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Perpetua and Felicity are martyrs of Roman Africa who appear in the _Nobis quoque peccatoribus_ of the Roman canon of the Mass (first documented from the seventh century in a form that had undergone revision). They have an early dossier consisting of 1) a Passio that exists in Latin and in Greek versions (BHL 6633; BHG 1482) the nature of whose relationship one to another is still a little controversial and 2) a separate set of Acta that exist in Latin only and in two versions of which the first has multiple forms: the A-Acta (form 1: BHL 6634; form 2: BHL 6635) and the B-Acta (BHL 6636). Neither the Passio nor the briefer Acta are precisely dated, though the Passio, at least, is originally of the third century.
Because the Passio is both longer and, for a variety of reasons, more interesting than are the Acta, scholars have tended to act as though it were for historical purposes the primary text, more reliable than the Acta in cases of disagreement but capable of supplementation from that source when it itself is silent. Thus modern summaries of the events in question follow the Passio in assigning the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity to early in the third century and sometimes do not even bother to mention that the Acta instead place these events under Valerian and Gallienus in the middle of that century (the date usually given is either 202 or 203, though the Passio's placing of these martyrs' deaths on a birthday of Geta Caesar seemingly widens the field to include all years in which Geta's official nomenclature included the word _Caesar_, i.e. ca. 198 through 211, the year of his murder and subsequent _damnatio memoriae_). On the other hand, the authors of such summaries are perfectly willing to accept from the Acta the datum that the town -- unnamed in the Passio -- in which Perpetua, Felicity, and the others arrested with them hailed from was Thuburbo Minus (in the view of some, "Thuburbo" -- both Maius and Minus -- should really be spelled "Thuburdo").
Be that as it may, it would appear from these texts that Perpetua and Felicity and several male companions were executed in the amphitheatre of an unnamed city (presumed to be Carthage) where they were thrown to beasts and where the survivors were finished off by the sword. The Passio highlights Perpetua by including and by placing in a prominent position what would seem to be an authentic and fairly lengthy first-person narrative of her travails and and visions. From Perpetua's narrative it is clear that she was relatively well born, probably of the decurial class. Perpetua never mentions Felicity, who is both a slave and pregnant, until just before her martyrdom, which latter in the Passio is recounted by the nameless "editor" who frames accounts by two of the victims within other matter of his own composition.
These texts constitute perhaps the oldest surviving instance of a martyr narration focusing on one or more victims who are women (the martyrdom of St. Blandina of Lyon is earlier but the letter describing it preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea could be later than the Passio and Acta of Perpetua and Felicity). And its first-person account by a woman victim is extraordinary.
By the 430s, relics said to be those of Perpetua and Felicity were venerated at Carthage's great Basilica Maiorum. We have commemorative sermons on them from St. Augustine of Hippo, from an unnamed bishop of Carthage in the early fifth century, and from St. Quodvultdeus. Though their Passio survives in only a very few medieval copies, their Acta were extremely popular. Bl. Jacopo da Varazze's account in the _Legenda aurea_ is based upon one of the Acta-texts. Hence in his telling Perpetua and Felicity face not the mad cow of the _Passio_ but, instead and separately, a lion (Perpetua) and a leopard (Felicity).
In the _Depositio martyrum_ of the Chronographer of 354, where they and St. Cyprian of Carthage are the only non-Roman martyrs recorded, Perpetua and Felicity are entered under 7. March as martyrs of Africa. They are absent from the earlier sixth-century Calendar of Carthage, which latter does not list feasts that would fall during Lent. In the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology they are entered under 6. March as martyrs of Africa and 7. March as martyrs of Thuburbo in Mauretania. The festal calendar of Old Gelasian Sacramentary also enters them under 7. March (without specification of place); the ninth-century martyrologies of St. Ado of Vienne, Usuard of Saint-German, and Wandelbert of Prüm follow the (ps.-)HM in entering them under 7. March as martyrs of Thuburbo in Mauretania. The Synaxary of Constantinople enters Perpetua and Felicity under 2. February as martyrs of Carthage; under 4. March it enters Perpetua and her companion Saturus, martyrs of Carthage. In the modern Roman Calendar Perpetua and Felicity have always been celebrated on 7. March except for the period from the revision of 1908 until that of 1969, when, in a move seemingly designed to get them out from under the shadow of St. Thomas Aquinas (moved in 1969 to 28. January), they were celebrated instead on 6. March. The revision of the Roman Martyrology in 2001 removed from its entry for Perpetua and Felicity all reference to their companions in martyrdom, giving these instead a separate entry of their own immediately following.
To differentiate her from St. Felicity of Rome, the Felicity of this martyrial pair is sometimes referred to as Felicity of Carthage. Since, as noted above, it is not established that the city in which she and Perpetua died was in fact Carthage, a more accurate designation would be Felicity of Africa (Roman province), perhaps of Carthage. But one may suspect that in this matter, as in many others, a misleading brevity will prevail.
Father Herbert A. Musurillo's 1972 OUP text of the Passio is reproduced here:
There are more recent critical editions by Jacqueline Amat (Éditions du Cerf, 1996; Sources chrétiennes, 417) and by Thomas J. Heffernan (Oxford University Press, 2012).
Some period-pertinent images of Perpetua and Felicity:
a) The scene from these saints' Passio in which Perpetua envisions herself ascending to heaven on a ladder as portrayed (at left, along the long axis) on a fourth-century Christian sarcophagus from Quintanabureba (Burgos) now in the Museo de Burgos:
b) Late fifth- or early sixth-century portraits of Perpetua and Felicity, looking very severe, in sequential roundels on one of the arches in the cappella arcivescovile di San Andrea in Ravenna:
c) Perpetua and Felicity as depicted in the earlier to mid-sixth-century mosaics of the presbytery arch (carefully restored, 1890-1900) in the Basilica Eufrasiana in Poreč:
d) Felicity and Perpetua (third and fourth from the left, respectively) as depicted in the heavily restored, later sixth-century mosaics (ca. 561) in the nave of Ravenna's basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (photograph courtesy of Genevra Kornbluth):
e) The martyrdom of Perpetua (lower right), Felicity (upper right), and those with them as depicted in the late tenth- or very early eleventh-century so-called Menologion of Basil II (Città del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. gr. 1613, p. 366):
f) Perpetua (central figure) and scenes from the saints' Passio as depicted on a fourteenth-century altar frontal of Catalan manufacture, now in the Museo Diocesano de Barcelona:
g) Perpetua and Felicity as depicted in a later fourteenth-century Roman missal of north Italian origin (ca. 1370; Avignon, Bibliothèque-Médiathèque Municipale Ceccano, ms. 136, fol. 233v):
h) Perpetua (at right, flanking the BVM and Christ Child) and Felicity (at left) as depicted in an earlier sixteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1520) in the National Museum in Warsaw:
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