Here are 7 Inspiring Martyred Women You Should Know
Each year on solemnities, we hear the recitation of some of the greatest saints known throughout Church history. The first saint mentioned in the Roman Canon is, of course, the Blessed Mother, followed by the twelve Apostles. The second group of saints totals twelve, as well, because “the number twelve is symbolical of the universality of the Church of Christ, which extends to the four quarters of the world, in the unity of faith in the triune God.”
According to tradition, “martyrdom of blood is the characteristic trait of the saints of the first four centuries,” which is why these specific women were selected to be honored and remembered in the Roman Canon. Because they are named in the prayers after the Consecration, included with “to us also, Thy sinful servants,” we remember the severity of our sinfulness in light of God’s abundant mercy.
All Saints Day opens the month of November, that we may begin by celebrating those who have triumphed over the devil, the flesh, and the world in cooperation with God’s grace. We remember them, and the entire communion of saints and angels, that we may be uplifted and inspired to go forth and live our own spiritual journey toward sanctification.
It’s fitting that we enter into the early days of November honoring the saints, as well as commemorating the Holy Souls in Purgatory because in a few short weeks, we will enter into the liturgical season of Advent – a time of waiting, anticipation, and renewal of hope in the midst of darkness.
These seven women martyrs exemplify the epitome of sainthood: they were young, courageous, and undaunted by the gruesome deaths laid before them. All they kept before them, and in their hearts, was Jesus and His love. Out of love for Him, then, they chose to remain pure and honor Him as Truth with their lives and their deaths. May we do likewise as we traverse through the culture of death, darkness, and despair that pervades our modern world.
Ss. Felicity and Perpetua
Felicity and Perpetua were among several other newly baptized Christians during the third-century rule of Septimus Severus. He forbade anyone to become Christian, but these brave women, along with their companions, did not apostasize even as they faced brutal martyrdom. Perpetua was a noblewoman whose mother, but not father, had converted to Catholicism. Felicity was a pregnant slave woman who accompanied Perpetua and their companions.
The women were imprisoned together and tormented with what might happen to their children – Perpetua’s daughter and Felicity’s child in utero. Fortunately, Felicity gave birth two days before the martyrs faced being eaten in the arena by wild animals, and her daughter was adopted by a Christian. The wounded women embraced before being killed by the sword. Their feast day is March 7.
Another heroic martyr of the third century, Agatha was persecuted for her faith under the rule of Decius. The details of her martyrdom are uncertain, but she is venerated as one of the “celebrated Christian virgins and martyrs” noted in Venantius Fortunatus’ poetry of the sixth century. Her feast day is February 5.
Lucy is honored in both Latin and Greek Rites, likely because her mother was Greek and her father a Roman. She was born to nobility and was strikingly beautiful. However, she chose the path of consecrated virginity at a young age, dedicating herself as the betrothed of Christ. Interestingly, Lucy’s mother, though at first unhappy with her decision to remain a virgin, visited the execution site of St. Agatha, which had become a place of pilgrimage for devotees. She was cured of her hemorrhaging, and Lucy was permitted to live the life of poverty and chastity that she so earnestly desired.
Unfortunately, Lucy had already been betrothed to a greedy young man who was envious of her holiness and chose to denounce her to the persecution of Diocletian. He, in turn, forced her into prostitution, which was unsuccessful, since no one could move Lucy to the place of ill repute. She was protected by an unseen force.
Her persecutors attempted to burn her, but she was also protected from the fire by God’s holy army. The final attempt was to kill her by sword, which granted Lucy her wish of perpetual virginity and sainthood. Her feast day is December 13.
Agnes is one of the most highly esteemed virgin martyrs in all of Church history. There are no recorded facts about the details of her martyrdom, but accounts by St. Ambrose reveal that she was about twelve when she died; St. Augustine of Hippo wrote that she was thirteen. Either way, this fourth-century martyr courageously chose to retain her innocence and purity of heart all the way to her death out of love for God. She is venerated on January 21.
The remarkable story of Cecilia was transmitted in about the fifth century and translated from Greek. According to these sources, Cecilia was born to a senatorial family and was baptized a Christian in infancy. She was betrothed to a wealthy pagan gentleman, but on their wedding night, Cecilia confessed to him that an angel guarded her body and so he must not take her virginity.
When her new husband requested to meet this angel, Cecilia instructed him to go to then-Bishop Urbanus on the Via Appia. He agreed and was instantly baptized a Christian. Upon his return, it is said that the angel appeared to them and crowned them with roses and lilies.
A Roman prefect, however, condemned Cecilia’s husband to death after discovering he was living as a Christian. Shortly thereafter, Cecilia was imprisoned and sentenced to death in her own home. She was protected from suffocation, only to be eventually beheaded. Her feast day is November 22.
Honored in both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, St. Anastasia was martyred under the persecution of Diocletian. A native of modern-day Serbia, she was thought to be of patrician rank and may have studied under St. Chrysogonus. Though not recognized by Rome until the fifth century, St. Anastasia was purported to have been martyred on Christmas Day. She is remembered on December 22 in the Orthodox church and December 26 in the Coptic church.