Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

SS Perpetua and Felicity and companions

Today is the feast day of SS Perpetua and Felicity. Here are John Dillon's thoughts from his post on the day from the Medieval Religion discussion group:

Perpetua and Felicity (d. 203?). These well known martyrs of Roman Africa 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 of the third century.

Because the Passio is longer and, for a variety of reasons, more interesting than 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 the early third century, late in the reign of Septimius Severus, 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. On the other hand, they 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 (Blandina of Lyon's martyrdom is earlier but the letter describing it preserved by Eusebius 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 bishop Jacopo's 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 March 7th 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 March 6th as martyrs of Africa and March 7th as martyrs of Thuburbo in Mauretania. The festal calendar of Old Gelasian Sacramentary also enters them under  March 7th (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 March 7th as martyrs of Thuburbo in Mauretania. The Synaxary of Constantinople enters Perpetua and Felicity under February 2nd 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 March 7th 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  January 28th), they were celebrated instead on March 6th.

Some late antique and medieval images of Perpetua and Felicity:

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:

Late fifth- or early sixth-century portraits of Perpetua and Felicity, looking very severe, occur in sequential roundels on one of the arches in the cappella arcivescovile di San Andrea at Ravenna:

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:

Felicity and Perpetua (third and fourth from the left, respectively) as depicted in the heavily restored, later sixth-century mosaics (ca. 560) in the nave of Ravenna's basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (photograph courtesy of Genevra Kornbluth):

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):

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:

Perpetua and Felicity as depicted in a later fourteenth-century Roman Missal (ca. 1370) of north Italian origin (Avignon, Bibliothèque-Médiathèque Municipale Ceccano, ms. 136, fol. 233v):

I will add to those notes that the remarkably vivid near contemporary text recounting the arrest and trial as well as the martyrdoms, and the words of the martyrs themselves, can be read in Musurillo's translation at The Martyrdom Of Saints Perpetua And Felicitas


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