What do we know about Filumena?

On May 24th, 1802, workers had just returned to the excavations begun earlier in a tufa pit in an underground cemetery dedicated to the family of Priscilla (the ancient Catacomb of Saint Priscilla).
Suddenly one’s pick struck a cemented surface. Upon closer examination the concrete surface appeared to be some tiles which would normally enclose a loculus, a grave. Three brick funeral tiles were revealed which bore an epitaph painted in red lead. The painted inscription on the three funeral tiles appeared as follows:  

Tile one - LUMENA; tile two – PAXTE; tile three – CUM FI.  The loculus was documented by Msgr. Ponzetti, Custodian of the Holy Relics, as bearing “FILUMENA,” an interpretation of the epitaph consistent with both the ancient custom of beginning inscriptions from the second tile and the logical etymological context.  The result is a full reading of the epitaph as “PAX TECUM FILUMENA.”

In addition to the inscription, the sepulchral tiles exhibited certain symbols, including tokens of martyrdom.  There were an anchor, and arrow pointing upwards, a palm, under the palm another anchor, a javelin pointing upwards, another arrow pointing downwards, and a lily. In the anchor there is a resemblance to the cross, the sign of faith in Christ, which connotes hope, but also the martyrdom by having an anchor tied to the neck and being dropped into the sea.  Emperor Trajan as well as Diocletian decreed this form of brutality. The two arrows pointing in opposite directions signify torment similar to that which Diocletian exercised on St. Sebastian. The lily means the preserved virginity, the palm, the triumph of the martyr. On the removal of the tiles in the cavity behind, were disclosed the remains of an interment, which competent authority pronounced to be those of a young girl from thirteen to fifteen years of age.  The head was small and very much fractured, but the principal bones were entire. 

Don Francesco De Lucia, a cultured and pious priest whose parish Mugnano was infected with revolutionary ideas, resentment against the authority of the Church, unbelief, immorality went to Rome with the secret hope to get the relics of a virgin martyr –who would come back with him and help him with his parish, which only a saint could convert. After many difficulties he could take possession of the precious casket containing the remains of Filumena and he brought them to Naples with many prayers and every honour in a cortege which arrived on 10th August. Astonishing miracles began to happen and continued to increase in number at Mugnano. It was the healing of Pauline Jaricot which leaded the Pope Gregory XVI in a papal decree, to grant official approbation of the liturgical cultus and, thereby, official ecclesiastical recognition of the sanctity of St. Philomena, virgin and martyr.  Pauline Jarico Foundress of the great French lay social institution in aid of the missions, Propagation of the Faith, and also foundress of the Association of the Living Rosary, and of other good works, was close to death and doctors had given up her case as hopeless. She was miraculously cured by Saint Philomena on August 10th, 1835.

The Pontiff, fully aware of the absence of any historical account of the martyr saint “Filumena,” granted to her the privileges of public liturgical veneration based upon the foundation of the great quantity of miracles ecclesiastically documented and recognized as having occurred through her direct intercession. The exceptional quantity of miracles which resulted from the petitioning of the martyr invoked as “Philomena” has been officially documented in various ecclesiastical recordings.  Both the extensive documentation from the St. Philomena Shrine at Our Lady of Grace Church in Mugnano, and the documentation for the beatification and canonization processes of John Vianney at Ars, record the remarkable quantity of miracles attributed to the intercession of St. Philomena, which included the miraculous cure of Vianney himself. The Curé, as recorded in the canonization process, attributed all the miracles documented at Ars to have been effected through St. Philomena’s intercession; repeatedly spoke of having received apparitions of St. Philomena; and directly attributed his own personal miraculous cure from grave illness to her intercession.

About the life of the Saint would be little known, if the saint herself didn’t reveal her own story to 3 different persons: Three separate individuals in different parts of Italy, and completely unknown to each other, began receiving details of the life of St. Philomena through various modes of private revelation.  The most well-known of these were locutions received by Mother Luisa di Gesu in August, 1833. These locutions were granted the official Imprimatur by the Holy Office that same year, December 21, 1833.

My dear sister, I am the daughter of a Prince who governed a small state in Greece. My mother was also of royal blood. My parents were without children. They were idolaters. They continually offered sacrifices and prayers to their false gods. A doctor from Rome, named Publius, lived in the palace in the service of m father. This doctor professed Christianity. Seeing the affliction of my parents, by the impulse of the Holy Spirit, he spoke to them of Christianity and promised to pray for them if they consented to receive Baptism. The grace which accompanied his words enlightened their understanding and triumphed over their will. They became Christians and obtained the long desired happiness that Publius had assured them as the reward of their conversion. At the moment of my birth, they gave me the name of “Lumina”, an allusion to the light of Faith of which I had been, as it were, the fruit. The day of my Baptism they called me “Philomena”. Daughter of Light, because on that day I was born to the Faith. The affection which my parents bore me was so great that they would have me always with them. It was on this account that they took me to Rome on a journey that my father was obliged to make on the occasion of an unjust war with which he was threatened by the haughty Diocletian. I was then thirteen years old. On our arrival in the capital of the world, we proceeded to the palace of the Emperor and were admitted for an audience. As soon as Diocletian saw me, his eyes were fixed upon me. He appeared to be prepossessed in this manner during the entire time that my father was stating with animated feelings everything that could serve for his defense. As soon as Father had ceased to speak, the Emperor desired him to be disturbed no longer, to banish all rear, to think only of living in happiness. These are the Emperor’s words, “I shall place at your disposal all the force of the Empire. I ask only one thing, that is the hand of your daughter.” My father dazzled with an honor he was far from expecting, willingly acceded on the spot to the proposal of the Emperor. When we returned to our own dwelling, Father and Mother did all they could to induce me to yield to Diocletian’s wishes and to theirs. I cried. “Do you wish that for the love of a man I should break the promise I have made to Jesus Christ? My virginity belongs to Him. I can no longer dispose of it.” “But you were young then, too young,” answered my father, “to have formed such an engagement.” He joined the most terrible threats to the command that he gave me to accept the hand of Diocletian. The grace of my God rendered me invincible. My father, not being able to make the Emperor relent, in order to disengage himself from the promise he had given, was obliged by Diocletian to bring me to the Imperial Chamber. I had to withstand for sometime beforehand a new attack from my father’s anger. My mother, uniting her efforts to his, endeavored to conquer my resolution. Caresses, threats, everything was employed to reduce me to compliance. At last I saw both of my parents fall at my knees and say to me with tears in their eyes, “My child, have pity on your father, your mother, your country, our country, our subjects.” “No, no!” I answered. “My virginity, which I have vowed to God, comes before everything, before you, before my country. My kingdom is Heaven.” My words plunged them into despair and they brought me before the Emperor who, on his part, did all in his power to win me. But his promises, his allurements, his threats, were equally useless. He then got into a violent fit of anger and, influenced by the devil, had me cast into one of the prisons of the palace, where I was loaded with chains. Thinking that pain and shame would weaken the courage with which my Divine Spouse inspired me, he came to see me every day. After several days, the Emperor issued an order for my chains to be loosed that I might take a small portion and bread and water. He renewed his attacks, some of which, if not for the grace of God, would have been fatal to purity. The defeats which he always experienced were for me to preludes to new tortures. Prayer supported me. I ceased not to recommend myself to Jesus and His most pure Mother. My captivity lasted thirty-seven days. Then, in the midst of a heavenly light I saw Mary holding her Divine Son in her arms. “My daughter.” She said to me, “three days more of prison and after forty days you shall leave this state of pain.”

Such happy news renewed my courage to prepare for the frightful combat awaiting. The Queen of Heaven reminded me of the name I had received in Baptism saying, “You are Lumina, as your Spouse is called Light or Sun. Fear not, I will aid you. Now, nature, whose weakness asserts itself, is humbling you. In the moment of struggle, grace will come to you to lend its force. The angel who is mine also, Gabriel, whose name expresses force, will come to your succor. I will recommend you especially to his care.” The vision disappeared leaving the prison scented with a fragrance like incense. I experienced a joy out of his world. Something indefinable. What the Queen of Angels had prepared for me was soon experienced. Diocletian, despairing of bending me, decided upon public chastisement to offend my virtue. He condemned me to be stripped and scourged like the Spouse I preferred to him. These were his horrifying words, “Since she is not ashamed to prefer to an Emperor like me, as malefactor condemned to an infamous death by his own people, she deserves that my justice shall treat her as he was treated.” The prison guards hesitated to unclothe me entirely, but they did tie me to a column in the presence of the great men of the court. They lashed me with violence until I was bathed in blood. My whole body felt like one open wound but I did not faint. The tyrant had me dragged back to the dungeon expecting me to die. I hoped to join my heavenly Spouse. Two angels shining with light appeared to me in the darkness. They poured a soothing balm on my wounds, bestowing on me a vigor I did not have before the torture. When the Emperor was informed of the change that had come over me, he had me brought before him. He viewed me with a greedy desire and tried to persuade me that I owed my healing and regained vigor to Jupiter, another god, that he, the Emperor, had sent to me. He attempted to impress me with his belief that Jupiter desired me to be Empress of Rome. Joining to these seductive words promises of great honour, including the most flattering words, Diocletian tried to caress me. Fiendishly, he attempted to complete the work of Hell which he had begun. The Divine Spirit to whom I am indebted for constancy in preserving my purity seemed to fill me with light and knowledge. To all the proofs which I gave of the solidity of our Faith, neither Diocletian nor his own courtiers could find an answer.

Then the frenzied Emperor dashed at me, commanding a guard to chain an anchor around my neck and bury me deep in the waters of the Tiber. The order was executed. I was cast into the water, but God sent to me two angels who unfastened the anchor. It fell into the river mud where it remains, no doubt, to the present time. The angels transported me gently in full view of the multitude upon the riverbank. I came back unharmed, not even wet, after being plunged with the heavy anchor. When a cry of joy rose from the watchers on the shore, and so many embraced Christianity by proclaiming their belief in my God, Diocletian attributed my preservation to secret magic. Then the Emperor had me dragged through the streets of Rome and shot with a shower of arrows. My blood flowed but I did not faint. Diocletian thought that I was dying and commanded the guards to carry me back to the dungeon. Heaven honoured me with a new favour there. I fell into a sweet sleep. A second time the tyrant attempted to have me pierced with sharper darts. Again the archers bent their bows. The gathered all their strength but the arrows refused to second their intentions. The Emperor was present. In a rage, he called me a magician and, thinking that the action of the fire could destroy the enchantment, he ordered the darts to be made red in a furnace and directed against my heart. He was obeyed. But these darts, after having gone over a part of the space which they were to cross to come to me, took a quite contrary direction and returned to strike those by whom they had been hurled. Six of the archers were killed by them. Several among the crowd renounced paganism. The people began to render public testimony to the power of God that protected me.

These murmurs and the acclamations infuriated the tyrant. He determined to hasten my death by piercing my neck with a lance. My soul took flight towards my heavenly Spouse who placed me with the crown of virginity and the palm of martyrdom in a distinguished place among the elect. The day that was so happy for me and saw me enter into glory was Friday, the third hour after midday, the same hour that saw my Divine Mater expire.

The saint was honoured on 10th August, but is now honoured on 11th because of the feast of St Laurent.


More information about the saint, how to honour her or to organize a pilgrimage to her shrine could be taken from: 

Santuario Santa Filomena

83027 Mugnano del Cardinale 

Tél. : +39 - 081 825 7204  



Saint Filumena