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It is Time to Meet St. Philomena

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