Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Woman in History - Perpetua

The topic for the 103rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is "Women's History" in conjunction with National Women's History Month. During the last month, since Jasia announced this topic, I have struggled with just what to write about.

I could certainly write about either of my two grandmothers who I knew well but I have written much about them already on this blog. I could write about any of my four great-grandmothers, one of whom I knew well, but I have also written about them in the past. While they were all great women in their own right, and they were certainly all part of the person that I have become, I could not get a strong vibe to devote this post to one of them.

I decided instead to write about a woman from history. Way back in history to be exact and somebody who was actually born in AD 181. While I would like to claim her in my heritage, I would be one very lucky genealogist if I could trace my family back that far. I will say, though, that her story qualifies her for recognition during National Women's History Month.

No matter your religious preference or non-preference, the Christian noblewomen, Perpetua's story should touch your heart and give you reason for pause.

Perpetua was born AD 181 in Tunis (Tunisia). She was a Christian martyr who wrote "The Passion of Saints" which is a journal recounting her imprisonment and trial and which was continued after her death as a martyr. Both her martyrdom and its account have been highly revered by ancient and modern Christians. This writing of "The Passion of Saints" is one of the rare surviving documents written by a woman in the ancient world.

In Carthage in the 2nd century there was a vibrant Christian community including this young mother, Perpetua, who was the daughter of a prosperous provincial family. Sometime after
AD 201, the Roman emperor of the time forbade conversion to Christianity or Judaism and in AD 203 the governor of Carthage enforced this edict. Perpetua, who was nursing a newborn son, along with four of her companions were arrested. In clear violation of the emperor's edict, all five people were preparing for baptism. They were tried, refused to renounce their faith and were condemned to death in the arena.

At this time, Perpetua began her diary with an account of her imprisonment and continued it with descriptions of her trial and her father's impassioned, but fruitless plea, for her to renounce her Christian identity.

On the evening before her scheduled death, Perpetua gave her diary to another Christian, who then continued the story of the martyrdom of Perpetua and her fellow Christians. He described how one of Perpetua’s companions—the pregnant slave Felicity—gave birth while in prison; he also wrote of the young Christians’ bravery in the arena when they were attacked by wild beasts and, finally, of Perpetua’s voluntary acceptance of death by the sword.

Perpetua’s diary was read annually in Carthage’s churches for centuries. It was so influential that it was praised by Christians and non-Christians alike and 200 years later sermons were still being written commenting on the young martyr’s words. Perpetua’s text, with its powerful, personal voice, continues to draw readers.

Her death on the 7th of March in AD 203 and the later granting of sainthood has assured that her memory continues to be honored.

During Women's History Month it is appropriate that this Christian Saint should be remembered for her courage, commitment to her faith and the lasting memorial she has left for women everywhere.

I will admit that I had never heard of Perpetua before this evening though I was raised in the Lutheran faith and attended 12 years of parochial school. I heard of her tonight at a church meeting where the minister gave a talk on a Woman Christian saint (in honor of Women's History Month) who is honored by the Catholic church, Lutheran church as well as in other denominations. His presentation on Perpetua touched me and gave me the vibe I was looking for to write this post.

How appropriate that my minister would choose to speak in honor of Women's History Month at the same time that I was searching for something to write on this very event!


Jasia said...

Wow, what a terrific article, Cheryl. I'd never heard of Perpetua either. She is most definitely a lady to honor and remember for Women's History Month! Thanks for participating in the COG!

Kristin said...

And very timely with the events going on in Tunisia and other countries in that region today.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the comment, Jasia. I found this story very touching and reading Perpetua's diary was quite amazing.

Cheryl said...

You are right, Kristin, about the atmosphere in that region of the world. A very volatile place for sure.

Nancy said...

Perpetua is new to me. I think reading her journal would be intresting. Thanks for introducing her here in the CoG.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Nancy. I, too, was intrigued by the story of Perpetua.

Nolichucky Roots said...

How incredibly beautiful to think that her words have survived millennia. A wonderful choice and contribution. Thank you!

Cheryl said...

NR-Thanks for your comments.