In the second century of the church's history, Christians had carried the Gospel to North Africa and strong Christian churches were being planted. The Roman emperor feared the spread of Christianity and made a law stopping Christians from teaching or converting people.
Two of the first punished under this law were women named Perpetua and Felicitas (or Felicity). Perpetua was born in North Africa. She was said to be beautiful, of noble birth, and well-educated. When she and her maid servant, Felicitas converted to Christianity, they began to speak the gospel boldly. No longer defined by master-servant relationship, they found solidarity in their sisterhood in Christ.
Both were martyred for their faith in 203 AD. Perpetua was twenty-two-years-old and had a young child; Felicity was eight months pregnant, gave birth in prison just before her execution, and stowed her child with a Christian couple in Carthage. "Eyewitness accounts document that just before their death, the two women, now equals in Christ, embraced one another with a holy kiss," summarizes the Book of Common Prayer.
Running the race cost Perpetua and Felicitas everything – even their own lives. Let their witness encourage us to give our all as we run our race. God used the death of these saints to bring growth to the church. Many people were attracted to a faith that produced such courage in its followers.
We have this story largely because of Perpetua's diary, which she continued to keep in prison and which is one of the earliest known Christian texts. To read more of an early edition of this text and learn more, click here.