Martyrs, suffered atÂ Carthage, 7 March 203, together with three companions,Â Revocatus,Â Saturus, andÂ Saturninus. The details of theÂ martyrdomÂ of these fiveÂ confessorsÂ in the NorthÂ AfricanÂ ChurchÂ have reached us through a genuine, contemporary description, one of the most affecting accounts of theÂ gloriousÂ warfareÂ ofÂ ChristianÂ martyrdomÂ in ancient times. By aÂ rescriptÂ ofÂ SeptimusÂ SeverusÂ (193-211) all imperial subjects were forbidden under severepenaltiesÂ to becomeÂ Christians. In consequence of thisÂ decree, fiveÂ catechumensÂ atÂ CarthageÂ were seized and cast intoÂ prison, viz.Â VibiaÂ Perpetua, a youngÂ marriedÂ ladyÂ of noble birth; theÂ slaveÂ Felicitas, and her fellow-slaveRevocatus, alsoÂ SaturninusÂ andÂ Secundulus. Soon oneÂ Saturus, who deliberately declared himself aÂ ChristianÂ before the judge, was alsoÂ incarcerated.Â Perpetua’sÂ father was aÂ pagan; her mother, however, and two brothers wereChristians, one being still aÂ catechumen; a third brother, the childÂ Dinocrates, had died aÂ pagan.
After their arrest, and before they were led away toÂ prison, the fiveÂ catechumensÂ wereÂ baptized. The sufferings of theÂ prisonÂ life, the attempts ofÂ Perpetua’sÂ father to induce her toÂ apostatize, the vicissitudes of theÂ martyrsÂ before theirÂ execution, theÂ visionsÂ ofÂ SaturusÂ andÂ PerpetuaÂ in their dungeons, were allÂ faithfullyÂ committed to writing by the last two. Shortly after the death of theÂ martyrsÂ aÂ zealousÂ ChristianÂ added to this document an account of theirexecution. The darkness of theirÂ prisonÂ and the oppressive atmosphere seemed frightful toÂ Perpetua, whose terror was increased by anxiety for her young child. TwoÂ deaconsÂ succeeded, by sufficientlyÂ bribingÂ the jailer, in gaining admittance to theÂ imprisonedÂ ChristiansÂ and alleviated somewhat their sufferings.Â Perpetua’sÂ mother also, and her brother, yet aÂ catechumen, visited them. Her mother brought in her arms toÂ PerpetuaÂ her little son, whom she was permitted to nurse and retain inÂ prisonÂ with her. AÂ vision, in which she saw herselfÂ ascendingÂ a ladder leading to green meadows, where a flock of sheep was browsing, assured her of her approachingÂ martyrdom.
A few days laterÂ Perpetua’sÂ father, hearing a rumour that the trial of theÂ imprisonedÂ ChristiansÂ would soon take place, again visited their dungeon and besought her by everything dear to her not to put this disgrace on her name; butÂ PerpetuaÂ remained steadfast to herÂ Faith. The next day the trial of the sixÂ confessorsÂ took place, before theProcuratorÂ Hilarianus. All six resolutelyÂ confessedÂ theirÂ Christian Faith.Â Perpetua’sÂ father, carrying her child in his arms, approached her again and attempted, for the last time, to induce her toÂ apostatize; theÂ procuratorÂ also remonstrated with her but in vain. She refused toÂ sacrificeÂ to the gods for the safety of the emperor. TheÂ procuratorthereupon had the father removed byÂ force, on which occasion he was struck with a whip. TheÂ ChristiansÂ were then condemned to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, for which they gave thanks toÂ God. In aÂ visionÂ PerpetuaÂ saw her brotherÂ Dinocrates, who had did at the early age of seven, at first seeming to be sorrowful and in pain, but shortly thereafterÂ happyÂ and healthy. AnotherÂ apparition, in which she saw herself fighting with a savageÂ Ethiopian, whom she conquered, made it clear to her that she would not have to do battle with wildÂ beastsÂ but with theÂ Devil.Â Saturus, who also wrote down hisÂ visions, saw himself andÂ PerpetuaÂ transported by fourÂ angels, towards theÂ EastÂ to a beautiful garden, where they met four otherÂ North African ChristiansÂ who had sufferedÂ martyrdomÂ during the samepersecution, viz.Â Jocundus,Â Saturninus, Artaius, and Quintus. He also saw in thisÂ visionÂ BishopÂ OptatusÂ ofÂ Carthageand theÂ priestÂ Aspasius, whoÂ prayedÂ theÂ martyrsÂ to arrange a reconciliation between them. In the meanwhile the birthdayÂ festivalÂ of theÂ EmperorÂ GetaÂ approached, on which occasion the condemnedÂ ChristiansÂ were to fight with wildÂ beastsÂ in the military games; they were therefore transferred to theÂ prisonÂ in the camp. The jailer Pudens had learnt to respect theÂ confessors, and he permitted otherÂ ChristiansÂ to visit them.Â Perpetua’sÂ father was also admitted and made another fruitless attempt to pervert her.
Secundulus, one of theÂ confessors, died inÂ prison.Â Felicitas, who at the time of herÂ incarcerationÂ was with child (in the eighth month), was apprehensive that she would not be permitted to sufferÂ martyrdomÂ at the same time as the others, since theÂ lawÂ forbade theÂ executionÂ of pregnantÂ women. Happily, two days before the games she gave birth to a daughter, who wasÂ adoptedÂ by aÂ ChristianÂ woman. On 7 March, the fiveÂ confessorsÂ were led into the amphitheatre. At the demand of theÂ paganÂ mob they were first scourged; then a boar, a bear, and a leopard, were set at theÂ men, and a wild cow at theÂ women.Â WoundedÂ by the wildÂ animals, they gave each other theÂ kiss of peaceand were then put to the sword. Their bodies wereÂ interredÂ atÂ Carthage. TheirÂ feast dayÂ wasÂ solemnlycommemorated even outsideÂ Africa. Thus under 7 March the names ofÂ FelicitasÂ andÂ PerpetuaÂ are entered in thePhilocalianÂ calendar, i.e. theÂ calendarÂ ofÂ martyrsÂ veneratedÂ publicly in the fourth century atÂ Rome. A magnificentbasilicaÂ was afterwards erected over theirÂ tomb, theÂ BasilicaÂ Majorum; that theÂ tombÂ was indeed in thisÂ basilicaÂ has lately beenÂ provedÂ by Pere Delattre, who discovered there an ancientÂ inscriptionÂ bearing the names of theÂ martyrs.
TheÂ feastÂ of theseÂ saintsÂ is still celebrated on 7 March. TheÂ LatinÂ description of theirÂ martyrdomÂ was discovered byHolsteniusÂ and published byÂ Poussines.Â ChaptersÂ iii-x contain the narrative and theÂ visionsÂ ofÂ Perpetua;Â chaptersÂ xi-ciii theÂ visionÂ ofÂ Saturus;Â chaptersÂ i, ii and xiv-xxi were written by an eyewitness soon after the death of theÂ martyrs. In 1890Â RendelÂ HarrisÂ discovered a similar narrative written inÂ Greek, which he published in collaboration with Seth K.Â GiffordÂ (London, 1890). SeveralÂ historiansÂ maintain that this Greek text is the original, others that both theÂ Greekand theÂ LatinÂ texts are contemporary; but there is noÂ doubtÂ that theÂ LatinÂ text is the original and that theÂ GreekÂ is merely a translation. ThatÂ TertullianÂ is the author of theseÂ ActsÂ is an unproved assertion. The statement that thesemartyrsÂ were all or in partÂ MontanistsÂ also lacksÂ proof; at least there is no intimations of it in theÂ Acts.