Today is the feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity. Both were young women who were martyred in Carthage in 203. The Severan Persecution in 202-203 was the first calculated attempt through edict to suppress Christianity. Septimus Severus’ decree forbade conversion to Judaism or Christianity. A number of catechumens were arrested for their faith and executed in the public arena in celebration of the emperor’s birthday. Perpetua was a nursing mother and her slave, Felicity, was expecting when they were arrested. Felicity gave birth to a daughter while in prison. As a pregnant woman, Felicity would have been legally spared execution, but after she gave birth, she was sentenced to be killed with the other martyrs.
In the arena, the martyrs were lashed. A boar, a bear, and a leopard were set on the men, and a wild cow on the women. Wounded, the martyrs gave one another the kiss of peace before being put to the sword. The executioner was new, and when his hand shook, resulting in an unsuccessful beheading, Perpetua guided his sword across her own neck.
Much of what is known about the martyrs in prison comes from a manuscript believed to have been written by Perpetua, making her one of few female early Christian writers whose works survived.