In the year 181 in Carthage, Africa, a noble family welcomed a baby named Perpetua. As she grew up, Perpetua became more and more aware of a war raging in her soul. Even after the birth of her baby, Justus, she was still looking for something, and was never satisfied. When she was invited to a secret Christian meeting, her desperation won the day.
From the very first, Perpetua’s questions were being answered. One night in 203 A.D., she repented of her sins and became a new creature in Christ Jesus. As young believers, Perpetua and her brother Adrian began learning about their faith under the care of mature disciples.
One day when Perpetua and her slave Felicitas were on their way to visit a friend, they noticed a large crowd gathered around an altar offering incense in the temple square. When they were ordered to perform the sacrifice, they refused. And so, the two brave women who loved their Savior were held under house arrest in the nobleman's villa until the authorities decided what to do with them.
When he heard the news, Perpetua’s father went to visit Perpetua in her chambers.
“My daughter, you will be given another chance to pay homage to your emperor. You do not need to mean it, just say it.”
In response, Perpetua showed him a pitcher.
“Father, do you see this vessel to be a pitcher, or something else?”
“It is a pitcher,” he replied begrudgingly.
“Can you call it by any other name?”
“No.” His voice was hoarse.
“Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am, a Christian.”
While under house arrest, Perpetua and Felicitas were baptized, sealing their faith in Christ before their household and brethren. Despite the unknown and dark future that lay ahead, Perpetua was joyful and prepared herself to meet the storm.
Along with her baby, Perpetua was soon taken away from her father’s house. The young noblewoman who only knew wealth, beauty and light was placed in a dungeon with Felicity and four others. She wrote in her diary, “I am afraid and have never felt such darkness before.”
Weeks later, the pastors arranged a visit with Perpetua’s family in their walled-in garden. At this meeting, Perputua was delighted to hear that she was allowed to keep her son with her for a while longer. She wrote in her diary, “The dungeon became to me like a palace, so that I preferred being there than elsewhere.” Christ proved Himself to be more than sufficient again and again.
As the trial approached, Perpetua’s anxious father visited her in prison. With tears and imploring words he tried to persuade his daughter to comply and sacrifice to the Roman gods. She didn’t even have to mean it, he argued. She attempted to comfort him,
“On that scaffold whatever Godwills shall happen to me. Father, know that we are not placed in our own power, but in God’s.”
The next words her father said were barely audible.
“Give me my grandson.”
As the nobleman left, the halls echoed with the sound of the mother and baby’s cries. With no earthly person to look to for comfort, the brokenhearted Perpetua spent time in prayer, writing and strengthening her fellow prisoners for the trial that would ultimately determine the fate of their bodies, but not their souls.
To allow ample time for recantations, the trial began early in the morning. One by one the Christians confessed their Savior before the interrogator and were sentenced to death in the arena. As Perpetua’s turn came, her desperate father mounted the platform. Holding her baby, he cried,
“Have pity on your child!”
“Think of your father and son,” the procurator added, “Offer the sacrifice!”
Perpetua did not hesitate.
“I will not.”
Promptly ending the examination with his last question, the procurator bellowed,
“Vibia Perpetua, are you a Christian?”
The young mother’s voice was clear and steady as she replied,
“I am a Christian!”
On March 7, 203, the Roman feast day, Perpetua penned the final words in her diary: “I know that the victory is awaiting me.”
As they entered the coliseum, Perpetua with a shining countenance sang a hymn, and the men shared the gospel with the crowd of thousands. First, the faithful men fought with the beasts. When the young, graceful women were brought into the amphitheater, a shocked silence settled over the crowd.
An angry female cow was then brought out to gore and trample Perpetua. When she arose, she adjusted her tunic and fixed her disheveled hair with a pin. She would not appear to be mourning in her time of glory. Then she helped Felicitas rise. Together they stood in the arena as the crowd cried,
The women were led through the Sanivivarian gate where Adrian and another Christian man waited. Perpetua entrusted her son into Adrian’s care, asking him to bring young Justus up in the Christian faith. She turned to the small group of believers, and said,
“Stand fast in the faith, all of you, and do not be offended by my sufferings.”
Then the five Christians entered the River of Death. Silence reigned over the Colosseum as these bravehearts fell by the sword. Perpetua cried out as the young soldier struck her bone, guiding his trembling sword to her throat with her own hand. Indeed, on that day of woe, Perpetua won the victory.
As five lifeless bodies laid on damp, reddened sand, five victorious souls joined the family in Heaven. At age 22, Perpetua met her Savior face to face. Her sorrow and sufferings of the past months faded away as she began eternity with her Lord and King.
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” - Revelation 5:12
To purchase Vibia Perpetua: I am a Christian written and illustrated by the Carrington ladies, click here.