In her early twenties, the historical Perpetua wrote down her visions in a prison notebook up to the time of her martyrdom in 203 CE. A wife and mother, the Perpetua defied her pagan father by insisting on retaining her identity: “Father, do you see this vessel for instance lying here, waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is? So also I cannot call myself anything than what I am, a Christian.”[i] Her comrade, Felicitas, gave birth just before death, dripping milk from her breasts as she was killed. A witness described how Perpetua modestly covered her thigh with her “torn tunic”[ii] when she was attacked by a mad cow. Perpetua even helped the frightened Roman soldier commanded to kill her pull the sword to her own throat.
[i] Adapted from Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, Medieval Women’s Visionary Literature (NY: Oxford University Press, 1986), 70.
[ii] Petroff 76.