Perpetua and Felicity
7th march 203
Perpetua and Felicity were early Christian women, martyred in Carthage in the year 203. Their deaths are recorded in an account that allegedly includes pieces from Perpetua’s own diary along with other eyewitness accounts. At the time of their imprisonment Perpetura was a young married mother and Felicity was heavily pregnant. They were murdered for refusing to renounce their Christian faith and challenging societal pressures on the place of women in heteronormative family structures. As a result they are considered early heroes for the emancipation of Women and non-hetero families.
Living in Northern Africa under the reign of Emperor Severus, Perpetua and Felicity put their lives at risk when they converted to Christianity. Despite her Father begging her to renounce her Christian faith, Perpetua stayed strong and was imprisoned alongside Felicity and others. In prison they were treated harshly but responded with dignity and kindness, putting many of their captives to shame. It was illegal to put a pregnant woman to death in Roman culture and so Felicity would have been spared execution for as long as she remained pregnant. Felicity wished to share in the suffering with her friends and so prayed that she might give birth before the set date. Felicity gave birth two days before the execution took place and so joined her companions in the amphitheatre. Perpetua and Felicity were scourged and then attacked by a wild cow before facing gladiators. According to the account Perpetua had to guide the gladiator’s sword to her neck and willed him to kill her for he was too over come with fear.
Perpetua and Felicity lived in a society that generally believed that a women’s first duty was to raise children and be obedient to male family members. In choosing the Christian faith against her father’s wishes, and choosing death with her chosen family over motherhood, Perpetua and Felicity were rejecting society’s expectations for women and their place in the family. As a result they have become role models for women who choose to pursue other paths in life instead of motherhood and submission to men. They have recently been claimed by the LGBT+ community as a same-sex couple, and in solidarity with alternative family make-ups. The account of their deaths is also unusual for the time in that male figures take a back seat and the fathers of their children are never mentioned.
Perpetua and Felicity stand as early examples of how Christianity began as a religion of liberation and freedom for people who lived outside of the heteropatriarchal make up of society. They died as martyrs in each others arms, after sharing a holy kiss on this day, 203.
A Prayer for Perpetua and Felicity:
Mother God, we thank you for the life, death and example of your Holy servants Perpetua and Felicity. We ask that You grant the same courage with which they faced death to those preparing to die for what they believe in today. We pray also for all women who choose not to have children and for Planned Parenthood organisations as well as alternative family structures and those who are forced into marriage against their will. In Your most Holy Name we pray. Amen
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