Saints of the Day – Felicity of Rome

the painting 'The Martyrdom of Saint Felicity and Her Seven Sons'; Francesco Coghetti, 19th century; parish church in Ranica, Bergamo, Italy; photographed on 15 December 2007 by Ago76; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

(also known as Felicitas)

Died 165. What would you say if tomorrow you read in the newspaper that your next-door neighbor urged her seven sons to surrender to a killer? For their faith? Would you think she was a fanatic? Or, would you applaud her bravery? As someone once asked me, would you be willing to raise your own children to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Church? Would you be willing to lay your own life on the line?

It’s sometimes easy to read the lives of the saints and think that they are simply fantasy figures – not flesh and blood, not real people who shed real tears, who experienced a moment of fear or vacillation, who felt real pain. But what if it were you or your neighbor?

We read the Scriptures and hear the homilies that our lives should be so absorbed in God that we would gladly do whatever He would require. Yet, so often, we cannot even bear the pricks of another’s words.

I suppose that I first became interested in Saint Felicity because of the similarity between her story and that of the mother of the Maccabees (2 Maccabees 7) – a story that affected me viscerally when I first read it to the assembly, unable to stop my tears.

While we know little about the real Felicity and her seven sons, her legend is large enough to call us to question the depth of our own faith. There was indeed a widow named Felicity martyred in Rome on November 23 in an unknown year and buried in the cemetery of Maximus on the Salarian Way.

The traditional account asserts that Felicity was a rich widow with seven sons and devoted herself to charitable work. She was so effective in proselytizing that the pagan priests lodged a complaint against her with Emperor Marcus Antonius Pius, who caused her to be arraigned before Publius, the prefect of Rome. He used various pleas and threats in an unsuccessful attempt to get her to worship the pagan gods and was equally unsuccessful with her seven sons who followed their mother’s example.

He remanded the case to the Emperor, who ordered them all executed (or they were then brought before four different judges and sentenced to die in differing ways). Felicity was beheaded with Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial; Januarius was scourged to death; Felix and Philip were beaten to death with clubs; and Silvanus was drowned in the Tiber.

So, what would you do in Saint Felicity’s shoes? Let’s all pray to God that we will be able to withstand the trial.

While this is a legend, in fact, there are eight martyrs by these names. Seven men with these names all died and are commemorated on July 10, and were buried in four Roman cemeteries. One of them, Silvanus, is even buried near Felicity’s tomb. The proximity probably gave rise to the legend that they were brothers (the so- called Seven Brothers) and her sons, but there is no evidence that the eight were related by any blood other than the blood of martyrs.

It is likely that this Felicity, rather than the one associated with Perpetua, is the saint named in the Canon of the Mass. It is also likely that Saint Felicity and Saint Symphorosa are the same person (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).

In art this Felicity is enthroned in religious habit or widow’s weeds, holding a palm, surrounded by her seven sons, who also hold palms. Sometimes she is shown (1) with a palm, book and four children at her feet; (2) with Saint Andrew Apostle; or (3) with a sword by her. She is invoked by women who pray for sons (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 August 2020. Web. 2 December 2020. <>