In the year 202/3 the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade citizens to convert to Christianity or Judaism. Perpetua, a noble woman with a new born son and Felicitas, her slave, who was also pregnant, were preparing for their baptism. They lived in Carthage; North Africa in what is now Tunisia. The two women and other companions were imprisoned and sentenced to death. Perpetua’s father was not a Christian and during his visits, begged her to renounce her Christian faith to spare her life and spare the family scorn. She responded, “We know that we are not placed in our own power but in that of God.”
Felicity was 8 months pregnant and the law prohibited the execution of a pregnant woman. She feared that she could not be martyred with her friends, but would have to wait until after the baby was born. Three days before the games were to begin the whole group of Christians made common prayer to the lord. Hardly had they completed their prayers when labor pains began. She suffered much leading up to the delivery. One of her jailers said to her, “If you groan like that now, what will you do when you are handed over to the wild animals which you have braved by refusing to sacrifice (to Caesar as god)?” Felicity replied, “Now it is I who am suffering what I am suffering. But there another will be in me who will suffer for me, because it is for him that I shall be suffering.” Felicity delivered a daughter who was adopted by another Christian woman.
Both Perpetua and Felicity were eventually martyred on March 7 along with three others.
Tertullian, a contemporary church leader in North Africa, wrote of their deaths. We ought to read these recent accounts no less that the older ones, so that new virtues also may testify that one and same Holy Spirit is always operating even until now, with God the Father Omnipotent, and His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord to whom belongs the glory and infinite power, forever and ever. Amen.
(Material is drawn from Sundays and Seasons, Treasury of Daily Prayer and How to Read Church History)