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Felicitas of Rome

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Saint Felicitas of Rome
Nuremberg chronicles - Felicitas with her Seven Sons (CXIIIIr).jpg
Image of St Felicitas and her seven sons. From the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493).
Martyr
Born c. 101 AD, Rome, Roman Empire
Died c. 165 AD, Rome, Roman Empire
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine Church of Santa Susanna, Rome
Feast November 23
Attributes woman in widow's weeds holding a palm; woman with a palm, book, and children at her feet; woman with Saint Andrew the Apostle; woman with seven sons
Patronage parents who have lost a child in death; death of children; martyrs; sterility; to have male children; widows; (reflecting only St Martialis) - Town of Torricella Peligna, Province of Chieti, in the Abruzzo, and the town of Isca sullo Ionio, Province of Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy

Felicitas of Rome (c. 101 - 165) is a saint numbered among the Christian martyrs. Apart from her name, the only thing known for certain about this martyr is that she was buried in the Cemetery of Maximus, on the Via Salaria on a 23 November.[1] However, a legend presents her as the mother of the "Seven Holy Brothers, Martyrs", whose feast is celebrated on 10 July.

The legend of Saint Symphorosa is very similar and their acts may have been confused. They may even be the same person.[2] This Felicitas is not the same as the North African Felicitas who was martyred with Perpetua.

Historicity of Saint Felicitas

The feast of Saint Felicitas of Rome is first mentioned in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum" as celebrated on November 23. From a very early date her feast as a martyr was solemnly celebrated in the Roman Church on that date, as shown by the fact that on that day Saint Gregory the Great delivered a homily in the Basilica that rose above her tomb. Her body then rested in the catacomb of Maximus on the Via Salaria; in that cemetery all Roman itineraries, or guides to the burial-places of martyrs, locate her burial-place, specifying that her tomb was in a church above this catacomb.[3] The crypt where St Felicitas was laid to rest was later enlarged into a subterranean chapel, and was rediscovered in 1885.

The Seven Holy Brothers

The July 10 feast that was known by this name arose through a conflation of four distinct commemorations of martyrs falling on that day.[4] Their names and their places of burial were:

  • Saints Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial(is) (Cemetery of the Jordani, on the Via Salaria)
  • Saint Januarius (Cemetery of Praetextatus, on the Via Salaria)
  • Saints Felix and Philip (Cemetery of Priscilla, on the Via Salaria)
  • Saint Sylvanus or Silvanus (Cemetery of Maximus, on the Via Appia)

Historicity of the Seven Holy Brothers

The earliest list of the Roman feasts of martyrs, known as the "Depositio Martyrum" and dating from the time of Pope Liberius, in the middle of the fourth century, mentions these seven martyrs as celebrated on July 10 in the four different catacombs in which their bodies lay. To the name of Silvanus it adds the statement that his body was stolen by the Novatians (hunc Silvanum martyrem Novatiani furati sunt). It does not say that they were brothers.

The tomb of St Januarius in the catacomb of Prætextatus belongs to the end of the second century, to which period, therefore, the martyrdoms, if they are in fact associated with one another, must belong, under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Legend linking together Felicitas and the Seven Holy Brothers

Felicitas of Rome

St Felicitas killed with her seven sons. From the Martyrs Mirror

Saint Felicitas is said to have been a rich and pious Christian widow who had seven sons. She devoted herself to charitable work and converted many to the Christian faith by her example.[5] This aroused the wrath of pagan priests who lodged a complaint against her with Emperor Marcus Aurelius). These priests asserted that the ire of the gods demanded sacrifice from Felicitas and her children. The Emperor acquiesced to their demand and Felicitas was brought before Publius, the Prefect of Rome.[6] Taking Felicitas aside, he used various pleas and threats in an unsuccessful attempt to get her to worship the pagan gods.[7] He was equally unsuccessful with her seven sons who followed their mother's example.

Before the Prefect Publius they adhered firmly to their religion, and were delivered over to four judges, who condemned them to various modes of death. The division of the martyrs among four judges corresponds to the four places of their burial. Felicitas was forced to watch as her children were murdered one by one: Januarius, the eldest, was scourged to death; Felix and Philip were beaten with clubs until they expired; Silvanus was thrown headlong down a precipice; and the three youngest, Alexander, Vitalis and Martialis were beheaded.[8] After each execution she was given the chance to denounce her faith. She refused to act against her conscience and she too suffered martyrdom four months later. All of this took place in the year 165. She was buried in the catacomb of Maximus on the Via Salaria, beside St Silvanus.

Origin of the Legend

The "Acts" that give the above account of the seven martyrs as sons of Felicitas, existed, in some form, in the sixth century, since Pope St Gregory I refers to them in his "Homiliæ super Evangelia, book I, homily iii."[9] The early twentieth century Catholic Encyclopedia reported that "even distinguished modern archæologists have considered them, though not in their present form corresponding entirely to the original, yet in substance based on genuine contemporary records." But it went on to say that investigations had shown this opinion to be hardly tenable. The earliest recension of these "Acts" does not antedate the sixth century, and appears to be based not on a Roman i.e. Latin text, but on a Greek original. Moreover, apart from the existing form of the "Acts," various details have been called into question. If Felicitas were really the mother of the seven martyrs honored on July 10, it is strange that her name does not appear in the well-known fourth century Roman calendar.[10]

SevenBrothers

The seven sons of St Felicitas

Veneration of Saint Felicitas and the Seven Holy Brothers

St Felicitas' feast is first mentioned in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum," but on a different day, November 23. The tomb of St Silvanus, one of the seven martyrs commemorated on July 10, adjoined that of St Felicitas and was likewise honored; it is quite possible, therefore, that tradition soon identified the seven martyrs of July 10 as the sons of St Felicitas, and that this formed the basis for the extant "Acts."[11]

In an ancient Roman edifice near the ruins of the Baths of Titus there stood during the early Middle Ages a chapel in honor of St Felicitas. Some of her relics lie at the Capuchin church at Montefiascone, Tuscany. Others lie in the church of Santa Susanna in Rome.

Celebration of the Feast Day

The feast day of the "Seven Holy Brothers, Martyrs and Sts Rufina and Secunda, Virgins and Martyrs" is still celebrated as a local feast and among Traditional Roman Catholics as either a Semi-Double, Simple or a 3rd Class feast.

Veneration of Saint Martialis

St Martialis (Martial, Marziale), one of the alleged sons of Felicitas, is venerated as the Patron Saint of Torricella Peligna in the Abruzzo, and Isca sullo Ionio in Calabria, Italy with his feast day celebrated on July 10.[12][13]

References

  1. "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 146
  2. St Patrick Catholic Church - Saint of the Day: November 23 Felicitas of Rome
  3. De Rossi, "Roma sotterranea, I," 176-77
  4. "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 129
  5. "Lives of the Saints, For Every Day of the Year," edited by Rev. Hugo Hoever, S.O.Cist., Ph.D., New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1955, p. 261
  6. "Lives of the Saints, For Every Day of the year," p. 261
  7. "Lives of the Saints, For Every Day of the Year," p. 261
  8. "Lives of the Saints, For Every Day of the Year," p. 262
  9. P.L., LXXVI, 1087
  10. Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Felicitas
  11. Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Felicitas
  12. Saint Martialis
  13. Gianni Materazzo, The Procession of San Marziale

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