PERPETUA AND FELICITY
It was in 180 C.E. that the first known Christian martyrs of Africa were executed. One of the most famous and most outstanding acts of martyrdom, however, occurred in the year 203 C.E. and centers around two young incredibly brave African women–Perpetua and Felicity. The account of their deaths, known as “The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity,” was so inspiring and popular in the early centuries that it was read during liturgies.
In the year 203 C.E., Perpetua made the decision to become a Christian, although she knew it could mean her death. Her father was frantic with worry and tried to talk her out of her decision. His motivation is understandable for at 22 years of age, this well-educated, high-spirited woman had every reason to want to live–including an infant son whom she was still nursing.
Perpetua was arrested with four others, including Felicity, another African woman. Perpetua was baptized before being taken to prison–a prison that was so crowded with people that the heat was suffocating. For Felicity it was even worse as she suffered from the stifling heat, overcrowding, and rough handling while she was eight months pregnant.
The officers of the prison began to recognize the power, faith, strength and leadership of Perpetua and the warden himself became a believer. There was a feast the day before the public spectacle 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.
Bears, leopards, and wild boars attacked the men while the women were stripped to face a wild cow. When the assembled crowd, however, saw the two African young women, one of whom had obviously just given birth, milk running from her breasts, they were horrified and ashamed, and the two women were removed from the arena and clothed again. In spite of everything, however, Perpetua and Felicity were thrown roughly and brutally back into the arena. Regardless of her own pain and suffering though, Perpetua, filled with compassion and still thinking of others, went to help Felicity to her feet. The two then stood side-by-side, dignity intact, heads raised high as all of the martyrs assembled in the arena had their throats cut.