Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Linglestown, Pennsylvania, USA
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, "Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?" They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. Revelation 6.9-11
No saints are more uniformly honored in all the early calendars than these African martyrs. In 202 A.D. the emperor forbade conversions to Christianity and harsh persecution ensued. Arrested in Carthage were Vibia Perpetua, a noblewoman, 22 years old; her infant child; Felicity, a pregnant slave; Revocatus, a slave; Saturninus; Secundulus -- all students studying to become Christians. Later their teacher, Saturus, was arrested also. While under house arrest they were baptized.
Perpetua's father urged her to renounce the faith, but she refused, and was imprisoned. In prison, she had a vision of a golden ladder guarded by a dragon and sharp weapons that prevented ascent, but nonetheless she walked over the dragon and reached a beautiful place.
The steadfast Christians were condemned to be given to wild beasts in the arena. After scourging, Perpetual and her companions were led to the amphitheater, and were mangled by the beasts, but survived to be beheaded with a sword. Later, a basilica was erected in Carthage, over the place where they were entombed.
-- from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip Pfatteicher
"The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. . . Perpetua then began to sing a Psalm . . . First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her hair; for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph. . . Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side . . . but the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord . . . and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway, was the first to die. . . Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; they she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. . . Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord!"
-- from a contemporary account, the Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas
Gracious Lord, in every age you have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of your love. Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel, like your servants Perpetua and her companions, whose faithfulness led them in the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son's victory over sin and death; through Jesus Christ + our Lord. AMEN
-- Pastor Stickley