Saints Perpetua and Felicity
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1996
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL
Saints Perpetua and Felicity were brave North African woman friends who were killed for their Christian faith in the third century. Their feast day is March 7.
The details of their imprisonment are known because Perpetua kept a journal, the first known written document by a woman in Christian history. In fact, her "Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions” was so revered in North Africa that St. Augustine warned people not to treat it like the Bible. People loved the story of the two women comforting each other in jail and giving each other the kiss of peace as they met their end. Their names are familiar to Catholics because Perpetua and Felicity are included in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.
Perpetua was a 22-year-old noblewoman and a nursing mother. Felicity, her slave, gave birth to a daughter while they were in prison. Although she was married, Perpetua does not mention having a husband in the narrative.
There were arrested for their Christian faith, imprisoned together, and held onto each other in the amphitheater at Carthage shortly before their execution on March 7, 203.
The icon of Perpetua and Felicity at the top of this post was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons. It is rare to see an icon about the love between women, especially two African women. The rich reds and heart-shaped double-halo make it look like a holy Valentine.
|Felicity and Perpetua by Jim Ru|
Perpetua and Felicity are still revered both inside and outside the church. For example, they are named together in the Roman Canon of the Mass. They are often included in lists of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender saints because they demonstrate the power of love between two women. Their lives are the subject of several recent historical novels, including “Perpetua: A Bride, A Martyr, A Passion” by Amy Peterson and “The Bronze Ladder” by Malcolm Lyon.
I also recommend the 19th-century painting “The Victory of Faith” by St. George Hare. He paints a beautiful romanticized vision of what Perpetua and Felicity might have looked like as an inter-racial couple sleeping together nude in prison. Click here to see it at its home in the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.