The stories of the early Christian martyrs are something – that of legend and folklore and made-for-tv-biopics. The tale of Perpetua and her slave, Felicity, while probably similarly legendary, are unique in that there is a written document of their story, The Passion of Saint Perpetua, Saint Felicitas, and their Companions, which purports to contain the actual prison diary of the young mother and martyr Perpetua. Scholars generally believe that it is authentic although in the form we have it may have been edited by others.
I admit, I always feel a little squeamish about “feasting” on the days of martyrs. Their bloody deaths and gruesome ends are rather hard to stomach, so to speak. Yet, these two, they are special. A woman’s voice from the early church is so rare. I love how, when Perpetua was allowed to nurse her newborn in her prison awaiting execution, she said, “my prison suddenly became a palace for me.”
I can understand why people may want to honor these two.
Since this feast is a minor one, and falls during Lent, there aren’t a lot of traditions around this day. But, if you’d want to make a small feast for yourself to remember these saints, here are some ideas:
- Perpetua was so steadfast in her faith, patient and unwavering as she faced her martyrdom. I like the play on the “perpetual feast” her name brings up. Perhaps buy a cut of meat with bones in it (for, somehow, she’s a patron saint of butchers, as well as being injured by wild animals in the arena before her execution) – roast it, and then use it over and over. Eat it on the 7th with a traditional meat and veggie plate…then use the meat to make soup…and sandwiches…then use the bones to make broth you can freeze…from this one meal make many, a perpetual feast.
- Perpetua had a newborn, whom she nursed in prison. Felicity was pregnant when arrested, and feared missing out on her martyrdom since they would not execute a pregnant woman. The idea of mother’s milk intrigues me as a way to honor these two. Maybe a milk desert (this steamed eggs and milk with sugar looks good), or a cream sauce would be appropriate. Since these two women were from Carthage, and are referenced as “African” martyrs, this African Milk Tart Recipe seems like a nice fit.
- Lastly, Perpetua had a vision while in prison: “Perpetua traveled up the ladder and saw a beautiful vast garden with a tall man with white hair dressed like a shepherd and milking sheep. ‘Thou art well come, my child,” he said to Perpetua, giving her some of the curds from the milk. She ate and all those around her said, “Amen.” So, it’s not terribly exciting, but cheese curds or cottage cheese were clearly consecrated for her. Or, pick up some sheep’s milk cheese.
This exploration was inspired by a question from someone who was interested in this feast day and how to honor it – I’m so glad they asked! I wasn’t going to do anything special for this day, but now I think I will – I’ll still fast much of the day, but when I do eat, I think that milk tart would be lovely.