Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
Feast day: March 7
With the lives of so many early martyrs shrouded in legend, we are
fortunate to have the record of the courage of Perpetua from the hand of
Perpetua herself, her teacher Saturus, and others who knew her. This
account, known as "The Martyrdom of Perpetua" was so popular in the
early centuries that it was read during liturgies.
In the year 203, Vibia Perpetua made the decision to become a Christian,
although she knew it could mean her death during Septimus' persecution.
Her surviving brother (another brother had died when he was seven)
followed her leadership and became a catechumen as well.
Her father was frantic with worry and tried to talk her out of her
decision. We can easily understand his concern. At 22 years old, this
well-educated, high-spirited woman had every reason to want to live,
including a baby son who was still nursing. We know she was married, but
since her husband is never mentioned, many historians assume she was a
Perpetua's answer was simple and clear. Pointing to a water jug, she
asked her father, "See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any
other name than what it is?" Her father answered, "Of course not."
Perpetua responded, "Neither can I call myself by any other name than
what I am. a Christian."
This answer so upset her father that he attacked her. Perpetua was
arrested with four other catechumens including two slaves Felicity and
Revocatus, and Saturninus and Secundulus. Their catechist, Saturus, had
already been imprisoned before them.
She was baptized before taken to prison. Perpetua was known for her gift
of "the Lord's speech" and receiving messages from God. She tells us
that at the time of her baptism she was told to pray for nothing but
endurance in the face of her trials. The prison was so crowded
with people that the heat was suffocating. But in the midst of all
this horror her most excruciating pain came from being separated from
Two deacons who ministered to the prisoners paid the guards so that the
martyrs would be put in a better part of the prison. There her mother
and brother were able to visit Perpetua and bring her baby to her. When
she received permission for her baby to stay with her "my prison
suddenly became a palace for me."
There was a feast the day before the games so that the crowd could see
the martyrs and make fun of them. But the martyrs turned this all around
by laughing at the crowd for not being Christians and exhorting them to
follow their example. <
The four new Christians and their teacher went to the arena (the fifth,
Secundulus, had died in prison) with joy and calm. Perpetua in usual
high spirits met the eyes of everyone along the way. We are told she
walked with "shining steps as the true wife of Christ, the darling of
When those at the arena tried to force Perpetua and the rest to dress in
robes dedicated to their gods, Perpetua challenged her executioners. "We
came to die out of our own free will so we wouldn't lose our freedom to
worship our God. We gave you our lives so that we wouldn't have to
worship your gods." She and the others were allowed to keep their
The men were attacked by bears, leopards, and wild boars. The women were
stripped to face a rabid heifer. When the crowd, however, saw the two
young women, one of whom had obviously just given birth, they were
horrified and the women were removed and clothed again. Perpetua and
Felicity were thrown back into the arena so roughly that they were
bruised and hurt. Perpetua, though confused and distracted, still was
thinking of others and went to help Felicity up. The two of them stood
side by side as all five martyrs had their throats cut.
Perpetua's last words were to her brother: "Stand fast in the faith and
love one another."