Saints of the Day – St Felicitas (c 101- c 165) and her Seven Holy Sons (Died c 165) Martyrs. St Felicitas is celebrated separately on 23 November and with her seven sons today, 10 July. The Seven Holy Sons were named Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalis and Martial. Whilst St Felicitas has patronages alone, combined she and her sons are patrons of the Abbey of Badia di Cava, Italy.
In 161, when his father-in-law died, Marcus Aurelius ascended to the Imperial Roman Throne. Although he has the reputation of being a ‘great’ Roman Emperor (mostly on account of his military conquests and reputation as a Stoic philosopher), he was one of the worst persecutors of Christians. When truth and Catholic dogma are rejected, superstition and false philosophy take their place. This cruel monarch believed the Christians were responsible for various calamities that had befallen the Empire, thus he initiated the most cold-blooded persecution the Church had ever known. His rule lasted for nineteen years and his intractable hatred towards Christians never abated.
Yet “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians” (famous quote from Tertullian in his Apologia). The heroes who in life were the strength of Holy Mother Church give her fecundity by their death — and Christ’s Mystical Body continues to increase. Today in her liturgy, the Church honours a mother and her seven sons who gave their blood for the glory of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and for the increase of Christ’s Perfect Bride.
The Seven Sons of St Felicitas were the very first victims sacrificed by Emperor Marcus Aurelius to satisfy his false philosophy and the superstitions of his pagan subjects.
Felictias was a noble woman of Rome. After her husband’s death, she served God and employed herself in prayer and works of charity. Her good example let others to convert and embrace the Faith. The heathen priests in a council advised the Emperor: “The example of Felicitas is dangerous, she must be made to sacrifice.” Wanting to “make an example of them,” Marcus Aurelius commanded the prefect Plubius to entice this noble family into apostasy on the grounds that their Christian piety angered the Roman pantheon of gods.
Felictias and her sons were arrested. When she was called before the prefect, Felicitas approached calm and unafraid. Plubius took her aside and tried in vain to convince her of idolatry. He ended by exclaiming “Unhappy woman, if you wish to die, die! But do not destroy your children!” She replied, “My children will live forever if like me, they scorn the idols and die for their God.”
Plubius tried by fair speeches and then by threats to compel the seven brothers to renounce Christ and adore false gods but they all valiantly refused. Each brother encouraged the other and they were all greatly strengthened by the exhortations of their devout mother. Though she had given them birth into this world, far more dearly did she desire that they be born unto eternal life.
After hearing of the family’s supposed “stubbornness and pride,” Marcus Aurelius himself decreed their sentence of execution. Furthermore, he wished for this judgement to be carried out by several judges in different places in order to more widely promulgate his new policy and to strike greater fear into any Christians who would dare defy his edict. Marcus Aurelius had these brothers executed on the very same day.
Thus it came to be that on 10 July 162 (the sixth of the Ides of July), in four different suburbs of the Eternal City, these seven patrician youths opened a great campaign that would ultimately save Rome from tyrannical Caesars and restore Rome to true greatness. Januarius was scourged to death with leaded whips. Felix and Philip were beaten with clubs. Silvanus was thrown headlong from a great height and drowned. Alexander, Vitalis and Martial were beheaded. Their holy mother was forced to watch her sons being put to death. Felicitas gained the palm of martyrdom four months later when she was beheaded. (One can not even imagine how excruciating her sufferings were on that fateful day and during the subsequent weeks filled with terrible mourning. In fact, one could say she suffered eight martyrdoms as she watched each of her sons die before she too gave up her life for Christ. What courage and faith!)
Four cemeteries shared the honour of gathering into their crypts the sacred remains of these seven brother martyrs. The oldest records we have, show that the sixth of the Ides of July was a day of special solemnity in the Roman Church. On this day, the faithful would assemble at ‘four stations’ around the tombs of ‘the Martyrs.’ This name was preserved for the seven brothers, which is quite remarkable given the torrent of Christian blood shed in Rome under Emperor Diocletian. Archaeologists have also discovered inscriptions, even in cemeteries that did not possess their relics, which designated 11 July as the “Day following the Feast of the Martyrs.”
S. Felicitas’ strength came from her hope in God’s promises. She trusted that He would give her the crown of heavenly glory and that she would be with God and her sons forever, in perfect happiness. Let us pray every day, that God will bless our family and friends, that we may all meet again in Heaven. Amen!