Perpetua and her slave girl Felicitas including four others, were in jail in Carthage in North Africa. The charge against them: They were Christians.
It was around the year 200 AD The Roman emperor Septimus Severus was out against traitors. These Christians showed a dangerous lack of loyalty. They wouldn’t offer incense to the Roman gods even under threat of death.
Historians like Eusebius and Tertullian who lived centuries later helped this ladies to be known.
Perpetua began writing her diary when she and Felicity, along with three others, were arrested for apostasy.
Perpetua is probably the first known female chronicler of Christianity. She was about 22 years old and had recently given birth to a son, and likely new Christian, too–she was actually baptized while in prison. Felicitas, her slave girl, was like a sister to her. And she too was a new mother, giving birth shortly after her arrest.
Three times Perpetua’s father was allowed in to beg her to change her mind. No decent daughter in this patriarchal society would deny her father’s pleas and cause him public disgrace.
The resolve of the two young women and their friends was unshakable. To deny Christ was worse than death. To follow Him was their first loyalty, no matter what the cost. Shortly before her trial, Perpetua received a series of visions from the Lord, reassuring her of his strength and presence.
When the fatal day came, Perpetua and Felicitas left the prison for the arena “joyfully as though they were on their way to heaven,” as the eyewitness account puts it. Before a raging crowd, the Christians were thrown to the wild beasts. A mad heifer charged the women and tossed them, but Perpetua rose and helped Felicitas to her feet. She was ready, even eager, to die for the Lord.
As the Catholic apologist site, New Advent, puts it: “The sufferings of the prison life, the attempts of Perpetua’s father to induce her to apostatize, the vicissitudes of the martyrs before their execution, the visions of Saturus and Perpetua in their dungeons, were all faithfully committed to writing by the last two.”
For their faith, the two were sentenced to death in the most cruel way. They were let into an arena, the scene of ancient bloodsport and along with others, including actual criminals, Perpetua and Felicity had wild animals released against them to battle.
The two women are now considered martyrs of the Catholic church and in commemoration of their faith, the church celebrates a feast every March 7.