Saint Philomena was a Catholic saint invented out of an ancient grave, the visions of a nun, and whole cloth.

On May 25, 1802, in the catacombs near Rome the skeleton of a fourteen year old girl was discovered. A small vial, thought to be of blood - at the time believed to be a traditional symbol of martyrdom, was found next to the skeleton. Three earthenware tiles spelled out a message:

"Lights and peace be with you"

The remains were entombed beneath the altar of a church in Mugnano, near Naples. In 1833, Sister Maria Luisa of Jesus had a series of visions of the unknown martyr. Based on these visions, the pastor of the church, Don Francesco De Lucia concocted a biography of the young woman. By rearranging the tiles, an alternative inscription is revealed:

"Peace be with you, Philomena"

Apparently, Philomena was a young virgin during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian. The emperor wished to marry the youngster, but she refused, citing her vow of virginity. She was imprisoned and tortured and finally killed. As is the case with most martyrs, the first attempts to slay her failed, and she was finally beheaded. Inspired by this story, a shrine to her was constructed and she was added to the liturgical calendar by Pope Pius IX in 1855.

In 1961, after archaeological investigation, the Vatican decided that she hadn't existed after all. The vial was merely funeral perfumes, a common accompaniment for the dead in the catacombs. She was removed from the calendar and the shrine was ordered dismantled. At least it took them less time than it did with Galileo.

Some people, though, have yet to get the hint. The web is littered with sites dedicated to her, including many which claim the removal of Philomena from the calendar is the work of the devil.

Sources:The Catholic Encyclopedia; John Dollison, Pope-Pourri; various web shrines

St. Philomena, commonly known as “the little Mustard Seed of God” was born in medieval France, around 1424 in the village of Domremy in Champagne, the same town that Joan of Arc was born in, twelve years earlier. Jacques Battinier, her father, was a poor cobbler, and though his children often went without food, they never had to go barefoot (the many depictions of a barefooted St. Philomena are clearly the product of overzealous romanticization on the part of the artists, she suffered greatly but her feet remained soft.) Philomena was the youngest of thirteen children, and in all likelihood her elder siblings played with the young Jean d’Arc before she herself was called to her own martyrdom.

In a family of pious children, Philomena was the most extreme in her solemn devotion, and sometimes would remain quiet and motionless for days, her lips moving in silent prayer. When all of the other children in the village (save young Jean) participated in pagan rituals such as Maypole dances or singing and playing around the “Fairy tree”, Philomena would shed silent tears and implore the other children to abandon these games and join her in her efforts to weave baskets for the lepers, who loved her as they loved their own children, perhaps even more, for the kindness and mercy she showed them. The people of her village loved her as well, for it was impossible to see this innocent child, with her sweet brow and serious demeanor, and not feel purified and absolved just by looking upon her face.

At the age of ten, while gathering reeds and long grasses to use in her basketweaving, Philomena was overcome by a vision of a “blazing lady of white light” who told the young child that her “duty in life was to spread the word of God to the mermaids and eels and fishes of the waters”. Upon recovering from her vision, Philomena immediately ran home to the village priest and begged that he take her on as a pupil, so she might learn the “exact word of God” so as to correctly administer this balm to the underwater world. The priest gladly agreed to help her memorize every verse and psalm that the Bible had to offer, and so Philomena’s ministry began. God gives to each of us exactly what we need to obey his command, if only we persevere and seek, we will find the gifts and graces He bestows. Philomena was given the grace to walk below the surface of the water, and to converse with the fishes and eels and mermaids that she encountered therein, and she could stay in the water and breath there for as long as she needed in order to be able to recite the Biblical passage she had selected for that day. The fishes and the eels and the mermaids in particular grew to love her, and flocked to the edge of the water as they saw her wavery form approaching through the bright glare above like an angel descending from heaven. She trod upon green-gold rays that pierced the flat surface sending holy beams of light to the cold dark floor where the mollusks and leeches lurked. The creatures of the water caressed her swirling hair and bit her fingertips with fish kisses while she spoke to them of God. This went on for three years.

Shortly after Philomena’s thirteenth birthday the village priest passed away and a new priest came to the town. This new priest was corrupt however, and hunched beneath the wing of Satan, though he was not aware of this himself. He was obsessed with witches and witchcraft, and desired nothing more than to find the secret core of witchhood that he believed lurked inside of every woman, and to draw it like a parasite out of her belly and expose her uncleanness. At once he seized upon Philomena as an aberration, and potential mistress of black magic. He accused her publicly of dealing in the demonic arts and the accusations of a “man of God” were enough to make the villagers doubt their beloved missionary, and begin to fear her. Late one night they gathered behind the evil priest and dragged her from the small bed of straw where she slept each night.

The standard test in this particular village for proving the innocence of a suspected witch was to hold her under water until she drowned, as it was known that a true witch would of course be able to breath under water. The fact that Philomena had already demonstrated her ability to breath underwater left the villagers at a loss as to how to proceed with her trial. They were not inclined towards burning, for they had loved Jean, and did not want to be reminded of the event of her death. The priest proclaimed that no test was needed, for Philomena’s ability was direct proof of Satan’s blessing, but the people had not completely lost faith in the child and were not willing to give her up so easily. An old woman pointed out that Philomena had never stayed under water any longer than the time necessary to recite a chapter of the Bible at most, and so it was decided that Philomena would be tied to a boulder and left at the bottom of a lake for the duration of a week, and if she were still alive after that time they would be forced to dry her off and burn her at the stake.

And so Philomena was tied and sunk to the wet floor of the lake, where the mermaids and fishes, newly cognizant of the danger and lies of the fallen angel (thanks to Philomena’s own efforts), shrank away and refused to look at her or help her, in fear of falling prey to some fiendish trap of Satan. At first this hurt Philomena only in her heart, for no one had ever shown her cruelty before, and she had no trouble at all breathing the cold water that enveloped her, but as the days wore on she grew hungrier and weaker, for she was a small thin child, and constantly malnourished as her father could never afford enough food to keep his children strong and stout. Philomena died on the fifth day of starvation, and the villagers, upon heaving her out from the lake, assumed that she had drowned. They mourned her death and proclaimed her a martyr and a saint, and to this day children in Domremy still throw loaves of bread into the lake on August 11th, the Liturgical feast day in honor of the Saint.

What is posted above is a lie!

St. Philomena of Dniepreszhnik, died in 1812, in Dniepreszhnik, Poland at the age of 53. The year of her birth is not important. I do not know who this other saint is, this French martyr, and I have doubts that any such girl existed. Philomena is the patron saint of gathering eggs, knitting, embroidery, crochet and other handworks, as these were the activities she was primarily remembered for. As far as I am concerned with martyrdom – well, I am not concerned. Philomena was no martyr, she lived a peaceful and pious life in a small village, unmarried and having never known a man she was yet a mother to all. The records indicate that she died in 1712, but this word “died” is a word of the officials and administrators, those who really knew her and did not have their fingers dipped in office ink were adamant that she set down her eggs and her embroidery one late summer afternoon and marched through the pollen haze of her Polish village, through the orchards and fields to the edge of a wooded area. Thereupon she lifted her matronly skirts and climbed very high unto the top of a tall tree and from there was lifted by the hand of God straight into Heaven, thereby earning her sainthood. I know that this is true and correct because my very own Grandmother celebrated her nameday on the feast of Philomena. All this about this little French martyr, I do not believe it.

In May of 1802, excavators in the Catacomb of Saint Priscilla in Rome discovered a well-preserved shelf tomb sealed with terra cotta slabs in a manner usually reserved for nobility or martyrs. There were three slabs, marked in red paint: LUMENA | PAXTE | CUMFI. After some study, they decided that the tiles had been disarranged. When they rearranged the tiles, a sentence could be made from the string of letters: Pax tecum, Filumena ("Peace be with you, Philomena").

Also inscribed on the tiles were symbols: a lily to indicate her virginity, a palm to indicate her martyrdom, and three arrows, two pointing in opposite directions and the other with a curved line upon it, signifying fire. The arrows were thought to symbolize the different torments she endured in testimony of her faith.

Inside the tomb, they discovered the remains of a girl twelve to fourteen years of age. Her skull was crushed. They also found what appeared to be a vial of dried blood. At the time, it was believed that the presence of a vial of blood had been collected at the time of her death as a symbol of martyrdom. The vial seemed to confirm what the symbols on the outside of the tomb had suggested.

Since they assumed that Philomena was a martyr, they transferred her remains to the Treasury of the Rare Collections of Christian Antiquity in the Vatican, where they were soon forgotten by the public. After all, no record existed of a virgin martyr named Philomena. The relics remained in the Treasury, gathering dust, for three years.

In 1805 Francesco di Lucia, a priest from Mugnano, a small town near Naples, travelled to Rome with his newly appointed bishop. He wanted very much to procure the relics of a martyr for his private chapel. His bishop supported this goal, and they were allowed to visit the Treasury of Relics. Pausing near the remains of Philomena, Francesco was seized with a vast and inexplicable spiritual joy. He immediately requested that he be allowed to enshrine Philomena. At first, his request was denied. He was given the remains of another saint, and reluctantly accepted them.

On his return to Mugnano, he became very ill. Francesco prayed to Saint Philomena and was instantly cured. He renewed his attempts to procure Philomena's relics, and this time he was successful. The relics were encased in a statue of the saint, made specially for the purpose, and then placed in a wooden casket and transported to Mugnano.

Immediately upon the official donation of her remains, miracles began to be granted through Philomena's intercession. People were healed, a drought was ended. Soon she earned the title, "Philomena, Powerful with God." Devotion to Philomena spread rapidly. Among the people cured was Pauline Jaricot. The healing of her heart disease in 1835 became known as "the Great Miracle of Mugnano" and caused Pope Gregory XVI to begin the process of Philomena's canonization. Two years later, her cultus was approved. The Pope, in his decree, called Philomena "The Thaumaturga of the Nineteenth Century." With that decree, she became the only person to be recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church solely on the basis of her miraculous intercessions. Nothing historical was known of her, except her name and the evidence of her martyrdom.

Devotees of Philomena began to pray for her to reveal the story of her life and martyrdom. In 1863, three different people came forward with similar stories, which had supposedly been revealed to them by the saint herself. The Vatican did not guarantee the authenticity of these purported revelations, but in 1883 gave its permission for the tale to be repeated anyway.

According to the visions, Philomena was the daughter of Greek royalty. Her parents had been unable to conceive a child until they converted to Christianity. After their conversion, Philomena was born. At some point, the family travelled to Rome, and when Diocletian beheld Philomena he demanded that she marry him. But Philomena had pledged her virginity to Jesus. She was tortured for 40 days, and then killed.

In 1961, due to lack of concrete evidence to support the stories of her life and martyrdom, Philomena's feast was removed from the Church calendar and her shrine dismantled. So much for Papal Infallibility. The Church no longer considers her a saint, but she is still widely venerated as the patron saint of babies, lost causes, infertility, poor people, priests, and sick people. She is also considered to be especially powerful in cases involving the conversion of sinners.


CatherineB says Someone's obviously gone to a lot of trouble with the first of those Phantom Philomenas.... weird. If it's any help, I've read quite a bit about Joan of Arc and never come across anything about another saint being born in Domrémy - I suspect such a coincidence would surely have been pointed out.

Gritchka says Interesting. When I C!'ed Selene Nyx's the other day I did a bit of investigating and decided she must be part of the Florian von Banier circle: but the stories are amusing fictions.

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