March 7: Perpetua and her Companions, Martyrs at Carthage, 202

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About This Commemoration

Vibia Perpetua was a young widow, mother of an infant and owner of several slaves, including Felicitas and Revocatus. With two other young Carthaginians, Secundulus and Saturninus, they were catechumens preparing for baptism.

Early in the third century, Emperor Septimius Severus decreed that all persons should sacrifice to the divinity of the emperor. There was no way that a Christian, confessing faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ, could do this. Perpetua and her companions were arrested and held in prison under miserable conditions.

In a document attributed to Perpetua, we learn of visions she had in prison. One was of a ladder to heaven, which she climbed to reach a large garden; another was of her brother who had died when young of a dreadful disease, but was now well and drinking the water of life; the last was of herself as a warrior battling the Devil and defeating him to win entrance to the gate of life. “And I awoke, understanding that I should fight, not with beasts, but with the Devil … So much about me up to the day before the games; let him who will write of what happened then.”

At the public hearing before the Proconsul, she refused even the entreaties of her aged father, saying, “I am a Christian.”

On March 7, Perpetua and her companions, encouraging one another to bear bravely whatever pain they might suffer, were sent to the arena to be mangled by a leopard, a boar, a bear, and a savage cow. Perpetua and Felicitas, tossed by the cow, were bruised and disheveled, but Perpetua, “lost in spirit and ecstasy,” hardly knew that anything had happened. To her companions she cried, “Stand fast in the faith and love one another. And do not let what we suffer be a stumbling block to you.”

Eventually, all were put to death by a stroke of a sword through the throat. The soldier who struck Perpetua was inept. His first blow merely pierced her throat between the bones. She shrieked with pain, then aided the man to guide the sword properly. The report of her death concludes, “Perhaps so great a woman, feared by the unclean spirit, could not have been killed unless she so willed it.”

Collects

I     O God the King of saints, who didst strengthen thy servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II     O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Daniel 6:10-16

Hebrews 10:32-39

Matthew 24: 9-14

Psalm 124

Preface of a Saint (3)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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14 Responses to March 7: Perpetua and her Companions, Martyrs at Carthage, 202

  1. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    It would be nice if the write-up included attributions for the quotations, both as a scholarly courtesy and for the information of people who might wish to read more about Perpetua. The same fault shows up in many of the write-ups. And yes, there is always Google, but guiding people to the early lives of the saints would put them in touch with a genre of writing they might not encounter elsewhere. Or this information could be collated in a section at the end of the book. Or maybe I’ve graded too many term papers!

  2. John Morrell says:

    I agree with Cynthia. Also, it should be pointed out that Felicitas is usually known as St. “Felicity” in English.

  3. Bruce Alan Wilson says:

    I wonder about their being depicted as Black. Weren’t they Greeks and Romans who had settled in what is now Tunesia, rather than natives?

  4. Michael Hartney says:

    New Hebrew Scripture reading: It is about lions. But her bio says that she was ‘mangled by a leopard, a board, a bear, and a savage cow.’ I suppose she was literally ‘thrown to the lions’ except that she wasn’t.

    • John LaVoe says:

      “a leopard, a board, a bear, and a savage cow”

      Michael, I think the board was more of a committee or a task force. A fate worse than death.

  5. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    ” asavage cow” – Elsie on speed?

  6. John LaVoe says:

    Cynthia’s point is a good one. We don’t know what standing that final quote carries. In general, though, I found the commemoration very satisfactory.

  7. Bryan Owen says:

    A “savage cow”?! I’m with Cynthia on that one.

    When I read that part of the bio in today’s noonday Eucharist, a person attending the service starting audibly laughing before quickly regaining composure. I’ll bet this wouldn’t have generated such a response if it simply said “a cow.” As it is, “savage cow” comes across as bit too Monty Pythonish.

  8. Steve Lusk says:

    On the “savage cow,” http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/main/perpetua/passio_of_perpetua_06.shtml rendes it as “for the young women, the devil had prepared a very fierce cow, provided especially for that purpose, rivaling their sex also in that of the beasts.” The Roman text reads uaccam (“boves operariae, used in ploughing”), while in Greek it’s a heifer (which can also be the Greek for a young female human).
    Perptua’s cow may have been an aurochs (bos primigenius). These truly savage wild cattle were originally native to much of Europe, the Mideast, and Northern Africa. Some were domesticated and cross bred to make them easier to handle, while the wild ones were much in demand as fighting animals for the arenas of the Roman Empire. As a result, the aurochs was all but wiped out in areas under Roman control by AD 400 or so. See http://www.petermaas.nl/extinct/speciesinfo/aurochs.htm for more on the beast, but you’re on your own when it comes to improving on the “savage cow.”
    By the way, the Romans being the ultimate male chauvinist pigs, the male Christians were savaged by the male leopard, bear, and boar (individually, on a one man: one beast basis), while the “savage cow” was set upon her fellow females. The write-up reads as though all five martyrs were attacked by a committee of beasts.

  9. Nigel Renton says:

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “(born in 181)” after “Perpetua”.

    Line 1, fifth paragraph: add “203,” after “March 7,”.

  10. Pingback: March 7 – Perpetua & Her Companions : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

  11. Pingback: March 7 – Perpetua & Companions : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

  12. Pingback: March 7: Feast day of Perpetua and her Companions, Martyrs at Carthage, 202 | Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco

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