands, 5th century mosaics, Ravenna, Archbishop Chapel
The occurrence of the two saints, from Tebourba, nowadays Tunisia, develops in Cartagena at the beginning of the 3rd century. In 202 a decree by emperor Settimio Severus (193 – 211) had forbidden all citizens to become Christian, whoever had disobeyed would have been liable for severe punishments. Perpetua is a noble educated Roman, mother of a two years old child; she is imprisoned because of her faith together with some of her servants. Among these there is Felicita who is eight months pregnant.
Perpetua, during her imprisonment in Cartagena in the year 203, makes notes of all happens. Her report is a diary from prison in which, by a simple style, without any rhetorical device, the young woman speaks firstly about her difficulties and distress, then about the attempts of her father to convince her to abandon her faith and finally her visions. These notes are then completed both with the account of her martyrdom which was on March 7th in 203 AD and by an added introduction. In this way is formed the very famous “passio”, perhaps made by Tertullianus in its final draft which became so important among the early Christians in the first centuries.
So we have the narration of both the steadfast faith of Perpetua and the wish of Felicitas to face her death for Christ, which was possible only because two days before the execution she gave birth to a baby girl (in the Roman empire it was in fact forbidden to put to death pregnant women).
The two mosaic medallions we have chosen highlight the two saints whose clothes distinguish their social status (solemn and elegant with a white veil and jewels the one of Perpetua, simple and dark the one of Felicitas), but their calm look, their wide eyes which seem to gaze at us, spectators, the blue background that recalls heaven, unite the two saints in the dimension of their martyrdom, of the blossoming of their life in Paradise, the fulfillment of the Christian witness of their extreme gift of life. They lost their lives, their children, families but they have found the true life, the award of glory, the prize of martyrdom.