Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saint Perpetua of Carthage: Martyr and Writer

Perpetua of Carthage (martyred 7 March 203)

Perpetua of Carthage,
mosaic from Ravenna, Italy
One of the most intriguing figures of early Christianity, Perpetua of Carthage is notable not only for the story of her conversion and martyrdom, but for the remarkable series of visions preserved in The Passion of Perpetua, which purports to be a prison diary recording her experiences in the last days before her death.

Briefly, Perpetua is a young, well-educated noblewoman, the mother of a baby boy, while her companion, Felicity, is a pregnant slave. Along with several male companions, the women are arrested for their religious convictions. Refusing to make the ritual gestures expected of them, they are condemned and executed.

There are, of course, controversies about the exact year of Perpetua's death, about the orthodoxy of the text's religious views, even about its authorship. Nevertheless, the passion of Perpetua and her companion, Felicity, remains a powerful story, and the Passion is one of the earliest surviving Christian texts.
Perpetua's companion, Felicity,
mosaic from Ravenna, Italy

You can read the Passion online by clicking here. For placing Perpetua and her passio in context, and for its careful close readings of the text, I recommend Joyce E. Salisbury's Perpetua's Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman.

Roman amphitheatre in Carthage (now in Tunis)
site of the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity