Perpetua and Felicitas Gored by a Bull in the Arena
The persecutions about this time extended to northern Africa, then a Roman province, and many persons were martyred. One of these was Perpetua, a married lady of about twenty-six years of age, with a young child at her breast. She was seized for being a Christian, and her father, who tenderly loved her, went to her prison during her confinement, and attempted to persuade her to renounce Christianity. Perpetua, however, resisted every entreaty. This resolution so much grieved her father, that he did not visit her again for some days, and in the meantime, she and some others who were shut up in the prison were baptized.
On being taken before the procounsul Minutius, Perpetua was commanded to sacrifice to the idols. Refusing to do this, she was put in a dark dungeon, and deprived of her child; but two of the keepers, Tertius and Pomponius, who had the care of persecuted Christians, allowed her some hours daily to breathe the fresh air, during which time she was allowed to nurse her baby. Seeing, however, that she would not long be permitted this privilege, she begged her mother to care for it. Her father at length paid her a second visit, and again entreated her to renounce Christianity. But, firm in her faith, his daughter refused to be persuaded, and said to him, "God's will must be done." He then, with an almost breaking heart, left her.
After a few more days of imprisonment, the Christians were summoned to appear before the judge. One by one they were exhorted to forsake their religion and deny their Lord, but they one and all remained firm. When it came to Perpetua's turn, suddenly her father appeared, carrying her child in his arms; he came near to the young mother, and pointing to the helpless little one, dependent on her for subsistence, entreated her to have compassion on her babe. Even the judge seemed to be moved, and added his persuasions to those of her father. "Spare the gray hairs of your father," he said; "spare your child. Offer sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor." But Perpetua answered, "I will not sacrifice." "Art thou a Christian?" demanded Hilarianus, the magistrate. "I am a Christian," was her answer.
Still her father continued his entreaties, until the judge, tired of his frequent interruptions, ordered him to be removed by the guards. He then passed sentence on the Christians; it was that they should be killed by wild beasts as a spectacle for the people on the next holiday.
While in prison, awaiting their doom, the jailers freely admitted friends of the prisoners to see them, and among these came the unhappy father of Perpetua, who sat silently in his dumb grief. All this was bitterly hard for Perpetua to bear; but God did not leave his servants comfortless. During those days of awful expectation they were cheered with many bright rays of consolation. Bright visions of heavenly glory came to many of them, and to Perpetua among the rest. At length the too swift, too tedious days wore away, and the dreaded time arrived.
An attempt was made to dress the Christians in the profane robes of the priests and priestesses of heathen idols. Against this they protested, saying that it was to avoid such superstitions that they were willing to lay down their lives. Their enemies could not but see the justice of this appeal, and they were therefore spared this last insult.
They came forward to the place of execution clad in the simplest robes, Perpetua singing a hymn of triumph. The men were to be torn to pieces by leopards and bears. Perpetua, and a young woman named Felicitas were hung up in nets, at first naked; but even the brutal assembly of spectators, who delighted in scenes of horror and blood, demanded that they should be allowed their garments.
When they were again put into the arena, a bull, goaded into mad fury, was let loose upon them. Felicitas fell mortally wounded. Perpetua was tossed, her loose robe rent, and her hair unbound. Drawing her robe over her once more, she hastened to the side of the dying Felicitas, and gently raised her from the ground. The savage bull made no further attack upon them, and they were dragged out of the arena. But soon the fierce multitude were heard clamoring that they should be brought back to receive their death-blow in public. Having kissed each other, they were led forth into the arena again, to be dispatched by the sword. Perpetua fell into the hands of a young gladiator, unused to such scenes, who tremblingly wounded her ineffectually more than once. When she saw his emotion, she guided his sword with her own hand to a vital part, and so expired.
Martyr in the Arena
The names of three young men who were also martyred upon this occasion were Satur, Saturnius, and Secundulus. When their turn came, they were led to the amphitheater. There, all had the courage to call for God's judgment upon their persecutors; after which they were made to run the gauntlet between the hunters, who had the care of the wild beasts. These men were drawn up in two ranks, and the prisoners ran between; as they passed they were lashed and bruised, and afterward given tot he tigers.
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