St. Philomena, Patroness and Protectress of the Living Rosary
Credited with countless miracles and intercessions since discovery of her tomb in the most ancient catacombs of St. Priscilla in Rome in 1802, St. Philomena is prayed to by people of diverse ages, culture and social standing around the world. The young virgin who was martyred at age 13, willingly traded her earthly life for heavenly salvation and continues her work today promoting the virtues of purity and sanctity among the world’s youth and bringing the faithful closer to our Blessed Mother and Jesus Christ. It would seem she was held in quiet reserve by God for nearly seventeen centuries and summoned at a time when so much uncertainty and absence of faith abound.
On August 10, 1835, Pauline received a miraculous cure of a severe heart ailment at Saint Philomena’s shrine in Mugnano del Cardinale, Italy, during the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Immediately following, she appealed to Pope Gregory XVI to begin an examination for the beatification of "Filumena," daughter of light. And on Jan. 13, 1837, Pope Gregory XVI named St. Philomena Patroness of the Living Rosary, and declared her to be the "Thaumaturga," the "Great Wonder-Worker of the nineteenth century." In a solemn decree, he raised her to the altar of the Church, granting her a special feast day (August 11) and a Mass in her honor.
The name Philomena (fee-lo-MAY-nah) is of Latin origin. The inscription on the original loculus tiles, is Filumena. The word filia is Latin for daughter. The word, lumena, is Latin for, light, lamp, lantern; light of day; the eye; clearness; understanding.
Pauline promoted Saint Philomena as the Supporter of Missionary Priests. Upon her return to France from Mugnano, she was eager to recount the story of her miraculous cure with her dear friend, the Venerable Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney Link Out, and offered him part of the precious relics she brought from the Sanctuary. Immediately, an incredible bond and well-known devotion formed between this holy priest and his "Dear Little Saint."
Saint Philomena was, as believed by her devotees within the Catholic Church, a young virgin martyr whose remains were discovered in 1802 in the Catacombs of Priscilla. Three tiles enclosing the tomb bore an inscription that was taken to indicate that her name (in the Latin of the inscription) was Filumena, the English form of which is Philomena.
The remains were removed to Mugnano del Cardinale in 1805 and became the focus of widespread devotion, with several miracles credited to the saint's intercession, including the healing of Venerable Pauline Jaricot in 1835, which received wide publicity. Saint John Vianney attributed to her intercession the extraordinary cures that others attributed to himself.
In 1833 a Neapolitan nun reported that in a vision Saint Philomena had revealed that she was a Greek princess martyred at 13 years of age by Diocletian, who was Roman Emperor from 284 to 305.
From 1837 to 1961 celebration of her liturgical feast was approved for some places, but was never included in the General Roman Calendar for universal use. The 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal included a mention of her, under 11 August, in the section headed Missae pro aliquibus locis (Masses for some places), with an indication that the Mass to be used in those places was one from the common of a Virgin Martyr, without any collect proper to the saint.
On 14 February 1961, the Holy See ordered that the name of Saint Philomena be removed from all liturgical calendars that mentioned her. Accordingly, the 1962 Roman Missal, the edition whose continued use as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is authorized by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, also has no mention of her.
The shrine of her relics in Mugnano del Cardinale continues to be visited by pilgrimages from many countries, an Archconfraternity in her honour exists, as does popular devotion in various places around the world.
Discovery of the remains
On 24 May 1802 in the Catacombs of Priscilla on the Via Salaria Nova an inscribed loculus (space hollowed out of the rock) was found, and on the following day it was carefully examined and opened. The loculus was closed with three terra cotta tiles, on which was the following inscription: lumena paxte cumfi. It was and is generally accepted that the tiles were in a wrong order and that the inscription originally read, with the leftmost tile placed on the right: pax tecum Filumena (i.e."Peace with you, Philomena". Within the loculus was found the skeleton of a female between thirteen and fifteen years old. Embedded in the cement was a small glass phial with vestiges of what was taken to be blood. In accordance with the assumptions of the time, the remains were taken to be those of a virgin martyr named Philomena.
The belief that such vials were signs of the grave of a martyr was still held in 1863, when a 10 December decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites confirmed a decree of 10 April 1668. But this view has been rejected in practice since the investigations of Giovanni Battista De Rossi (1822–1894).
In 1805, Canon Francesco De Lucia requested relics for a new altar, and on 8 June obtained the remains discovered in May 1802 (reduced to dust and fragments) for his church in Mugnano del Cardinale, where they arrived on 11 August, after being taken from Rome to Naples on 1 July.
In 1827, Pope Leo XII gave to the church in Mugnano del Cardinale the three inscribed terra cotta slabs that had been taken from the tomb.
Spread of devotion
In his Relazione istorica della traslazione del sagro corpo di s. Filomena da Roma a Mugnano del Cardinale, written in 1833, Canon De Lucia recounted that wonders accompanied the arrival of the relics in his church, among them a statue that sweated some liquid continuously for three days.
A miracle accepted as proved in the same year was the multiplication of the bone dust of the saint, which provided for hundreds of reliquaries without the original amount experiencing any decrease in quantity.
Devotion includes the wearing of the "Cord of Philomena", a red and white cord, which had a number of indulgences attached to it, including a plenary indulgence on the day on which the cord was worn for the first time, indulgences that were not renewed in Indulgentiarum doctrina, the 1967 general revision of the discipline concerning them. There was or is also the chaplet of Saint Philomena, with three white beads in honour of the Blessed Trinity and thirteen red beads in honour of the thirteen years of the saint's life.
Reported life of the Saint
On 21 December 1833, the Holy Office declared that there was nothing contrary to the Catholic faith in the revelations that Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù (1799–1875), a Dominican tertiary from Naples, claimed to have received from the Saint herself.
According to Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù, Saint Philomena told her she was the daughter of a king in Greece who, with his wife, had converted to Christianity. At the age of about 13 she took a vow of consecrated virginity. When the Emperor Diocletian threatened to make war on her father, her father went with his family to Rome to ask for peace. The Emperor fell in love with the young Philomena and, when she refused to be his wife, subjected her to a series of torments: scourging, from whose effects two angels cured her; drowning with an anchor attached to her (two angels cut the rope and raised her to the river bank); being shot with arrows, (on the first occasion her wounds were healed; on the second, the arrows turned aside; and on the third, they returned and killed six of the archers, after which, several of the others became Christians). Finally the Emperor had her decapitated. The story goes that the decapitation occurred on a Friday at three in the afternoon, as with the death of Jesus. The two anchors, three arrows, the palm and the ivy leaf on the tiles found in the tomb were interpreted as symbols of her martyrdom.
In these visions, Saint Philomena also revealed that her birthday was 10 January, that her martyrdom occurred on 10 August (the date also of the arrival of her relics in Mugnano del Cardinale), and that her name "Filumena" meant "daughter of light". (It is usually taken to be derived from a Greek word meaning "beloved".)