Today is the feast of Saint Philomena, a third-century virgin and martyr. Her intercession in heaven is very powerful. Indeed, she was canonized because of miracles through her intercession, rather than information about her life. The few details that Catholics have about her life and martyrdom came from private revelations in the 1800’s. Her story is inspiring for Catholic’s today even though this young girl lived and died centuries ago.

Saint Philomena was born into the royal family of a small city-state in Greece. Her parents gave her the name Filumena at baptism, which translates to “Daughter of Light.” Her parents must have instilled in her a great love of God from an early age, for before she reached her teens, she consecrated her virginity to Christ. When she was about 13, her family went to Rome to try and avert an impending war threatened by the Roman emperor, Diocletian. The emperor was so impressed by Philomena’s beauty that he agreed to negotiate peace, if she would become his wife. She refused him and the emperor, a notorious persecutor of Christians, was infuriated. He ordered her thrown into prison. When the filth and terror did not break her resolution to remain a virgin, he ordered her flogged. She was brought back into prison almost dead but was healed by God overnight. The emperor became even more determined to marry her and was again refused by Philomena. He sentenced her to be drowned. Angels brought her up out of the waters and set her on the riverbank, completely dry. Many of the spectators converted on the spot. Diocletian, however, was not moved and told his archers to shoot her. The arrows would not leave the bows, causing more conversions to the faith. Diocletian had the arrows heated until they were red-hot, then told the archers to try again. When they fired their bows, the arrows flew towards the courageous martyr, then reversed their direction and flew towards the archers. In a fit of fury, Diocletian ordered the little saint beheaded and her soul was taken to Heaven. 

Nothing else was heard of this martyr until 1802. Workers digging in the ancient catacombs of St. Priscilla found an unrecorded grave. Work was halted and the Vatican experts were called in. The grave was sealed with three tiles set side-by-side. There were several symbols engraved on them which told the observers many things about this formerly unknown saint. There was a palm branch (which represents martyrdom), lilies (which represent purity or virginity), arrows, and an anchor. The inscription on the tiles read PAX TECUM FILUMENA, which translates to “Peace be with you, Philomena.” Several years later, in private revelations, the story of Philomena’s life and martyrdom were made known to several of the faithful.

Saint Philomena is a powerful intercessor in heaven and God has worked many striking miracles through her. The healing of Venerable Pauline Jaricot is one of the best-known, and it was highly publicized in the 1800’s. Saint John Vianney gave her credit for all miracles that happened in Ars, France, while he was alive. Healings and stories of grace abound with this young saint. She is the patroness of youth and purity and is one of the patrons of this blog, Deus Vult.

Saint Philomena, pray for us!