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St. Philomena, Virgin, Martyr

Feast Day — August 11

While searching for the graves of martyrs in the catacomb of St. Priscilla, workers discovered, on May 24, 1802, the tomb or loculus of a girl martyr. It was closed by three earthenware slabs or tiles on which a legend was written in red paint, which when rearranged became Pax tecum Filumena — “Peace be with thee, Filumena.” The name Filumena or Philomena (“Beloved,” in Greek) was taken to be the old name of the martyr whose skeleton was found inside the tomb. It was that of a girl about fourteen years and was entire except for the skull which was broken. The cement held a small vial with traces of what seemed to be blood and on the tomb were various symbols: two anchors, two arrows, a javelin, a flower or torch, and a palm. The tomb dated from the latter half of the 2nd Century.

For three years her sacred remains were preserved with other relics in Rome, and then in 1805 the pastor of Mugnano, near Naples, asked for the relics of the saint, hoping that through her intercession and by her presence in his church his parishioners would be restored to religious fervor. The relics were solemnly transferred to Mugnano and enshrined under an altar of the church. Soon numerous miracles occurred, and her fame spread through Italy, then to France and the rest of the world, bringing thousands to her shrine. Among these was Venerable Pauline Marie Jaricot, foundress of the Propagation of the Faith, who was miraculously cured of a hopeless illness and who brought St. Philomena to the notice of St. John Baptiste Vianney, the Curé of Ars. He in turn erected a shrine of the saint in his church and recommended her warmly to his clients. He called her his “dear little saint,” his “agent in Heaven,” and ascribed to her the miracles which others attributed to him.

In 1837, Pope Gregory XVI authorized the veneration of the saint and permitted the clergy of the Nola diocese to celebrate Mass in her honor, a privilege soon extended to other dioceses. In 1855, Pius IX approved a proper Mass and Office for her feast. This Office states that though “her life, her acts, and the kind of martyrdom she suffered have remained hidden,” St. Philomena was “a virgin and martyr,” who came forth from the darkness of the catacombs and the obscurity of the past to adorn the altars of the Church.