Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Friends to the end: Saints Perpetua and Felicity

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, www.trinitystores.com


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.

They 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
Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint Felicity and Perpetua as a kissing couple. His version was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.

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.

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Related links:

"Eternal Bliss" - SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th (Queer Saints and Martyrs - and Others)

Suspect 3rd Century Women Put to Death in Arena: Ancient Hate Crime? (Unfinished Lives: Remembering LGBT hate crime victims)

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This post is part of the LGBT 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.

March is Women's History Month, so women will be especially highlighted this month at the Jesus in Love Blog.
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Icons of Perpetua and Felicity and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores



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2 comments:

Renee said...

Sounds nice, but what evidence do you really have that they were lovers?

Kittredge Cherry said...

Renee, you raise an interesting point when you ask: What evidence do you really have that Perpetua and Felicity were lovers? There is no absolute proof, nor is there definitive evidence that they were not lovers. This leaves us free to fill in the gaps. The oldest stories say they expressed their love for each other at the end with an embrace and a kiss.

Even if they were not lovers, they can still be patron saints for lesbian lovers of today. You may enjoy seeing my updated version of this post. It has a lovely icon of Perpetua and Felicity as patron saints of same-sex couples. You can find it at this link:

http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/2013/03/perpetua-and-felicity-patron-saints-of.html