(St.Perpetua and St.Felicitas are two 3rd century Christian martyrs, believed to have been killed in the year 203 AD, in Roman Carthage, or modern day Tunisia. Perpetua's Diary is an early example of martyrological self-writing.)
THE MARTYRDOM OF SAINT PERPETUA & SAINT FELICITAS
AND THEIR COMPANIONS
Translated by: Reverend Alban Butler
This begins with a violent persecution being set on foot by the emperor Severus, in 202.
It reached Africa the following year; when, by order of Minutius Timinianus, (or
Firminianus) five catechumens were apprehended at Carthage for the faith: these were,
Revocatus and his fellow-slave Felicitas, Satuminus, and Secundulus, and Vibia
Perpetua. Felicitas was seven months gone with child and Perpetua had an infant at her
breast. Perpetua was of a good family, twenty-two years of age, and married to a person
of quality in the city. She had a father, a mother, and two brothers. Her third brother,
Dinocrates, died when he was about seven years old. These five martyrs were joined by
Saturus, probably brother to Satuminus. Saturus seems to have been their instructor. He
underwent a voluntary imprisonment because he would not abandon them.
The father of Saint Perpetua was a pagan and advanced in years. He loved her more than
he loved all his other children. Her mother was probably a Christian, as was one of her
brothers, the other a catechumen. The martyrs were for some days before their
commitment kept under a strong guard in a private house. The account Perpetua gives of
their sufferings to the eve of their death, is as follows:
We were in the hands of our persecutors when my father, out of the affection he bore me,
made new efforts to shake my resolution. I said to him, “Can that vessel, which you see,
change its name?” He said, “No.” I replied, “Nor can I call myself any other than I am,
that is to say, a Christian.” At that word, my father in a rage fell upon me, as if he would
have pulled my eyes out, and beat me. However, he went away in confusion, seeing me
After this, we enjoyed a little repose and, in that interval, received baptism. The Holy
Ghost, on our coming out of the water, inspired me to pray for nothing but patience under
corporal pains. A few days after this, we were put into prison. I was shocked at the
horror and darkness of the place for, until then, I knew not what these sorts of places
were. We suffered much that day, chiefly because of the great heat caused by the crowd
and the ill-treatment we met from the soldiers. I was moreover tortured with concern, for
I had not my infant. However, the deacons, Tertius and Pomponius, who assisted us,
obtained, by money, that we might pass some hours in a more commodious part of the
prison to refresh ourselves. My infant being brought to me almost famished, I gave it the
breast. I recommended him afterwards carefully to my mother and encouraged my
brother, but was much afflicted to see their concern for me.
After a few days, my sorrow was changed into comfort, and my prison itself seemed
agreeable. One day my brother said to me, “Sister, I am persuaded that you are a peculiar
favorite of Heaven. Pray to God to reveal to you whether this imprisonment will end in
martyrdom or not, and acquaint me of it.” I, knowing God gave me daily tokens of his
goodness, answered, full of confidence, “I will inform you tomorrow.” I therefore asked
that favor of God, and had this vision:
I saw a golden ladder that reached from earth to the heavens. It was so narrow that only
one could mount it at a time. All sorts of iron instruments were fastened to both sides. I
saw swords, lances, hooks, and knives. If anyone went up carelessly, he was in great
danger of having his flesh torn by those weapons. At the foot of the ladder lay an
enormous dragon, who kept guard to turn back and terrify those that endeavored to
mount it. The first that went up was Saturus, who was not apprehended with us, but
voluntarily surrendered himself afterwards on our account. When he was got to the top
of the ladder, he turned towards me and said, “Perpetua, I wait for you; but take care
lest the dragon bite you. ” I answered, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, he shall
not hurt me. ’’ Then the dragon, as if afraid of me, gently lifted his head from under the
ladder, and I, having got upon the first step, set my foot upon his head. Thus, I mounted
to the top, and there I saw a garden of an immense space. In the middle of it was a tall
man sitting down dressed like a shepherd, having white hair. He was milking his sheep,
surrounded with many thousands of persons clad in white. He called me by my name, bid
me welcome, and gave me some curds made of the milk he had drawn. I put my hands
together, took, and ate them; and all that were present said aloud, Amen.
The noise awaked me, chewing something very sweet. As soon as I had related to my
brother this vision, we both concluded that we should suffer death.
After some days, a rumor had been spread that we were to be examined. My father came
from the city to the prison overwhelmed with grief. “Daughter," said he, “have pity on
my gray hairs, have compassion on your father, if I yet deserve to be called your father; if
I myself have brought you up to this age: if you consider that my extreme love of you,
made me always prefer you to all your brothers, make me not a reproach to mankind.
Have respect for your mother and your aunt; have compassion on your child that cannot
survive you; lay aside this resolution, this obstinacy, lest you ruin us all: for not one of us
will dare open his lips any more if any misfortune befalls you.” He took me by the hands
at the same time and kissed them. He threw himself at my feet in tears and called me no
longer daughter, but, my lady. I confess, I was pierced with sharp sorrow when I
considered that my father was the only person of our family that would not rejoice at my
martyrdom. I endeavored to comfort him, saying, “Father, grieve not; nothing will
happen but what pleases God, for we are not at our own disposal.” He then departed very
The next day, while we were at dinner, a person came suddenly to summon us to
examination. The report of this was soon spread and brought together a vast crowd of
people into the audience chamber. We were placed on a sort of scaffold before the judge,
Hilarian, procurator of the province, the proconsul being lately dead. All who were
interrogated before me confessed boldly Jesus Christ.
When it came to my turn, my father instantly appeared with my infant. He drew me a
little aside, conjuring me in the most tender manner not to be insensible to the misery I
should bring on that innocent creature to which I had given life. The president, Hilarian,
joined with my father, and said, “What? Will neither the gray hairs of a father you are
going to make miserable, nor the tender innocence of a child that your death will leave an
orphan, move you? Sacrifice for the prosperity of the emperor.” I replied, “I will not do
it.” “Are you then a Christian?” said Hilarian. I answered, “Yes, I am.”
As my father attempted to draw me from the scaffold, Hilarian commanded him to be
beaten off, and he had a blow given him with a stick. I felt as much as if I had been
struck myself, so much was I grieved to see my father thus treated in his old age. Then
the judge pronounced our sentence, by which we were all condemned to be exposed to
wild beasts. We then joyfully returned to our prison.
As my infant had been used to the breast, I immediately sent Pomponius, the deacon, to
demand my infant of my father, who refused to send him. Then, God so ordered it that
the child no longer required to suck, nor did my milk incommode me.” Secundulus,
being no more mentioned, seems to have died in prison before this interrogation. Before
Hilarian pronounced sentence, he had caused Saturus, Saturninus, and Revocatus, to be
scourged. Perpetua and Felicitas were beaten on the face. They were reserved for the
shows that were to be exhibited for the soldiers in the camp on the festival of Geta, who
had been made Caesar four years before by his father Severus, when his brother Caracalla
was created Augustus.
Saint Perpetua relates another vision with which she was favored, as follows.
A few days after receiving sentence, when we were all together in prayer, I happened to
name Dinocrates, at which I was astonished, because I had not before had him in my
thoughts. I, at that moment, knew that I ought to pray for him. This I began to do with
great fervor and sighing before God. The same night I had the following vision:
I saw Dinocrates coming out of a dark place, where there were many others, exceeding
hot and thirsty; his face was dirty, his complexion pale, with the ulcer in his face of which
he died at seven years of age, and it was for him that I had prayed. There seemed a great
distance between him and me, so that it was impossible for us to come to each other.
Near him stood a vessel full of water, whose brim was higher than the statue of an infant.
He attempted to drink but, though he had water, he could not reach it.
This mightily grieved me, and I awoke. By this, I knew my brother was in pain but I
trusted I could relieve him by prayer. I began to pray for him and continued to pray for
him until we were removed to the damp prison as we were destined for a public show on
the festival of Caesar Geta. The day we were in the stocks, I had this vision:
I saw the place where I had beheld dark before. It was now luminous. Dinocrates, with
his body very clean and well clad, was refreshing himself and instead of his wound, he
had a scar only.
I awoke, and I knew he was relieved from his pain.
Some days after, Pudens, the officer who commanded the guards of the prison, seeing
that God favored us with many gifts and had a great esteem of us, admitted many people
to visit us for our mutual comfort. On the day of the public shows, my father came to
find me out, overwhelmed with sorrow. He tore his beard, he threw himself prostrate on
the ground, cursed his years, and said enough to move any creature. I was ready to die
with sorrow to see my father in so deplorable a condition. On the eve of the shows, I was
favored with the following vision.
The deacon Pomponius, methought, knocked very hard at the prison-door, which I
opened to him. He was clothed with a white robe, embroidered with innumerable
pomegranates of gold. He said to me, “Perpetua, we wait for you, come along. ” He then
took me by the hand and led me through very rough places into the middle of the
amphitheatre, and said, “Fear not. ” Leaving me, said again, “I will be with you in a
moment, and bear a part with you in your pains. ”
I was wondering the beasts were not let out against us, when there appeared a very ill
favored Egyptian, who came to encounter me with others. However, another beautiful
troop of young men declared for me, and anointed me with oil for the combat. Then, a
man of prodigious stature and in rich apparel appeared. He had a wand in his hand, like
the masters of the gladiators, and a green bough upon which hung golden apples.
Having ordered silence, he said that the bough should be my prize, if I vanquished the
Egyptian, but that if he conquered me, he should kill me with a sword. After a long and
obstinate engagement, I threw him on his face, and trod upon his head. The people
applauded my victory with loud acclamations. I then approached the master of the
amphitheatre, who gave me the bough with a kiss, and said, “Peace be with you, my
After this I awoke, and found I was not so much to combat with wild beasts as with the
Here ends the relation of Saint Perpetua.