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  • Writer's pictureBield at Blackruthven

The feast of St Felicity and St Perpetua

In our morning chapel service last week, we celebrated the feast day of St Felicity and St Perpetua, two young African women from Carthage, Tunisia who were martyred for their Christian faith by the Romans in 203 AD. Vibia Perpetua was an educated Roman noblewoman who was  blessed with four visions of Jesus. She recorded both her visions and an account of her time in a crowded Roman prison with her slave girl Felicity and four other believers before their trial and martyrdom in the arena on the birthday of the Emperor Severus. Her story, The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas concludes with an eye-witness account of their heroic martyrdom and has historical value as one of the earliest Christian martyrdom stories and as the first Christian text written by a woman.

Today, the word martyr is used  for “a person who dies for Christ ” but the original meaning of the word was  “witness,” someone who spoke authoritatively and eloquently before others. It was Perpetua’s eloquence and the dignity of the group in the face of certain death which has inspired so many Christians. One of her visions was of a golden ladder which reached to the skies but was guarded by a fierce dragon which she trod on invoking Jesus' name to save her. She found herself in a garden where a white-haired man like a shepherd welcomed her and offered her cheese of such incredible sweetness. This vision gave her and her companions comfort and courage to face the trials that awaited them.

 She was nursing her baby son when she was arrested and she described the physical and emotional agony of being separated from him during her imprisonment. Felicity was pregnant and gave birth to her baby daughter just before their trial. She feared that she would be separated from the group as it was forbidden in Roman law  to execute a pregnant woman. Her new born baby was taken from her and raised by another Christian woman. The two women, one a Roman of high birth and the other, an enslaved woman, entered the arena together arm in arm to face the wild beasts. Their dignified conduct shamed the crowds and their guards and led some to convert to Christianity too.

 In my role as spiritual accompanier, I have the life affirming privilege of listening to our Bield guests’ moving testimonies about the trials which they face or the heartache which they have endured. I am always moved and honoured to listen to these ‘witnesses’ and how their faith in the Lord has carried them through difficult times. Let us be inspired by the courage of Perpetua and Felicity to speak about our stories to others for it is on the testimonies of each of us that our  Church is built.


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