In May of 1802, excavators in the Catacomb of Saint Priscilla in Rome discovered a well-preserved shelf tomb sealed with terra cotta slabs in a manner usually reserved for nobility or martyrs. There were three slabs, marked in red paint: LUMENA | PAXTE | CUMFI. After some study, they decided that the tiles had been disarranged. When they rearranged the tiles, a sentence could be made from the string of letters: Pax tecum, Filumena ("Peace be with you, Philomena").

Also inscribed on the tiles were symbols: a lily to indicate her virginity, a palm to indicate her martyrdom, and three arrows, two pointing in opposite directions and the other with a curved line upon it, signifying fire. The arrows were thought to symbolize the different torments she endured in testimony of her faith.

Inside the tomb, they discovered the remains of a girl twelve to fourteen years of age. Her skull was crushed. They also found what appeared to be a vial of dried blood. At the time, it was believed that the presence of a vial of blood had been collected at the time of her death as a symbol of martyrdom. The vial seemed to confirm what the symbols on the outside of the tomb had suggested.

Since they assumed that Philomena was a martyr, they transferred her remains to the Treasury of the Rare Collections of Christian Antiquity in the Vatican, where they were soon forgotten by the public. After all, no record existed of a virgin martyr named Philomena. The relics remained in the Treasury, gathering dust, for three years.

In 1805 Francesco di Lucia, a priest from Mugnano, a small town near Naples, travelled to Rome with his newly appointed bishop. He wanted very much to procure the relics of a martyr for his private chapel. His bishop supported this goal, and they were allowed to visit the Treasury of Relics. Pausing near the remains of Philomena, Francesco was seized with a vast and inexplicable spiritual joy. He immediately requested that he be allowed to enshrine Philomena. At first, his request was denied. He was given the remains of another saint, and reluctantly accepted them.

On his return to Mugnano, he became very ill. Francesco prayed to Saint Philomena and was instantly cured. He renewed his attempts to procure Philomena's relics, and this time he was successful. The relics were encased in a statue of the saint, made specially for the purpose, and then placed in a wooden casket and transported to Mugnano.

Immediately upon the official donation of her remains, miracles began to be granted through Philomena's intercession. People were healed, a drought was ended. Soon she earned the title, "Philomena, Powerful with God." Devotion to Philomena spread rapidly. Among the people cured was Pauline Jaricot. The healing of her heart disease in 1835 became known as "the Great Miracle of Mugnano" and caused Pope Gregory XVI to begin the process of Philomena's canonization. Two years later, her cultus was approved. The Pope, in his decree, called Philomena "The Thaumaturga of the Nineteenth Century." With that decree, she became the only person to be recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church solely on the basis of her miraculous intercessions. Nothing historical was known of her, except her name and the evidence of her martyrdom.

Devotees of Philomena began to pray for her to reveal the story of her life and martyrdom. In 1863, three different people came forward with similar stories, which had supposedly been revealed to them by the saint herself. The Vatican did not guarantee the authenticity of these purported revelations, but in 1883 gave its permission for the tale to be repeated anyway.

According to the visions, Philomena was the daughter of Greek royalty. Her parents had been unable to conceive a child until they converted to Christianity. After their conversion, Philomena was born. At some point, the family travelled to Rome, and when Diocletian beheld Philomena he demanded that she marry him. But Philomena had pledged her virginity to Jesus. She was tortured for 40 days, and then killed.

In 1961, due to lack of concrete evidence to support the stories of her life and martyrdom, Philomena's feast was removed from the Church calendar and her shrine dismantled. So much for Papal Infallibility. The Church no longer considers her a saint, but she is still widely venerated as the patron saint of babies, lost causes, infertility, poor people, priests, and sick people. She is also considered to be especially powerful in cases involving the conversion of sinners.


CatherineB says Someone's obviously gone to a lot of trouble with the first of those Phantom Philomenas.... weird. If it's any help, I've read quite a bit about Joan of Arc and never come across anything about another saint being born in Domrémy - I suspect such a coincidence would surely have been pointed out.

Gritchka says Interesting. When I C!'ed Selene Nyx's the other day I did a bit of investigating and decided she must be part of the Florian von Banier circle: but the stories are amusing fictions.

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