Saints Perpetua and Felicity were brave North African woman friends who were executed for their Christian faith in the third century. Some consider them lesbian saints or patrons of same-sex couples. Their feast day is March 7.
Perpetua and Felicity were arrested for being Christian, imprisoned together, and held onto each other in the last moments before they died together on March 7, 203.
Perpetua and Felicity are still revered both inside and outside the church. For example, they are named together in the Roman Catholic Canon of the Mass. They are often included in lists of LGBTQ saints because they demonstrate the power of love between two women.
The details of their imprisonment are known because Perpetua kept a journal, the first known written document by a woman in Christian history. In fact, her “Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions” was so revered in fourth-century North Africa that St. Augustine warned people not to treat it like the Bible.
People loved the story of the two women comforting each other in jail and giving each other the kiss of peace as they met their end in the amphitheater at Carthage (in contemporary Tunisia). They were exposed to a wild cow before being beheaded. The women are often depicted with a cow, and Perpetua is the patron saint of cattle.
Perpetua was a 22-year-old noblewoman and a nursing mother. Felicity, her slave, gave birth to a daughter while they were in prison. Although she was married, Perpetua’s husband is conspicuously absent from her diary.
Yale history professor John Boswell names Perpetua and Felicity as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church. (The others are male pairs Polyeuct and Nearchus and Sergius and Bacchus.) The love story of Felicity and Perpetua is told with historical detail in two books, “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” by Boswell and “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity in art
O’Neill is founder of the Living Circle, the interfaith LGBTQ spirituality center that commissioned the icon of the loving same-sex pair at the top of this article. It was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons.
The Lentz icon of Perpetua and Felicity is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. It is rare to see an icon about the love between women, especially two dark-skinned African women. The rich reds and heart-shaped double-halo make it look like a holy Valentine. “Perpetua and Felicity” is one of 40 icons featured in “Christ in the Margins,” an illustrated book by Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley.
Artist Angela Yarber paints a gloriously glowing icon of the women saints. “I first learned of Perpetua and Felicity on Kittredge Cherry’s blog, Jesus in Love. Now they join my other Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist,” Yarber writes at the Feminism and Religion blog. She is a painter, scholar, dancer, minister and LGBTQ-rights activist based in North Carolina. Nearly 50 color images of her folk feminist icons included in her book “Holy Women Icons.” Yarber depicts the pair of women saints with golden warmth and an African vibe. Her icon shows Perpetua and Felicity hugging as their hearts unite into a single large heart. It is inscribed with the words:
Comfort, love, and a holy kiss
Bound their hearts in
The moment of death,
Embracing so that all
A banner saying “patrons of same sex couples” hangs above Felicity and Perpetua in the colorful icon painted by Maria Cristina, an artist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She paints the two women holding hands in an elegant gesture. The skull of a long-horn cow, similar to paintings of famous New Mexico artist Georgia O’Keefe, adds a welcome bit of Southwestern flavor to the image while echoing the standard iconography of portraying the pair with a cow.
Perpetua and Felicitas share a single halo as “patrons of women’s rights” on elegant pendants from artist Shoushan of Artisan Courtyard. Perpetua and Felicity ear rings, candles and incense are also available.
|Felicity and Perpetua by Jim Ru|
Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint Felicity and Perpetua as a kissing couple. His version was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.
Irish artist St. George Hare, painted an erotic, romanticized vision of Perpetua and Felicity around 1890. His painting “The Victory of Faith” shows the women as an inter-racial couple sleeping together nude on a prison floor.
Links related to Perpetua and Felicity
“Eternal Bliss” – SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th (Queer Saints and Martyrs – and Others)
Suspect 3rd Century Women Put to Death in Arena: Ancient Hate Crime? (Unfinished Lives: Remembering LGBT hate crime victims)
Facebook discussion of this article at Believe Out Loud
To read this article in Spanish, to to:
Perpetua y Felicitas: santas patronas de parejas del mismo sexo (Santos Queer)
To read this article in Russian, go to:
Святые Перпетуя и Фелицитата: покровительницы однополых пар (nuntiare.org)
To read this article in Italian, go to:
Perpetua e Felicita, le sante patrone delle coppie omosessuali (gionata.org)
Top image credit:
“Saints Perpetua and Felicity” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, www.trinitystores.com
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.
Icons of Perpetua and Felicity and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores
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