Perpetua:  The Martyr

…Surprising and little-known facts about the real Saint Perpetua…

  • Perpetua’s diary is the oldest preserved written work by a Christian woman.
(The diary is six chapters long--three of them written by herself, one by Saturus, and two by a fellow Christian who witnessed their martyrdom.)
  • Perpetua is one of the most revered saints in the history of the church.
  • Perpetua was from Carthage (the second largest city in the Roman Empire) in North Africa.
  • Perpetua was a contemporary of Tertullian, the “Father of the Latin Church”, and was martyred in Carthage where he was a presbyter. She is one of only two or three contemporary martyrs whom he mentions by name in his writings. (Some believe that his letter To the Martyrs was written to her and her companions.)
  • Perpetua was martyred at the age of 22, leaving behind an infant son.
  • When she was injured by beasts in the amphitheater but not killed outright, a gladiator was ordered to complete the job. He was unable to bring himself to do it, though, and she herself took his hand and guided the sword to her throat.
  • The “Perpetua” font commonly used today was named for her.
  • Felicitas, Perpetua’s fellow martyr, gave birth at 8 months in response to the prayers of her fellow prisoners several days before the execution. Under Roman law a pregnant woman could not be publicly punished, but Perpetua and her companions did not want to leave Felicitas “behind” to suffer martyrdom alone. They asked God to intervene in nature and He did.
  • Perpetua’s entire family were Christians except her father, who begged her to renounce Christ.
  • Saturus voluntarily gave himself up to the authorities in order to be martyred with her and the rest of the catechumens under his care.
  • Roughly a year before Perpetua was martyred the Emperor Septimius Severus issued an edict forbidding conversion to Christianity or Judaism.