On 25 May, 1802, during the quest for the graves of Roman martyrs in the Catacomb of Priscilla, a tomb was discovered and opened; as it contained a glass vessel it was assumed to be the grave of a martyr. The view, then erroneously entertained in Rome, that the presence of such vessels (supposed to have contained the martyr's blood) in a grave was a symbol of martyrdom, has been rejected in practice since the investigations of De Rossi (cf. Leclercq in "Dict. d.archéol. chrét. et de liturg.", s.v. Ampoules de sang). The remains found in the above-mentioned tomb were shown to be those of a young maiden, and, as the name Filumena was discovered on the earthenware slabs closing the grave, it was assumed that they were those of a virgin martyr named Philumena. On 8 June, 1805, the relics were translated to the church of Mungano, Diocese of Nola (near Naples), and enshrined under one of its altars. In 1827 Leo XII presented the church with the three earthenware tiles, with the inscription, which may be seen in the church even today. On the basis of alleged revelations to a nun in Naples, and of an entirely fanciful and indefensible explanation of the allegorical paintings, which were found on the slabs beside the inscription, a canon of the church in Mugnano, named Di Lucia, composed a purely fictitious and romantic account of the supposed martyrdom of St. Philomena, who is not mentioned in any of the ancient sources. In consequence of the wonderful favours received in answer to prayer before the relics of the saint at Mugnano, devotion to them spread rapidly, and, after instituting investigations into the question, Gregory XVI appointed a special feast to be held on 9 September, "in honorem s. Philumenae virginis et martyris" (cf. the lessons of this feast in the Roman Breviary). The earthenware plates were fixed in front of the grave as follows: LUMENA PAX TECUM FI. The plates were evidently inserted in the wrong order, and the inscription should doubtless read PAX TECUM FILUMENA. The letters are painted on the plates with red paint, and the inscription belongs to the primitive class of epigraphical memorials in the Catacomb of Priscilla, thus, dating from about the middle or second half of the second century. The disarrangement of the inscription proves that it must have been completed before the plates were put into position, although in the numerous other examples of this kind in the same catacomb the inscription was added only after the grave had been closed. Consequently, since the disarrangement of the plates can scarcely be explained as arising from an error, Marucchi seems justified in concluding that the inscription and plates originally belonged to an earlier grave, and were later employed (now in the wrong order) to close another. Apart from the letters, the plates contain three arrows, either as a decoration or a punctuation, a leaf as decoration, two anchors, and a palm as the well-known Christian symbols. Neither these signs nor the glass vessel discovered in the grave can be regarded as a proof of martyrdom.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII
Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911, Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Saint Philomena's history can only be related as it has been revealed by the Saint herself to three persons. These revelations were made known in answer to the prayers of many of her clients, who had asked the Saint to let them know who she was, and how she met her martydom.
According to these revelations St. Philomena was the daughter of a king of a small Grecian State. Her parents longed for a child, but all their sacrifices and prayers to their pagan gods were of no avail. A Roman doctor, seeing their distress, told them that if they embraced the Christian religion their prayers would be answered. Then, having studied our Holy Faith, they had the grace given them to embrace it, and in the following year a daughter was born to them, whom they named "Philomena" which means "Daughter of Light." This child made her First Communion when she was five years old, and at the age of eleven consecrated herself to Jesus Christ, to whom she had given the love of her innocent heart, by a vow of Chastity.
She was a beautiful girl, and idolized by her parents, who lavished every affection upon her. When Philomena had reached her thirteenth year, the Emperor of Rome threatened to declare an unjust war on their State. Hoping to make peace, her father went to Rome to see the Emperor, and as he could not bear his daughter out of his sight, he took her and the Queen with him.
When the Emperor Diocletian beheld the beautiful Princess, who with her mother was present at the interview between him and her father, he told the king not to trouble himself any further, as he would place all the forces of the Empire at his disposal on condition that he give him the hand of his fair daughter in marriage.
Only too pleased to hear of a way out of their trouble, Philomena's parents gladly accepted this offer, but the child herself refused on account of the vow she had made more than a year previously. Her parents did all in their power to persuade her to fall in with their wishes, but Philomena, assisted by her Divine Spouse, Who gave her the necessary strength, remained faithful to her resolution.
On hearing her decision the Emperor, thinking it was only a ruse on her father's part to break faith with him, desired that Philomena should be brought to him, that he might see what he could do to persuade her.
When the king, on going to fetch his daughter to take her to the Palace, found that her determination was as strong as ever, he and his wife fell down at her feet, begging her to change her mind, saying: "O, daughter, have pity on your parents. Have pity on your country. Have pity on our Kingdom." To which she replied: "My country and my Kingdom are Heaven. God and my Virginity must take precedence of all else."
Still, the Emperor's orders had to be obeyed, so they presented themselves at the Palace, where Diocletian did all in his power to persuade the young Princess to marry him, by the means of promises, entreaties, caresses, threats and dazzling offers, but all in vain. She told him she did not fear him. Then, overcome by anger, he ordered her to be bound hand and foot with heavy chains and thrown into the dungeon under the Imperial Palace, hoping by this means to compel her to marry him.
he Emperor visited her every day and repeated his persuasions. All she was allowed during her imprisonment was a little bread and water, the chains being removed while she partook of this simple repast.
For thirty-seven days these sufferings lasted, during which time this saintly child recommended herself continually to Jesus and His Most Holy Mother. On the thirty-seventh day Our Lady appeared to her bearing her Divine Son in her arms and surrounded by a brilliant light, and told her that she would remain three more days in the dungeon and then, on the fortieth day of her imprisonment, she would leave that place of sorrow.
Philomena was overjoyed at hearing this but the Blessed Mother's next words created a new fear in her heart, and she felt as if she were going through all the agony of dying, for she was told that when she left there she would undergo cruel torture for the love of Jesus Christ. Then the Queen of Heaven went on speaking words of comfort to the child, telling her that when the moment of trial came she would receive strength and grace. "Besides your Angel Guardian," said Our Lady, "you will have at your side the Archangel Gabriel. whose name signifies 'The Strength of the Lord.' When I was on earth, he was my protector. I will now send him to her who is my beloved daughter." After thes'e reassuring words the vision disappeared, leaving a refreshing perfume lingering in the dungeon. Three days later, as the Mother of God had foretold, Philomena's tortures began; the Emperor ordered her to be tied to a pillar and cruelly scourged; then, seeing that she still remained faithful to her resolution, he had her thrown back into prison, there to die in agony. Philomena was looking forward to dying, so that she might rest in the bosom of her heavenly Spouse, but God sent two angels to comfort her, who, pouring heavenly balms on her terrible wounds, completely restored her to health. On hearing the news of her recovery the next morning, the Emperor was more than astonished. He then did all he could again to persuade her to give herself to him, saying that she owed her cure to Jupiter, who destined her for an imperial diadem. But being inspired by the Holy Ghost, Philomena once more resisted all his persuasions and rejected his offer. Then, more furious than ever, her persecutor ordered an iron anchor to be tied round her neck, and commanded that she should be thrown into the River Tiber, to be drowned and lost to sight; but once again the angels were sent to assist her, who, cutting the cord, carried her back to the bank without a drop of water having touched her clothes, much to the astonishment and admiration of the bystanders, several of whom were converted on seeing this miracle.
The Emperor, more blind and obstinate than Pharaoh, commanded that she should be dragged through Rome as a sorceress and shot with arrows. This done, she was for the second time cast dying into her prison cell, but instead of death, God sent her a health-giving sleep from which she awoke more beautiful than ever. Mad with rage, the tyrant ordered the torture to be repeated until death should claim her, but the arrows refused to leave tile bows of the archers. Diocletian, declaring her to be a witch, then ordered the arrows to be heated red-hot, but God once more worked a miracle for His little champion, and turned the arrows back on the executioners, a number of whom were killed. The last miracle brought about more conversions, and fearing still more serious consequences, the wicked Emperor ordered the child-martyr to be quickly beheaded. So at three o'clock on that Friday afternoon, August 10th, Philomena's soul rose glorious and triumphant into Heaven, where she received her reward, i.e., the Crown of Virginity, which she had won by so many victories.
The Holy See does not guarantee the authenticity of this revelation. But that it was made known to three persons, living far apart, and entirely unknown to each other, is indeed a strange coincidence. Also, it agrees with the emblems of martyrdom depicted on the tombstone of the Saint. The printing of it received the sanction of the Holy Office on December 21st, 1833, so that as it has not been condemned by the Church it can be accepted at its own worth and devotion continued to the little Wonder-Worker with restful minds.