Sunday, March 07, 2010

Friends to the end: Saints Perpetua and Felicity

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Perpetua and Felicity: Patron saints of same-sex couples

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1996
Courtesy of (800.699.4482)
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.

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 above icon of Perpetua and Felicity was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons. It is one of my personal favorites among his icons because it shows the love between two women in such a beautiful, powerful way. 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.

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 sleeping together nude in prison. Here’s a link to the painting:

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.

Click here for an updated version of this post with more art and info


Icons of Perpetua and Felicity and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


Trudie said...

A lovely icon, and a beautiful story. Again, thanks for such a blessing.

Matthew Wettlaufer said...

I think Robert Lentz's work is fantastic--his Oscar Romero icon is one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing this image and the story that accompanies it.

pennyjane said...

wow! each one outdoes the last. this is nothing short of amazing. the sublety is captivating as to almost reveal even the deepest thoughts of these amazing women.

i was experiencing the emotions...the dignity, resolve, fear, love, vulnerability...i was beginning to think no emotion was omitted...then...where is the anxiety? where's the hopelessness?

how exquisit, how noble, how true.

thank you kitt, from the bottom of my heart.

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

Your appreciation means a lot to me, Trudie, Matt and PJ. I’m also being blessed by doing the GLBT saints series.

Almost every time I start out the writing process by thinking, “I’m so busy that I’ll have to make this one very short,” -- but as soon as I start focusing on the saints’ lives, they inspire me so much that the research and writing flows quickly.

Trudie said...

This post prompted me to go back to February and review the comments on the St. Bridgid post. What a blessing that, for Womens' History Month, we have such rich resources!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Trudie, keeping up with the comments takes a significant amount of my energy, so I'm glad that you find them useful enough to return and reread them. Happy Women's History Month!

pennyjane said...

hi kitt...and everybody. i know this doesn't fit, but i hope you'll forgive me for posting it...i just have to say something.

it's now mar. 18th here in indiana. this is my birthday...of sorts. on this day six years ago, in trinidad colorado...i had a rebirth. a miracle...a real, honest to God, biblically porportuned miracle. that was the day that dr marci bowers (the gender fairy of my early dreams) delivered into this world, from the remains of the body of an old man....a beautiful, healthy bouncing baby girl.

it's my birtday. i'm six years old.

when i was little, when reality had set in and i was forced to believe that no matter what i thought...for the rest of my life the world was going to see me as a boy...when i was little. i'd go to bed night after night and cry myself to sleep. i prayed, i begged, i fantasized...i screamed out in my despair....i begged for my "gender fairy" to come in the night and make me whole. to end the set me free from what seemed only eternal hell.

there was no such thing as "transsexual" in those days. there was no such thing as "cross sex hormone treatment"...there was no such thing as transition...there was only hell. there were only perverts and sissies. and i was both...a perverted sissy...and there was no doubt in the mind of any in my world that there was no other destiny for me than and forever. God was to punish me every day of my life on this planet and then send me into eternal damnation in the place where He keeps sin bound in insufferable and unimaginable torment.

not much of a future for a four year old.

i don't use the word "miracle" lightly...but i know one when i get one. i got one...six years ago today....God did the utterly impossible. God took a lonely lament of despair and turned it into a song of joy.

praise You, my only God. praise Your grace...praise all that You are and all that You will ever be. Only You can make miracles, only You can bring death to life. bless all who read these words, bless them as you have blessed this lowly and unworthy woman. bless them all with the same amazing grace. i love You, my God...with more love then even i can imagine...You know all, You can do anything and Your love is unending, your compassion is larger than life, Your huge and comforting arms are more than any of us could hope for...You are beyond words.

anyone who doesn't believe in God should know such a miracle...and i pray they do.

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

Happy birthday, Pennyjane! Thank you for sharing the story of your miracle with us. It’s amazing how God can take “a lonely lament of despair and turned it into a song of joy.”

Kittredge Cherry said...

I recommend the 19th-century painting “The Victory of Faith” by St. George Hare for a beautiful romantic vision of what Perpetua and Felicity might have looked like sleeping together nude in prison. Here are some links:

Victory of Faith Blog

National Gallery of Victoria

Thanks to Glorfindel at the Victory of Faith Blog for calling this to my attention. It’s well worth checking out!