I would like to introduce you to a young, early virgin-martyr, who has received extraordinary honor in the Church from popes, bishops, saints, and mystics. Pope Gregory XVI referred to her as the “wonder-worker” of the nineteenth century. Bl. Pope Pius IX declared her the “Patroness of the Children of Mary.” St. John Vianney attributed all of his miracles to her, stating, “I have never asked for anything through the intercession of my Little Saint without having been answered.” Bl. Anna Maria Taigi, the Roman “mother-mystic,” received through this saint the miraculous cure of her granddaughter, and entrusted all her children to her powerful intercession. And the popes of the nineteenth century showered this young saint with numerous plenary indulgences, and gifts such as papal rings and pectoral crosses.
It is time for you to meet St. Philomena, “Powerful with God,” in the words of Gregory XVI. As she was a “thaumaturga” of the nineteenth century, so she continues her wonder-working ways in our twenty-first century. Devotion to St. Philomena is spreading like a re-kindled wildfire throughout the universal Church today, with testimonies to her miraculous intercession being received by the international shrine of St. Philomena in Mugnano, Italy, from all parts of the world. St. Philomena wishes to exercise her remarkable power of intercession, precisely for you.
The Discovery of St. Philomena
On May 24, 1802, workers digging in the ancient Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome made an exciting discovery. While excavating near the “Greek chapel,” one of the earliest sections of the catacombs, they found a previously unrecorded grave, a type of grave hewn out of the rock called a loculus. Sensing the importance of what they had unearthed, and following the instruction given them by Msgr. Hyacinth Ponzetti, the Vatican Custodian of Holy Relics, work was immediately halted and Fr. Filippo Ludovici, the official Vatican overseer of all excavations, was informed.
The next day, May 25, 1802, Fr. Ludovici entered the catacombs with several other observers and officially documented the new grave. It was found to be sealed by three terra-cotta brick tiles arranged side by side. Engraved on the tiles were a palm branch, typically used to symbolize martyrdom, arrows, a lily, typically used to symbolize purity or virginity, and an anchor. On the tiles, painted in red from left to right was an inscription: the first tile read “LUMENA,” the second tile “PAXTE,” and the third read “CUMFI.” An anatomical examination of the bones found within led to the conclusion that the person entombed was a young girl approximately twelve to thirteen years old. Also found in the grave was a vial of dried blood, which was the early Church’s typical manner of indicating the grave of a martyr.
Msgr. Ponzetti, the Vatican custodian of holy relics, read the tiles according to the ancient custom of starting with the second tile, as “PAX TECUM FILUMENA,” or “Peace be with you, Filumena,” and officially rendered the young martyr’s name as “Filumena” (Philomena in English). Msgr. Ponzetti sought historical records for “Filumena” but none were found.
Not long after the discovery of the tomb, a humble parish priest, Fr. Francesco di Lucia from the small town of Mugnano near Naples, arrived in Rome seeking relics of a martyr to spiritually re-vitalize his parish which had grown “weak in virtue,” according to the pastor. Through the special assistance of di Lucia’s bishop-elect of Nola, Msgr. Bartolomeo de Caesare, wherein Mugnano was located, in 1805 Pope Pius VII consigned the sacred remains of “Filumena” to Fr. di Lucia for the people of Mugnano.
Fr. di Lucia took the relics from Rome back to Mugnano, and the ride home turned out to be rather unusual. At one point, the priest heard a knocking that came from the box containing the sacred remains of Filumena. As the knocking continued, Fr. di Lucia realized that the sacred remains were underneath the carriage, which was not a particularly reverent location for sacred relics. He decided that these holy remains should ride next to him in the carriage, and when they were put in this more reverential place, the knocking ceased for the remainder of the journey.
When Fr. di Lucia stopped over in Naples at the home of the Terrès family, there began the miracles of healing for which St. Philomena was soon to become famous.
The Porter who assisted in carrying the virgin-martyr’s relics was instantly cured of nephritis, and a lawyer with severe sciatica who was carried into the family chapel was instantly cured.
A woman present who had a cancerous ulcer, and who was scheduled for amputation the next day, was also instantly cured of both cancer and the spreading gangrene when a relic of St. Philomena was placed over her sores (1).
Immediately upon the arrival of the remains of Philomena in Mugnano on August 10, 1805, bishops and parish priests of the region began to officially document an extraordinary number of miracles. Here are just a few examples as recorded in the diocesan and parish archives, and later submitted to the Holy See.
As soon as the sacred body of Philomena entered Our Lady of Grace parish church, the church bells starting ringing on their own. The town paralytic, Angelo Bianco, upon merely hearing the bells was instantly cured and ran into the church—to the amazement of all in attendance.
Within the first week of the arrival of “Filumena,” a mother of a blind son dipped her fingers into the oil of the lamp burning beside the tomb, placed the oil on the eyes of her son, and he was instantly healed (2).
This constituted only the first week of the miraculous intercession of Philomena, all officially documented in the archives of Our Lady of Grace church in Mugnano, and confirmed by the local Bishop of Nola (3).
Over the next few years, the fame of Philomena spread throughout Italy and beyond. There were numerous reports of miracles, and many of these reports reached Pope Gregory XVI.
For example, the renowned Roman mystic, Bl. Anna Maria Taigi, prayed daily to Philomena. When her granddaughter, Peppina, seriously damaged her eye by tearing the pupil irreparably, Bl. Anna Maria blessed the child with some oil of Philomena, which had come from the lamp burning next to her tomb. The next morning Peppina had perfect sight, and the miracle was confirmed by several doctors’ examinations. On her deathbed, Bl. Anna Maria entrusted her family and children to Philomena’s care (4).
When the Holy See began to consider elevating the devotional status of Philomena to the altar of the Church, a miraculous phenomenon took place which was directly experienced and verified by the Vatican Congregation of Rites itself (presently known as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments).
Bishop de Caesare, of the Nola Diocese, had begun to send out small quantities of dust from the bones of the relics of Philomena to neighboring parishes and dioceses. It soon became evident to the bishop, however, that even though he continued to send out bone dust the amount of dust remaining never decreased—it seemed as if a miraculous multiplication of the dust was taking place.
When this apparent miracle was brought to the attention of the Congregation of Rites at the Vatican, they decided to conduct an experiment. The Congregation began to distribute the bone dust of Philomena to diverse parts of Italy, while at the same time sending out bone dust from the remains of another Roman martyr in the same manner. What the Congregation witnessed was a decrease in the amount of bone dust from the other Roman martyr’s remains, but a miraculous preservation of the bone dust of Philomena, which did not diminish. The Holy See experienced first-hand the manifest will of God to make this young martyr known publicly through her historically documented miracles (5).
The most famous miracle of Philomena, one directly confirmed by Pope Gregory XVI, was experienced by Venerable Pauline Jaricot, the daughter of a French aristocratic family, and a close friend of St. John Vianney.
Pauline was a tireless worker for the Church. She was the lay founder of the Vatican congregation Propaganda Fide, or the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. As a young woman she had gone to the textile workers of Lyon, to ask them to contribute a penny a week for the spread of the faith in missionary lands. This work became so successful that it eventually led to the Vatican taking over the guidance of the Society and developing it into a curial office of the Holy See under the title of Propaganda Fide. Venerable Pauline was also the founder of the Society of the Living Rosary.
In 1834, at the age of 35, Pauline Jaricot became gravely ill. She was dying of serious heart disease and it was thought she had only weeks left to live. At the encouragement of St. John Vianney, she decided to undertake a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Philomena—against all medical counsel.
Arriving in Rome en route to Mugnano, which was farther south, she stopped to visit with Gregory XVI, but being too ill she was unable to attend the scheduled audience. Out of respect for Pauline, the Holy Father went to see her personally at the Sacred Heart Convent where she was staying. Upon seeing her, Pope Gregory knew that she had not long to live, and asked her: “Pray for the Church as soon as you arrive in Paradise.”
Pauline responded: “Yes, Holy Father, I promise you, but if I walk on foot to the Vatican upon my return from Mugnano, would your Holiness deign to proceed without delay to the final inquiry into the cause of Philomena?”
Gregory XVI replied, “Of course, for in that case it would be a first class miracle.” But he personally had no doubt that Pauline’s time on earth was at an end. Turning to the Italian Sister who had accompanied him on his visit, he said in Italian (so as not to be overheard by Pauline), “we will never see her again.”
On August 8, 1835, Pauline arrived in Mugnano looking “more like a corpse than a living person,” according to witnesses. By this time, Pauline was no longer able to speak.
That evening, the infirm woman attended a long ceremony at the church, but there was no miracle. On August 9, she attended several Masses, and received Holy Communion, and still there was no miracle. Pauline returned to the church on Sunday night, and again on Monday morning, August 10—still, no miracle.
By this time, the entire town of Mugnano was well aware of the drama taking place at the shrine of their little martyr. As the days passed and Pauline was not cured, the townspeople became increasingly worried, and adopted a good-hearted, but perhaps peculiarly southern Italian form of petition to St. Philomena: pounding on her grave, they reminded her that her reputation was at stake: “Do you hear us, Philomena? If you do not cure this pious lady, we will pray to you no more! We will have nothing to do with you! Return her to health right now!”
Later that day, on Monday the 10th—precisely at the moment of benediction of the Eucharistic Jesus, and 30 years to the day that Philomena arrived in Mugnano—Pauline Jaricot was completely and instantaneously cured.
The next day, before a huge crowd, Pauline set off walking without assistance towards Rome, and the crowds accompanied her much of the way. On her arrival in Rome, Pauline decided to visit the Holy Father unannounced. Upon entering the audience chamber, she shocked Gregory XVI, who immediately exclaimed: “Is it really you or an apparition of you? Is this really my dear daughter? And has she come back from the grave, or has God manifested in her favor the power of the Virgin-Martyr?” (6)
Stunned, Pope Gregory had Pauline walk throughout the halls of the Vatican repeatedly, and also requested her to stay in Rome for an entire year to verify her miraculous cure.
Keeping his word to Pauline, Pope Gregory XVI, on January 13, 1837, in a solemn decree based solely on power of her undeniable miracles, raised an unknown thirteen-year-old early martyr named Philomena to the altar of the Church, granting a Mass in her honor, and thereby giving official approval to public devotion to her. This liturgical honor constituted the only instance of a Proper office being granted to a saint from the catacombs of whom nothing is known except her name and the bare fact that she was martyred for the Faith. “Filumena” was now officially St. Philomena, a canonized saint of the Catholic Church.
We must particularly underscore here the inspired wisdom of Pope Gregory XVI. The Holy Father rightly recognized the evidence of the large number of ecclesiastically documented miracles as being of greater importance than the secondary details of St. Philomena’s personal history. God’s manifested testimony to the historical reality of the person of St. Philomena through her supernatural intercession took precedence over the specific historical details of the virgin-martyr’s earthly life. In effect, the Pope acknowledged the miracles in themselves as historical facts.
Authentic miracles constitute God’s greatest confirmation of the historical reality of the human person in question, and, moreover, manifest heaven’s desire for that person to be recognized and venerated by the People of God on earth. The miracles of St. Philomena assured Pope Gregory, and assure us, of her pre-eminent sanctity and her ongoing role in the life of the Church.
Typically, without documented miracles the cause of an individual person does not advance past the status of Servant of God, even with extensive evidence of an earthly life of heroic virtue. The Church places its greatest criteria for canonization, along with an essential testimony to the person’s virtues, upon heaven’s witness to the sanctity of the candidate which is made manifest through miracles obtained through the candidate’s intercession.
It was therefore most appropriate for Gregory XVI to place greater importance upon the history of documented miracles through St. Philomena’s intercession during the canonization discernment process, rather than upon the lack of personal details regarding St. Philomena’s earthly existence. Beyond establishing the fact of her martyrdom, as the guidelines of the Church indicate should be done, it was, above all, the miracles of St. Philomena that moved the Church to proclaim her a saint.
Similarly, contemporary examination of St. Philomena’s status should use the same criterion of evaluation.
Personal History of St. Philomena in Private Revelation
During that remarkable period of the 1830s, when miracles abounded through St. Philomena’s intercession and the Church granted her public liturgical veneration (7), three separate individuals in different parts of Italy (completely unknown to each other), began receiving details of the historical background of St. Philomena through various modes of private revelation. The most significant were locutions received by Sr. Luisa di Gesu in August of 1833, revelations which received approval by the Holy Office, (presently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) on December 21, 1833.
One day, while praying to St. Philomena, Sr. Luisa of Jesus thought she heard words coming from a statue of the saint giving her specific date of death, August 10, and details of her journey to Mugnano which were unknown to the general public.
Sr. Luisa, fearing she was suffering a delusion, increased her prayers and fasting, and, under obedience, observed complete silence during subsequent revelations.
Sr. Luisa’s Superior then wrote to Fr. di Lucia, reporting the supposedly revealed details given about the Rome-Mugnano journey and asking about their veracity. Fr. di Lucia confirmed every detail of the revelation as perfectly accurate, and requested that the nun “be open” to any more revelations pertaining to the life of Philomena.
Under obedience, Sr. Luisa prayed for further information, and immediately the “same voice” began revealing the third to fourth century historical life of St. Philomena, which we here reproduce from the original text:
My dear Sister, I am the daughter of a Prince who governed a small state in Greece. My mother is 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 my 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 “Lumena,” 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 “Filumena,” or “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 had 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 pre-possessed 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 fear, 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 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, and 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 some time 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 them. “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 flew into a violent fit of anger and, influenced by the Devil, had me cast into one of the prisons of the palace, where he had me 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 of bread and water. He renewed his attacks, some of which would have been fatal to purity had it not been for the grace of God.
The defeats which he always experienced were for me the preludes to new tortures. Prayer supported me. I did not cease to recommend myself to Jesus and his most pure Mother. My captivity had lasted thirty-seven days, when, in the midst of a heavenly light, I saw Mary holding the 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 made my heart beat with joy, but as the Queen of Angels had added that I should quit my prison, to sustain, in frightful torments a combat far more terrible than those preceding, I fell instantly from joy to the most cruel anguish; I thought it would kill me. “Have courage, my child,” Mary then said to me; “are you unaware of the love of predilection that I bear for you? The name, which you received in baptism, is the pledge of it for the resemblance which it has to that of my Son and to mine. You are called Lumena, as your Spouse is called Light, Star, Sun, as I myself am called Aurora, Star, the Moon in the fullness of its brightness, and Sun. Fear not, I will aid you. Now nature, whose weakness humbles you, asserts its law. In the moment of combat, grace will come to lend you its force, and your Angel, who was also mine, Gabriel, whose name expresses strength, will come to your aid. I will recommend you especially to his care, as the well beloved among my children.” These words of the Queen of virgins gave me courage again, and the vision disappeared, leaving my prison filled with a celestial perfume. I experienced a joy out of this world. Something indefinable.
What the Queen of Angels had prepared me for was soon experienced. Diocletian, despairing of bending me, decided on public chastisement to offend my virtue. He condemned me to be stripped and scourged like the Spouse I preferred to him. These are his horrifying words. “Since she is not ashamed to prefer to an Emperor like me, a 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 by 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 honor, 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, and to all the proofs which I gave of the solidity of our Faith, neither Diocletian or his 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 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 debauchers 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 honored me with a new favor there. I fell into a sweet sleep, and I found myself, on awaking, perfectly cured.
Diocletian learned about it. “Well, then,” he cried in a fit of rage, “let her be pierced with sharp darts a second time, and let her die in that torture.” They hastened to obey him. Again, the archers bent their bows. They 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 fire could destroy the enchantment, ordered the darts to be made red in a furnace and directed against my heart. He was obeyed, but these darts, after having passed through 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 them renounced paganism, and the people began to render public testimony to the power of God that protected me.
These murmurs and acclamations infuriated the tyrant. He determined to hasten my death by ordering my head to be cut off. 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 mid-day, the same hour that saw my Divine Master expire.
There are several things noteworthy about this extraordinary account. Historically, the evil Emperor Diocletian was indeed known for executing Christians by arrows. Diocletian was also known for killing Christians by tying anchors around their necks and having them thrown into the Tiber. Furthermore, Philomena being first named “Lumena,” which means “light,” and then being given her second name “Filumena” in baptism, would be consistent with the way her name was depicted on the tiles: “Lumena” first, and then combined with the last tile, “Filumena.”
Why is St. Philomena making such a powerful spiritual return in our own times? I believe one reason is that the youth of today need an example of heroic Christian purity, even when they do not find support for purity from their society, their friends, even at times from their own parents. Many of today’s youth are being exposed to numerous occasions of blasphemy and impurity through pornography, immodest clothing, obscene movies, and oftentimes, most tragically, with the consent of their parents.
Today’s youth need a young heroic witness for the upholding of Christian purity even if their peers and their own parents are not encouraging them. They face situations very similar to those which Philomena had to contend with. Both the Emperor and her parents encouraged her to become the Empress of Rome—the highest position of power and fame the world could offer any woman. Similarly, our young people are continually tempted by the allure of power and pride and illicit pleasures. Because Philomena said yes to Christ and to his kingdom, it is little wonder that Jesus is making her well known again as the Patroness of Purity, for the young people of the twenty-first century.
The Popes of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The Holy Fathers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century manifested remarkable devotion to the young Princess Virgin-Martyr. For example:
Pope Leo XII granted permission for altars to be dedicated and chapels to be erected in her honor, calling her the “Great Saint” (8). Pope Gregory XVI called St. Philomena the “Thaumaturga,” the “wonder-worker” of the nineteenth century, and, as already mentioned, in 1837 he raised her to the “altar of the Church” with public devotion. He granted her a special feast (August 11) and also approved a Mass in her honor (9).
Blessed Pope Pius IX had an exemplary devotion to St. Philomena. While still a bishop, he went on pilgrimage several times to her tomb to offer Mass, and as Pope, he declared St. Philomena the “Patroness of the Children of Mary” (10).
On Nov. 7, 1849, at a critical moment of his pontificate, Pius IX went on pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Philomena to seek her intercession at a time of Church crisis. A political revolution had taken place in Rome, and with a heavy heart Pius IX was obliged to leave the city. Joined by many young men of the region, the exiled Pontiff walked with olive and palm branches in hand to the tomb of St. Philomena to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and implore her intercession for an expedient return to Rome. While at the tomb, the Pope took the reliquary containing the vial of St. Philomena’s dried blood, which had been found in her tomb, and traced the sign of the cross on his forehead. He was later to confide that when kneeling in prayer before the bones of St. Philomena, he received an interior certainty that he would soon return to Rome. Within a time much more brief than expected, Pius IX returned to the Vatican. In thanksgiving for this great grace received through St. Philomena, Bl. Pius IX granted upon her feast day a Proper Office and Mass specific to her, beyond the normal common office for virgins and martyrs. This was an honor never bestowed on any other Roman martyr who lacked an historical record.
At the moment of his death, Pius IX, with love and thanksgiving to the great saint, had his pectoral cross sent to rest on the altar holding the image of his special young intercessor.
Pope Leo XIII was another pope in the list of pontiffs who had a special love for St. Philomena. He also had a strong devotion to her before becoming Vicar of Christ. It was Leo XIII who commissioned the beginning of the Archconfraternity of St. Philomena, and it was he who with an almost unprecedented generosity approved and granted an indulgence to the wearing of the “Cord of St. Philomena” (11). This cord, which we will discuss in more detail later, was colored white and red in honor of the virginity and martyrdom of St. Philomena, and was strongly promoted by St. John Vianney (to whom most historians attribute the origins of the Cord). Not only did Leo XIII grant a plenary indulgence for those who wore the cord for the first time, but he also granted a plenary indulgence for three liturgical times of the year associated with St. Philomena. Furthermore, a plenary indulgence was granted to those wearing of the Cord at the hour of their death (12).
In the twentieth century, Pope St. Pius X continued the strong papal tradition of veneration of St. Philomena. In 1905, on the occasion of the centenary of her arrival in Mugnano, he sent his gold ring to adorn the image of St. Philomena located over her tomb. In that same year, he beatified the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, who had such a primordial devotion to St. Philomena.
St. Pius X was also a great advocate of wearing the Cord of St. Philomena and
declared, “all the decisions and declarations of his predecessors regarding St. Philomena should in no way be altered” (13). With this act he perpetuated devotion to St. Philomena for all times. Pius X also elevated the archconfraternity of St. Philomena to the status of a universal archconfraternity (14).
In sum, nineteen acts of the Holy See during the pontificates of five popes were issued in positive promotion of popular devotion to St. Philomena, in the forms of public liturgical veneration, archconfraternities, and plenary and partial indulgences. This succession of papal veneration and indulgences is arguably unprecedented in the pontifical granting of devotional privileges for any modern saint.
The Curé and his “Dear Little Saint”
We have already mentioned the devotion to St. Philomena of such great souls in the Church as Bl. Anna Maria Taigi and Ven. Pauline Jaricot. Yet they are far from being the only saints who loved and honored her.
St. Peter Julian Eymard was cured of a serious illness after visiting St. John Vianney and being instructed by him to pray a novena to St. Philomena (15). St. Peter Chanel, the first saint and martyr of Oceania, preached on St. Philomena and said that it was she, after Our Lady, who was his principal intercessor in his apostolate. He referred to St. Philomena as his “auxiliary” (16). Bl. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, the “Leper-Priest,” dedicated his first parish church and first home to St. Philomena (17). St. Madeleine Sophie Barat consistently invoked Philomena during difficulties in the establishment of her societies, and attributed a miraculous cure of a dying novice to her intercession (18). Other devotees of St. Philomena from the ranks of the saints and blessed include St. Magdalene of Canossa, Bl. Bartolo Longo and Bl. Annibale Da Messina.
St. John Vianney and St. Philomena
There is little doubt, however, that the special relationship between St. John Vianney and St. Philomena, his “dear little saint,” was beyond that of all other saints. From the first time he heard of St. Philomena, this old French priest and the young Roman martyr obtained a “union of heart” which led to consistent, direct, supernatural fruits and experiences. In fact, the Curé of Ars habitually attributed all miracles that came through him to the intercession of St. Philomena.
In 1837, the Curé of Ars erected the first chapel in France dedicated to his “dear little saint.” This phenomenal combination of St. Philomena, “miracle worker of the nineteenth century,” and St. John Vianney, reader of souls and now the universal patron saint of parish priests, produced wonders of grace awesome to behold.
Whenever someone would come to the Curé for healing or other graces, he would invariably direct them to St. Philomena with sure confidence, usually advising them to make a novena of prayer to her, visit her chapel, and commend their need to her with confidence. To those in need who could not come in person, St. John would send oil from lamps burning at her tomb in Mugnano.
As time progressed and Curé’s fame spread, thousands, and then tens of thousands of pilgrims came to Ars each year from all over the world. As many as 14 miracles per week were recorded in the parish chronicles. So many pilgrims came to Ars that an overwhelmed John Vianney once remarked in Catechism class: “Couldn’t she work miracles somewhere else?” On one occasion a man from another part of France asked the Curé what sort of extraordinary things were occurring in the parish. He replied, “What do you mean, extraordinary things in my parish; you must not believe everything you hear.” The man replied, “Well then, Father, when I get back… I will say nothing is happening in your parish.” St. John was forced to admit, “In that case, you would be lying. You must not do that. Tell them that everything is happening through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and St. Philomena. The deaf, the dumb, the blind, the paralyzed, and the possessed are healed. But it is only through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and St. Philomena.”
St. Philomena appeared to the Curé of Ars numerous times, including in May, 1843. Critically ill with double pneumonia, Fr. Vianney had been given up for dead. After receiving the last rites, he asked that Mass be offered for St. Philomena on his behalf. Immediately, St. Philomena appeared to the dying priest and healed him, and in the process revealed personal information to the Curé (19).
This illumination led St. John to consult with St. Philomena about important decisions for the rest of his life (20).
On another occasion, Vianney confided to a dear friend his account of an apparition of St. Philomena:
I had a hard time discovering the will of God concerning an enterprise that bothered me. I asked to know the will of God. St. Philomena appeared to me; she had come down from heaven and she was beautiful, luminous, surrounded by a white cloud. She told me twice, “Your works are more perfect, because there is nothing more precious than the salvation of souls” (21).
The specific item troubling Vianney concerned a new church in Ars. The structure needed funding and the assistant pastor wished to take the money designated for the parish mission and use it for the new church. St. John did not feel peaceful about this transference of funds, and he therefore consulted St. Philomena. She instructed him to do what he originally planned to do, that is, to use the funds for the parish mission, because this work was “more perfect” (22).
While we cannot here provide an exhaustive survey of the hundreds of miracles that took place in Ars through St. Philomena and St. John Vianney, a few examples can illustrate the abundance of graces poured out through their combined intercession.