Saint Philomena

For others with the same name, see Philomena (given name).
For the British film, see Philomena (film).
Saint Philomena
Virgin and Martyr
Born c. (291-01-10)January 10, 291 (?)
Corfu, Greece (?)
Died c. August 10, 304(304-08-10) (aged 13) (?)
Rome, Italy
Honored in some local calendars of the Catholic Church from 13 January 1837 until 14 February 1961[1]
Canonized 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI?[2]
Major shrine Church of Our Lady of Grace in Mugnano del Cardinale
Feast 11 August
Attributes Youth, palm of martyrdom, flower crown, orange or white robes, palm, arrows, anchor, sometimes a partially slit throat
Patronage Children, youth, babies, infants, priests, lost causes, sterility, virgins, Children of Mary, The Universal Living Rosary Association

Saint Philomena was, as believed by her devotees within the Catholic Church, a young virgin martyr whose remains were discovered in 1802 in the Catacombs of Priscilla. Three tiles enclosing the tomb bore an inscription that was taken to indicate that her name (in the Latin of the inscription) was Filumena, the English form of which is Philomena.

The remains were removed to Mugnano del Cardinale in 1805 and became the focus of widespread devotion, with several miracles credited to the saint's intercession, including the healing of Venerable Pauline Jaricot in 1835, which received wide publicity. Saint John Vianney attributed to her intercession the extraordinary cures that others attributed to himself.

In 1833 a Neapolitan nun reported that in a vision Saint Philomena had revealed that she was a Greek princess martyred at 13 years of age by Diocletian, who was Roman Emperor from 284 to 305.

From 1837 to 1961 celebration of her liturgical feast was approved for some places, but was never included in the General Roman Calendar for universal use. The 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal included a mention of her, under 11 August, in the section headed Missae pro aliquibus locis (Masses for some places), with an indication that the Mass to be used in those places was one from the common of a Virgin Martyr, without any collect proper to the saint.[3]

On 14 February 1961, the Holy See ordered that the name of Saint Philomena be removed from all liturgical calendars that mentioned her.[1] Accordingly, the 1962 Roman Missal, the edition whose continued use as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is authorized by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, also has no mention of her.[4]

The shrine of her relics in Mugnano del Cardinale continues to be visited by pilgrimages from many countries, an Archconfraternity in her honour exists, as does popular devotion in various places around the world.

Discovery of the remains

On 24 May 1802 in the Catacombs of Priscilla on the Via Salaria Nova an inscribed loculus (space hollowed out of the rock) was found, and on the following day it was carefully examined and opened. The loculus was closed with three terra cotta tiles, on which was the following inscription: lumena paxte cumfi. It was and is generally accepted that the tiles were in a wrong order and that the inscription originally read, with the leftmost tile placed on the right: pax tecum Filumena (i.e."Peace with you, Philomena"). Within the loculus was found the skeleton of a female between thirteen and fifteen years old. Embedded in the cement was a small glass phial with vestiges of what was taken to be blood. In accordance with the assumptions of the time, the remains were taken to be those of a virgin martyr named Philomena.[5]

The belief that such vials were signs of the grave of a martyr was still held in 1863, when a 10 December decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites confirmed a decree of 10 April 1668. But this view has been rejected in practice since the investigations of Giovanni Battista De Rossi (1822–1894).[6]

In 1805, Canon Francesco De Lucia requested relics for a new altar, and on 8 June[7] obtained the remains discovered in May 1802 (reduced to dust and fragments)[8] for his church in Mugnano del Cardinale, where they arrived on 11 August, after being taken from Rome to Naples on 1 July.[7][9]

In 1827, Pope Leo XII gave to the church in Mugnano del Cardinale the three inscribed terra cotta slabs that had been taken from the tomb.[6]

Spread of devotion

In his Relazione istorica della traslazione del sagro corpo di s. Filomena da Roma a Mugnano del Cardinale, written in 1833,[10] Canon De Lucia recounted that wonders accompanied the arrival of the relics in his church, among them a statue that sweated some liquid continuously for three days.[9]

A miracle accepted as proved in the same year was the multiplication of the bone dust of the saint, which provided for hundreds of reliquaries without the original amount experiencing any decrease in quantity.[7]

Devotion includes the wearing of the "Cord of Philomena", a red and white cord, which had a number of indulgences attached to it, including a plenary indulgence on the day on which the cord was worn for the first time, indulgences that were not renewed in Indulgentiarum doctrina, the 1967 general revision of the discipline concerning them.[11] There was or is also the chaplet of Saint Philomena, with three white beads in honour of the Blessed Trinity and thirteen red beads in honour of the thirteen years of the saint's life.[12]

Reported life of the Saint

On 21 December 1833, the Holy Office declared that there was nothing contrary to the Catholic faith in the revelations that Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù (1799–1875), a Dominican tertiary from Naples, claimed to have received from the Saint herself.[9]

According to Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù, Saint Philomena told her she was the daughter of a king in Greece who, with his wife, had converted to Christianity. At the age of about 13 she took a vow of consecrated virginity. When the Emperor Diocletian threatened to make war on her father, her father went with his family to Rome to ask for peace. The Emperor fell in love with the young Philomena and, when she refused to be his wife, subjected her to a series of torments: scourging, from whose effects two angels cured her; drowning with an anchor attached to her (two angels cut the rope and raised her to the river bank); being shot with arrows, (on the first occasion her wounds were healed; on the second, the arrows turned aside; and on the third, they returned and killed six of the archers, after which, several of the others became Christians). Finally the Emperor had her decapitated. The story goes that the decapitation occurred on a Friday at three in the afternoon, as with the death of Jesus. The two anchors, three arrows, the palm and the ivy leaf on the tiles found in the tomb were interpreted as symbols of her martyrdom.[9]

In these visions, Saint Philomena also revealed that her birthday was 10 January,[9] that her martyrdom occurred on 10 August (the date also of the arrival of her relics in Mugnano del Cardinale),[6] and that her name "Filumena" meant "daughter of light". (It is usually taken to be derived from a Greek word meaning "beloved".)[6]

History of veneration

On 13 January 1837, in the aftermath of the cure of Venerable Pauline Jaricot, Pope Gregory XVI authorized liturgical celebration of Philomena on 11 August[9] or, according to another source, originally on 9 September,[6] first in the Diocese of Nola (to which Mugnano del Cardinale belongs), and soon in several other dioceses in Italy.

On 31 January 1855, Pope Pius IX approved a proper Mass and office dedicated to St Philomena with confirmation of the decree Etsi Decimo (Rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, Papal Confirmation of Promotor of the Faith Brief Etsi decimo as submitted by Rev. Andrea Fratini, 31 January 1855).

In August 1876, the first issue of Messenger of Saint Philomena was published in Paris, France. On 6 October 1876, Father Louis Petit founded the Confraternity of Saint Philomena in Paris. In November 1886, the Confraternity was raised to the rank of Archconfraternity by Pope Leo XIII. On 21 May 1912, Pope Pius X raised it to the rank of Universal Archconfraternity with the Apostolic Brief Pias Fidelium Societates.[13][14]

The name of this Philomena was not included in the Roman Martyrology, the official list of saints recognized by the Catholic Church and in which the saints are included immediately upon canonization.[15] In the 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal Philomena is mentioned, under 11 August (with an indication that the Mass for her feastday was to be taken entirely from the common, so that there was no part, not even the collect, that was proper to her) in the section headed "Masses for some places", i.e. only those places for which it had been specially authorized.[3]

On 14 February 1961, the Holy See ordered that the name of Saint Philomena be removed from all liturgical calendars that mentioned her.[1] This order was given as part of an instruction on the application to local calendars of the principles enunciated in the 1960 Code of Rubrics, which had already been applied to the General Roman Calendar. Section 33[1] of this document ordered the removal from local calendars of fourteen named feasts, but allowed them to be retained in places that had a special link with the feast. It then added: "However, the feast of Saint Philomena Virgin and Martyr (11 August) is to be expunged from any calendar whatever."[16] This action did not call into question her existence or sainthood, nor prohibit popular devotion to Saint Philomena. No suspension or prohibition of the Archconfraternity was issued.[17]

Veneration by other saints

  • The spread of devotion to her in France as well as in Italy was helped when Saint John Vianney built a shrine in her honour and referred to her often, attributing to her the miracles that others attributed to himself.[6]
  • Another help was the cure of the near-dying Venerable Pauline Jaricot, founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, at Philomena's shrine on 10 August 1835.[6][9]
  • St. Damian of Molokai, who had strong devotion to St. Philomena, named his church at Kalawao in honor of her.[18]
  • Many other Saints were devoted to St. Philomena, e.g., St. Peter Julian Eymard, St. Peter Chanel, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Madelaine Sophie Barat, St. Euphrasier Pelletier, St. John Neumann, and Bl. Anna Maria Taigi.[19]


The Holy See's instruction to remove the name of Philomena even from local calendars followed the raising of questions by certain scholars, whose interest had been drawn to the phenomenon more especially in connection with the revelations of Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù.[9] The questions were raised in particular by Orazio Marucchi, whose conclusions won the support of Johann Peter Kirsch, an archaeologist and ecclesiastical historian who is the author of the article on Philomena in the Catholic Encyclopedia,[6] an article that has won the support of the historian William Carroll;[20] but according to Mark Miravalle the conclusions have been rejected by others.[21]

The inscription on the three tiles that had provided the Latin name "Filumena" ("Philomena" in English) belonged to the middle or second half of the second century,[6] while the body that had been found was of the fourth century, when the persecutions of Christians had ended.[9] Not only the name but also the leaf, the two anchors and the palm that decorated the three tiles, and which had been believed to indicate that Filumena was a martyr (though the necessary connection between these symbols and martyrdom has been denied), had no relation to the person whose remains were found.[6] The disarrangement of the tiles was something fourth-century sextons regularly did when re-using materials already engraved, with the aim of indicating that it was not the same person who was now buried in the place.

The rector of the shrine in Mugnano del Cardinale disputes these findings. After reporting the decision of the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1961 as resulting from the studies of scholars, the Italian-language Enciclopedia dei Santi says that there still remain the miracles that occurred and the official recognition that the Church gave in the nineteenth century, the personal devotion to Saint Philomena of popes and people who were later canonized, and the widespread general devotion that still persists, particularly at Mugnano del Cardinale in the Diocese of Nola, where pilgrims from all over the world arrive continually, giving a display of intense popular devotion.[9]

For many, the 1961 withdrawal of Pope Gregory XVI's 1837 authorization of liturgical veneration of Saint Philomena in a limited number of places (which was not an official declaration that she never existed nor that she is not a saint) merely means that the situation has returned to that existing before 1837, when in many places there was fervent devotion to her, accompanied only by vague speculation about the circumstances of her life and death or by belief in the revelations of the Neapolitan nun. The removal of an individual from the calendar does not necessarily indicate that he or she is not a saint.

The website of "The National Shrine of Saint Philomena, Miami, Florida" sees "the action taken in 1960 as the work of the devil in order to deprive the people of God of a most powerful Intercessor, particularly in the areas of purity and faith at a time when these virtues were so much being challenged as they continue to be up until now!"[22]


In his book It Is Time to Meet St Philomena, Mark Miravalle says that Pope Gregory XVI "liturgically canonized Philomena, in an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium".[23] This contrasts with the usual view that canonization is an exercise of infallible magisterium declaring a truth that must be "definitively held".[24][25][26]

The 1856 edition published some twenty years after the 1837 decree.

In 1961 two Catholic periodicals, America and Commonweal, published articles asserting that St. Philomena was "never canonized." [29] [30]

Of course, lack of canonization does not mean lack of sainthood. Canonization was introduced only after many centuries of the Church's existence, and for that reason none of the saints mentioned in the Roman Rite Canon of the Mass were ever canonized.

See also

Saints portal

Places dedicated to St. Philomena:



  • Sister Marie Helene Mohr, S.C., Saint Philomena, Powerful with God, Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, 1988.
  • "Philomena," in David Hugh Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, (Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0-19-860949-3
  • Dr ISBN 1-57918-228-3 (also on Internet: see below)
  • Cecily Hallack. Saint Philomena : Virgin martyr and wonder worker. Dublin, Ireland; Anthonian Press, 1936

External links

  • (New York 1911)
  • , Fifth Revised Edition (Oxford University Press 2011 ISBN 978-0-19959660-7)
  • , 2002, Retrieved March 12, 2013
  • St. Philomena the Wonderworker by Father Paul O’Sullivan, O.P. (E.D.M)
  • Litany to Saint Philomena
  • Catholic Tradition Saint Philomena
  • List of Places Devoted to Saint Philomena