Friday, November 17, 2017

Female Martyrs of the 1st Century

Anastasia and Basilissa were two noble Roman women who were disciples of Saints Peter and Paul.  They witnessed the death of the Apostles and buried them and other Christians martyred under the persecution of the Emperor Nero.  They were arrested and beheaded in 65 CE.

Plautilla, a Roman Christian widow, also witnessed the martyrdom of the apostles and other Christians under Nero, and was tortured and beheaded in 67 CE.

Petronilla (Aurelia Petronilla), the daughter of the Apostle Peter, was healed of palsy and baptized by him.  In order to protect her from the unwanted advances of a pagan named Flaccus, Peter locked her in a tower where she died of starvation in 90 CE.  She was buried in the catacombs on the Via Nomentana, now called the Catacombs of Saint Agnes, but her relics were moved later to the ornate marble sarcophagus in Saint Peter's Basilica that bears the inscription “Aureae Petronillae Filiae Dulcissimae (Aurelia Petronilla, the sweetest daughter).

Felicula, Petronilla’s foster sister was imprisoned and denied food and water after the death of her sister.  She died of starvation and her body was thrown in a sewer.  A Roman priest recovered her remains and buried them in the catacombs on the Via Nomentana in 90 CE, after which he was beaten to death and buried alongside her. 

Several Roman Christians were martyred in the first century for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods on a special occasions such as weddings.  On the evening before her marriage it was customary for the bride to be to sacrifice her childhood toys to her family gods.  The Roman wedding ceremony itself began with a pagan sacrifice and reading of the auspices of the couple.  Then marriage contract was signed in the presence of ten witnesses, and the couple joined hands and made their vows.  After the wedding the bride left her family and their gods behind and went to live in her husband’s house joining him in offering sacrifice to his family gods.  Because of the ritual sacrifices involved in the Roman weddings, young women who had secretly converted to Christianity, were quickly exposed when they refused to participate in the required marriage rites.

Flavia Domitilla, granddaughter of Emperor Vespasian, married her cousin.  For refusing to sacrifice to pagan idols, she was banished to the island of Pontia.  She suffered many trials before being taken to Campania where she converted many to the Christian faith.  The judge ordered her chambers set on fire, and she and her two companions, Euphrosina and Theodora, were consumed by the flames in 96 CE.  Her two chamberlains were also beheaded for refusing to worship pagan gods.  The remains of all five martyrs were buried in the Catacombs of Domitilla named in her honor.