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January 25, 2019

Holy Martyr Felicitas of Rome and her Seven Sons

St. Felicitas and her Seven Sons (Feast Day - January 25)

Saint Felicitas was born into a wealthy Roman family under the emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161). Having given birth to seven sons (Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalius and Martial) and become a widow, she devoted her life to the proper raising of her children and the service of God. By her public and edifying example, many idolaters were moved to renounce the worship of their false gods. For this Felicitas and her seven sons were turned over to the Prefect Publius to be examined and compelled to sacrifice to the idols.

Publius tried to persuade her to renounce her faith in Christ, with such words as: “Take pity on your children, Felicitas; they are in the bloom of youth, and may aspire to the greatest honors and preferments.” The holy mother answered: “Your pity is really impiety, and the compassion to which you exhort me would make me the most cruel of mothers.” Then turning herself towards her children, she said to them: “My sons, look up to heaven where Jesus Christ with his saints expects you. Be faithful in his love, and fight courageously for your souls.”

Seeing her steadfast in her faith, Publius ordered for Felicitas to be beaten. Then one by one, the children were questioned by the prefect. All likewise, by the good example of their mother, boldly confessed their faith and would not be persuaded to worship the idols, despite being threatened. They were all therefore imprisoned, showing not a fear of death, but rather feared eternal punishment if they should deny their beloved Christ.

Antoninus having read the interrogatory, gave an order that they should be sent to different judges, and be condemned to different deaths. Januarius was scourged to death with whips loaded with plummets of lead. The two next, Felix and Philip, were beaten with clubs till they expired. Silvanus, the fourth, was thrown headlong down a steep precipice. The three youngest, Alexander, Vitalius, and Martial, were beheaded, and the same sentence was executed upon the mother four months after.

Her body was laid to rest in the catacomb of Maximus on the Via Salaria; in that cemetery all Roman itineraries, or guides to the burial-places of martyrs, locate her burial-place, specifying that her tomb was in a church above this catacomb. The crypt where Saint Felicitas was laid to rest was later enlarged into a subterranean chapel, and was rediscovered in 1885. In the early Middle Ages there was a chapel in honor of Saint Felicitas in an ancient Roman edifice near the ruins of the Baths of Titus. Some of her relics are in the Capuchin church at Montefiascone, Tuscany. Others are in the church of Santa Susanna in Rome. Her sons were buried in four different Roman cemeteries:

- Saints Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial (Cemetery of the Jordani, on the Via Salaria)
- Saint Januarius (Cemetery of Praetextatus, on the Via Appia)
- Saints Felix and Philip (Cemetery of Priscilla, on the Via Salaria)
- Saint Silvanus (Cemetery of Maximus, on the Via Salaria)

Saint Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome, delivered his third homily on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Mt. 12:47), on the festival of Saint Felicitas, in the church built over her tomb on the Salarian road. In this discourse he says, that this Saint “having seven children was as much afraid of leaving them behind her on earth, as other mothers are of surviving theirs. She was more than a martyr, for seeing her seven dear children martyred before her eyes, she was in some sort a martyr in each of them. She was the eighth in the order of time, but was from the first to the last in pain, and began her martyrdom in the eldest, which she only finished in her own death. She received a crown not only for herself, but likewise for all her children. Seeing them in torments she remained constant, feeling their pains by nature as their mother, but rejoicing for them in her heart by hope.”

The same father takes notice how weak faith is in us: in her it was victorious over flesh and blood; but in us is not able to check the sallies of our passions, or wean our hearts from a wicked and deceitful world. “Let us be covered with shame and confusion,” says he, “that we should fall so far short of the virtue of this martyr, and should suffer our passions still to triumph over faith in our hearts. Often one word spoken against us disturbs our minds; at the least blast of contradiction we are discouraged or provoked; but neither torments nor death were able to shake her courageous soul. We weep without ceasing when God requires of us the children he hath lent us; and she bewailed her children when they did not die for Christ, and rejoiced when she saw them die.”