Perpetua and Felicity
In 202, the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus forbade his citizens to convert to Christianity or Judaism. Vibia Perpetua, a young noblewoman, wife and mother in Carthage, was arrested and imprisoned because of her Christian faith. Arrested with her was Felicity, her pregnant slave. In The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas, Perpetua recounts her imprisonment, giving earthy details of her feelings about her family and breastfeeding, as well as illustrating her faith and telling of visions she received.
Felicity gave birth to her child in prison. Both women's children were entrusted to others to raise, which gave them comfort as they faced death.
Even when urged to recant her belief in Jesus to save herself, Perpetua calmly replied, "I am a Christian." The night before the women were to be sent to the arena to die, they celebrated a "Love Feast" with other Christians. When the women survived an attack by a wild cow, they were ordered to death by sword. In a last act of courage, Perpetua guided the sword to her neck.
These two North African martyrs inspired the early church. Perpetua was twenty-two years old when she died in 203.
Image by Gaetan Poix. Stained glass window of St Perpetua of Carthage (church of Notre-Dame of Vierzon, France, 19th century): martyrdom of St Pepetua and her fellows in the stadium of Carthage; saint Felicity on her left.