Saint Philomena
Kip sv. Filomene u Molvama.jpg
Statue of Saint Philomena in Molve, Croatia
Virgin and Martyr
Born c. January 10, 291(291-01-10) (?), Corfu, Greece (?)
Died c. August 10, 304 (aged 13) (?), Rome, Italy
Venerated in Catholic Church
Canonized Not canonized[1]
Major shrine Church of Our Lady of Grace in Mugnano del Cardinale
Feast 11 August in some places (never included in the General Roman Calendar)
Attributes Youth, palm of martyrdom, flower crown, orange or white robes, palm, arrows, anchor, sometimes a partially slit throat
Patronage Children, youth, babies, infants, priests, lost causes, sterility, virgins, Children of Mary, The Universal Living Rosary Association
Catholic cult suppressed 14 February 1961
Saint Philomena by J.D. Mahlknecht

Saint Philomena with attributes: palm, whip, anchor and arrows. Plaster cast by Johann Dominik Mahlknecht in the Museum de Gherdëina in Urtijëi, Italy

Saint Philomena is venerated as a virgin martyr saint of the Catholic Church, said to have been a young Greek princess martyred in the 4th century. Her veneration began in the early 19th century after the archaeological discovery in the Catacombs of Priscilla of the bones of a young woman, which were interpreted as those of a martyr. Nothing else was known about her, but an inscription found at the tomb was taken to indicate that her name was (in the Latin of the inscription) Filumena; corresponding to the English name Philomena.

The remains were removed to Mugnano del Cardinale in 1805 and became the focus of widespread devotion, with several miracles credited to the saint's intercession, including the healing of Venerable Pauline Jaricot in 1835, which received wide publicity. Saint Jean Vianney attributed to her intercession the extraordinary cures that others attributed to himself. Accounts of her life and martyrdom circulated on the basis of visions of a Neapolitan nun.

Her liturgical celebration was never included in the General Roman Calendar for universal use, but, beginning in 1837, it was approved for some places. The 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal included a mention of her, under August 11, in the section headed Missae pro aliquibus locis (Masses for some places), with an indication that the Mass to be used in those places was one from the common of a Virgin Martyr, without any collect proper to the saint.[2] On 14 February 1961, the Holy See ordered that the name of Saint Philomena be removed from all liturgical calendars that mentioned her.[3] Accordingly, the 1962 Roman Missal, the edition whose continued use as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is authorized by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, also has no mention of her.[4]

Discovery of the remains

On 24 May 1802 in the Catacombs of Priscilla on the Via Salaria Nova an inscribed loculus (space hollowed out of the rock) was found, and on the following day it was carefully examined and opened. The loculus was closed with three terra cotta tiles, on which was the following inscription: lumena paxte cumfi. It was and is generally accepted that the tiles were in a wrong order and that the inscription originally read, with the leftmost tile placed on the right: pax tecum Filumena (i.e."Peace with you, Philomena"). Within the loculus was found the skeleton of a female between thirteen and fifteen years old. Embedded in the cement was a small glass phial with vestiges of what was taken to be blood. Accordingly, in accordance with the assumptions of the time, the remains were taken to be those of a virgin martyr named Philomena.[5]

The belief that such vials were signs of the grave of a martyr was still held in 1863, when a 10 December decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites confirmed a decree of 10 April 1668.[6] But this view has been rejected in practice since the investigations of Giovanni Battista De Rossi (1822-1894).[7]

In 1805, Canon Francesco De Lucia requested relics for a new altar,[8] and on 8 June [6] obtained the remains discovered in May 1802 (reduced to dust and fragments)[9] for his church in Mugnano del Cardinale , where they arrived on 11 August, after being taken from Rome to Naples on 1 July.[6][10]

In 1827, Pope Leo XII gave to the church in Mugnano del Cardinale the three inscribed terra cotta slabs that had been taken from the tomb.[7]

Spread of devotion

In his Relazione istorica della traslazione del sacro corpo di s. Filomena da Roma a Mugnano del Cardinale De Lucia recounts that wonders accompanied the arrival of the relics in his church, among them a statue that sweated some liquid continuously for three days.[10]

The spread of devotion to her in France as well as in Italy was helped when Saint John Vianney built a shrine in her honour and referred to her often, attributing to her the miracles that others attributed to himself.[7] Another help was the cure of the near-dying Venerable Pauline Jaricot, founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith,[11] at Philomena's shrine on 10 August 1835[6][7][10][12]

Another miracle accepted as proved in the same year was the multiplication of the bone dust of the saint, which provided for hundreds of reliquaries without the original amount experiencing any decrease in quantity.[6]

Reported life of the Saint

On 21 December 1833, the Holy Office declared that there was nothing contrary to the Catholic faith in the revelations that Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù (1799-1875), a Dominican tertiary from Naples, claimed to have received from the Saint herself.[10]

According to Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù, Saint Philomena told her she was the daughter of a king in Greece who, with his wife, had converted to Christianity. At the age of about 13 she took a vow of consecrated virginity. When the Emperor Diocletian threatened to make war on her father, he went with his family to Rome to ask for peace. The Emperor fell in love with the young Philomena and, when she refused to be his wife, he subjected her to a series of torments: scourging, from whose effects two angels cured her; drowning with an anchor attached to her, but two angels cut the rope and raised her to the river bank; being shot with arrows, but on the first occasion her wounds were healed, on the second the arrows turned aside, and on the third, they returned and killed six of the archers, and several of the others became Christians. Finally the Emperor had her decapitated, which occurred on a Friday at three in the afternoon, as with the death of Jesus. The two anchors, three arrows, the palm and the ivy leaf on the tiles found in the tomb were interpreted as symbols of her martyrdom.[10]

In these visions she also revealed that her birthday was 10 January,[10] that her martyrdom occurred on 10 August (the date also of the arrival of her relics in Mugnano del Cardinale),[7] and that her name "Filumena" meant "daughter of light". (It is usually taken to be derived from a Greek word meaning "beloved".)[7]

Authorization of the devotion

On 13 January 1837, in the aftermath of the cure of Venerable Pauline Jaricot, Pope Gregory XVI authorized liturgical celebration of Philomena on 11 August[8][10] or, according to another source, originally on 9 September,[7] first in the Diocese of Nola (to which Mugnano del Cardinale belongs), and soon in several other dioceses in Italy.

This permission that Pope Gregory XVI gave on 13 January 1837 for public celebration of Philomena in some limited places, not throughout the Church, has been interpreted as "raising Saint Philomena to the altars of the universal Church", a liturgical act proper only to a canonized saint.[13][not in citation given] The name of this Philomena was never included in the Roman Martyrology, the official list of saints recognized by the Catholic Church and in which the saints are included immediately upon canonization.[14]

In the 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal Philomena is mentioned, under 11 August (with an indication that the Mass for her feastday was to be taken entirely from the common, so that there was no part, not even the collect, that was proper to her) in the section headed "Masses for some places", i.e. only those places for which it had been specially authorized.[2]

Devotion included the wearing of the "Cord of Philomena", a red and white cord, which had a number of indulgences granted to it, including a plenary indulgence on the day on which the cord is worn for the first time. There was also the chaplet of Saint Philomena, with three white beads in honour of the Blessed Trinity and thirteen red beads in honour of the thirteen years of the saint's life. [15].

On 14 February 1961, the Holy See ordered that the name of Saint Philomena be removed from all the liturgical calendars that mentioned her.[3]


The removal of the name of Philomena even from local calendars was due to problems raised by scholars, whose interest had been drawn to the phenomenon more especially in connection with the revelations of Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù.[10]

It was discovered that the phial initially believed to have contained blood, had been filled with perfume.[8][10] It was also found that the inscription on the three tiles that had provided the Latin name "Filumena" ("Philomena" in English) belonged to the middle or second half of the second century,[7] while the body that had been found was of the fourth century, when the persecutions of Christians had ended.[10] Not only the name but also the leaf, the two anchors and the palm that decorated the three tiles, and which had been believed to indicate that Filumena was a martyr (though the necessary connection between these symbols and martyrdom has been denied), had no relation to the person whose remains were found.[7] Archaeological investigation showed that the disarrangement of the tiles was something fourth-century sextons regularly did when re-using materials already engraved, with the aim of indicating that it was not the same person who was now buried in the place.[8]

The website of the shrine in Mugnano del Cardinale continues to argue against these conclusions. See in particular Present Ecclesial Status of Devotion to St. Philomena, by Dr. Mark I. Miravalle.

The rector of the shrine reported that on 9 April 2005 a panel of scientists, priests and devotees declared that modern scientific tests had shown that it was to fit into the higher side of the tomb that the tallest of the three tiles with the inscription "Pax tecum Filumena" was misplaced; that the tomb was closed only once; that this was done in the year 202 (during the Roman persecution of Christians); and that the glass vial did in fact contain blood, and even a piece of bone, taken to indicate a violent death.[16]

For many, the 1961 withdrawal of Pope Gregory XVI's 1837 authorization of liturgical veneration of Saint Philomena in a limited number of places merely means that the situation has returned to that existing before 1837, when in many places there was fervent devotion to the supposed saint, accompanied only by vague speculation about the circumstances of her life and death or by belief in the revelations of the Neapolitan nun.

A litany to Saint Philomena composed by Saint John Mary Vianney and a novena prayer to her appear on the EWTN website. The same litany appears on the site, which in its account of her makes no mention of the 1961 decision. The same is true of the account on the site of Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Picayune, Mississippi.


  1. In his book It is Time to Meet St. Philomena, Dr. Mark Miravalle says she was canonized 13 January 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI, but he also says that "The Holy See continues to permit public devotion to St. Philomena" (emphasis added), while canonization is not a permission but "a universal precept" (Catholic Encyclopedia: Beatification and Canonization. The Roman Martyrology which does not contain quite all the saints recognized by the Church, does contain all those who have been formally canonized, since "with the canonization of a new saint, that person is officially listed in the catalogue of saints, or Martyrology" (Canonization) and "as soon as the beatification or canonization event takes place, the person's name is technically part of the Roman Martyrology" (Catholic Saints Database); cf. (New York Times The Roman Martyrology). It does not now contain and in fact never included the name of this person, which can be seen to be absent in the 1856 edition issued some twenty years after the alleged canonization. The action of Pope Gregory XVI in permitting liturgical celebration in certain places could be compared to a beatification, but not to a canonization, which authorizes celebration everywhere and involves inclusion of the saint in the Roman Martyrology.
  2. 2.0 2.1 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal, with feasts updated to the late 1920s
  3. 3.0 3.1 Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1961, pp. 168ff.
  4. 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal
  5. Butler's Lives of the Saints, edition quoted in University of Leicester, Saints at a Glance by Dr G.R.Jones
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Present Ecclesial Status of Devotion to St. Philomena
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Catholic Encyclopedia (1911): St Philomena
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Saint of the Day: 10 August
  9. "corpus … in pulverem et in fragmina redactum", as described in the document with which the remains where handed over (quoted in Present Ecclesial Status of Devotion to St. Philomena)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 10.9 Enciclopedia dei Santi: Santa Filomena di Roma
  11. Letter from Pope John Paul II
  12. Pauline's "Miracle at Mugnano"
  13. "It is Time to Meet St. Philomena" Dr. Mark Miravalle, ISBN 9781579183336, page 23
  14. "With the canonization of a new saint, that person is officially listed in the catalogue of saints, or Martyrology" (Canonization); "as soon as the beatification or canonization event takes place, the person's name is technically part of the Roman Martyrology" (Catholic Saints Database); cf. (New York Times The Roman Martyrology).
  15. Saint Philomena : Virgin martyr and wonder worker. Cecily Hallack. Dublin, Ireland; Anthonian Press, 1936 Pages 120-124
  16. Catholic Wire: Re-evaluation of the "Philomena Question", quoting the website of the shrine


Template:Saints portal

  • Sister Marie Helene Mohr, S.C., "Saint Philomena, Powerful with God," Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, 1988.
  • "Philomena," in David Hugh Farmer, "The Oxford Dictionary of Saints" (Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0-19-860949-3
  • Dr Mark Miravalle, "Present Ecclesial Status of Devotion to St. Philomena" (Queenship Publishing, 2002) ISBN 1-57918-228-3 (also on Internet: see below)
  • Cecily Hallack. Saint Philomena : Virgin martyr and wonder worker. Dublin, Ireland; Anthonian Press, 1936

External links

bpy:সান্টা ফিলোমেনাla:Sancta Philomena hu:Szent Filoménanap:Santa Filumenapt:Santa Filomena ro:Santa Filomena sk:Filoména uk:Свята Філомена

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