Saint Philomena’s sainthood has been consistently affirmed by the highest authority of the Church, with nineteen acts by five popes promoting devotion to St. Philomena! Still today, devotion at her Mugnano shrine is practiced with the full approval of the Holy See.
A Saint Beloved by the Church
She is a saint like no other: the only person in history “recognized as a saint solely on the basis of her intercessory miracles.” Unlike other saints, there was no written historical record of her life when she was raised to the altar of the Church. This hints at her special mission, some of which has been revealed to us, as we will see, but which has still yet to completely unfold. Thus far it has done so brilliantly, in both her secret intercessions for souls and her astonishing public miracles, which have earned her the name “Great Wonderworker of the Nineteenth Century.”
Despite her abundant and awesome miracles, confusion and doubt has arisen in recent decades because of the 1961 Congregation of Rites decision to remove her feast from the liturgical calendar, giving way to questions such as: Is Saint Philomena really a saint? Did she even exist?
The faithful can rest assured that this decision in no way calls into question her existence or sainthood. On the contrary! Saint Philomena’s sainthood has been consistently affirmed by the highest authority of the Church, with nineteen acts by five popes promoting devotion to St. Philomena! Still today, devotion at her Mugnano shrine is practiced with the full approval of the Holy See.
Those who doubt the legitimacy of her devotion should consider what Pope Pius X said about his decision to raise the Venerable Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena to the status of Universal Archconfraternity. This confirmed the legitimacy of devotion to Saint Philomena. In the Apostolic Brief Pias Fidelium Societates, he solemnly stated: ". . . to discredit the present decisions and declarations concerning Saint Philomena as not being permanent, stable, valid and effective, necessary of obedience, and in full effect for all eternity, proceeds from an element that is null and void and without merit or authority." One could say that Pope Pius X had the final say on Saint Philomena!
Great Wonderworker of the Nineteenth Century
What was at first lacking in historical knowledge about Saint Philomena’s life would be made up for with an outpouring of miracles, which were so numerous and remarkable that by the mid-1800’s, the faithful were clamoring to have her made a saint.
When the body of Saint Philomena was discovered in an underground cemetery in 1802, it was immediately apparent that she was no ordinary girl. Her marble coffin displayed special emblems: a palm frond representing the victory of martyrdom, and an anchor as well as two criss-crossed arrows to show the afflictions she endured. A lily represented virginity. Three marble tiles sealed her tomb, which were found to read (when correctly arranged): Pax Tecum Filumena - Peace be to you, Philomena!
The full extent of this little martyr’s identity remained, for the time being, a mystery. But God’s manifestation of her sanctity came quickly and splendidly: As those excavating her tomb transferred her encased dried blood particles to another vase for examination, they were astonished to find these particles had transformed into what appeared to be glittering gems of emerald, ruby, diamond, gold and silver! Luigi Cardinal Ruffo Scilla testified to this miracle in his solemn deposition.
See Sr. Marie Helen Mohr’s book >
This wonder was only the first of innumerable miracles, of which here is mentioned only a tiny fraction. The miraculous multiplication of her bone dust, the mysterious re-painting of a botched paper-maiche statue made (or rather, attempted) in her likeness, and the sealing of a cracked marble altar created in her honor were all among her first miracles officially confirmed by the Church. She continues to work miracles and intercede for souls today, with her most momentous miracles being those of grace.
Raised to the Altar of the Church
The decisive miracle that would raise Saint Philomena to the altar of the Church was to come through another holy woman, Venerable Pauline Marie Jaricot, foundress of what would become the Vatican Congregation Propaganda Fidei. Stricken with a grave illness while only in her 30’s, Pauline decided to seek Saint Philomena’s intercession for healing by embarking upon a pilgrimage to her shrine in Mugano, Italy. On the way, she stopped in Rome to ask the Holy Father to formally approve public devotion to Philomena if she returned to him cured after visiting the shrine in Mugnano. This he agreed to, because she appeared so near death that the Pope had no expectation that she would ever return.
Pauline arrived to Mugnano resigned to the will of God, but many townspeople, seeing her so ill that she looked more like a corpse than a living person, implored Saint Philomena for Pauline’s healing. During her third evening in church on August 10, Pauline began to experience her miraculous cure during the blessing of the Most Holy Sacrament.
When Pauline returned to Rome to visit Pope Gregory XVI, he requested that she stay in Rome a year so that he could verify her miraculous healing, and deliver his promise. And so he did: in 1837, he solemnly confirmed her public veneration and bestowed a Mass in her honor.
The Life and Martyrdom of Saint Philomena
Just who was this saint, so young yet so powerful in her intercession? To tell Saint Philomena’s story, we have something even better than historical record: we have the vivid and captivating details of her martyrdom from the saint herself, given by locution to three different Italians, unknown to each other.
Of the locutions received, those given to Sr. Luisa di Gesu in 1833, which have been approved by the Holy Office (presently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), are most well known. You can read the story of Saint Philomena’s martyrdom here.
A Saint with a Special Mission: Why We Need Saint Philomena
Saint Philomena’s name, taken from the original Filumena, which means “daughter of light,” expresses her divine mission as a shining beacon of holiness, a kind of “lighthouse” pointing towards God, and giving a practical example by which we can properly orient our life and form our hearts.
Her virtue sparkles like a diamond, in all its strength and splendor, in her heroic martyrdom. She renounced her self totally: not only forgoing wealth, fame, honor and pleasure, but a long and “full” life and the approval of her family, while suffering all of the pains of her martyrdom. To endure this is only made possible by profound faith in God and His Almighty, loving Providence; by hope in His promises; and by a pure and ardent love for Him, the kind of love that from ones depths recognizes and loves God as All.
This love is what conquers self-love. It is the cornerstone of Saint Philomena’s purity, strength, and all of her virtue. It is the kind of love that will overcome our own temptations, especially that of impurity. Saint Philomena, who consecrated her life and virginity to God, and who herself overcame temptation, will intercede for our own purity of heart, mind and body if we ask humbly, persistently, and with faith.
Besides beckoning all souls to purity, God emphasizes the extremely precious value of consecrated virginity through saints like Philomena, who earn their crown of martyrdom in defense of this gift to God. Through the example of St. Philomena, God beckons souls to answer His call and likewise consecrate themselves fully to Him out of love.
Role Model for Youth
Saint Philomena died at age 13, an age during which many young people lose an innocence of soul. Let us pray for her intercession especially for our teens and youth, who are assaulted with more temptations than any generation of history. As parents, let us hold her up as a true heroine and role model for our children. Her story, which reveals her humanity as well as her virtue, offers so many lessons, not the least of which is the necessity of assiduous prayer and total dependence upon God. This must be emphasized when cultivating purity in our youth, which is a difficult task, but an invaluable one. It is in great part our youth’s determination to preserve their purity that will lay the foundations of a virtuous and stable society.
Let us also speak of the wondrous miracles God wrought in Saint Philomena’s martyrdom and of the glorious place she holds in heaven, as revealed by her intercessory miracles, to provide an alternative to the glory of the world which is already constantly displayed in enticing color to our youth.
New Light of the Church Militant
The miraculous manner in which God revealed Saint Philomena - through both her intercessory miracles, and the locutions given about her life - appears to be a Providential response to the rationalist “Enlightenment” period which immediately preceded the discovery of Saint Philomena. It was - and still is - a timely and humbling reminder to men, puffed up with pride in our intellect, that we cannot know everything through our own power.
Thus, her name which means “daughter of light,” and Saint John Vianney’s name for her - “new light of the Church militant” - have an added layer of meaning. While the so-called Enlightenment period in reality constituted a darkening of men’s intellects as they pulled away from God, Saint Philomena is an antidote to the Enlightenment, a true light reflecting the Light of Almighty God and pointing souls back towards Him. She reminds souls that God is the source of all knowledge and wisdom, to re-enkindle supernatural faith.
As Cornelia Ferreira puts it so aptly:
It does seem that God reserved St. Philomena as a remedy for our corrupt times...she has been sent to guide us away from the darkness of naturalism and materialism to the supernatural light of the Fire of Divine Love which she enkindles within souls. Further, through the power of her intercession, which is so great that she could be considered the Patron Saint of everything, she gives hope and faith in God to souls surrounded by the despair of atheism and a world descending into barbarism. No wonder this great light, like Our Lady of Fatima, had to be suppressed by the forces of Organized Naturalism that finally gained control over the Church in the 1960s. [Unknown Object]
Beacon of Hope
Saint Philomena, in her victory over temptation and of her martyrdom, is an especially powerful beacon of hope for us in our own struggles because of her very littleness. As a young girl who was barely a teenager, it is all the clearer to us that to endure her martyrdom, she could not rely on her own strength, but needed constant recourse to God. In reality, this is how every human being must conquer temptation, but because of our lack of humility, we must be reminded of our need to constantly pray for help.
We need this encouragement not only in our ordinary struggles, but for our more difficult trials, even for a “white” martyrdom or bloody martyrdom. God desires that we fix our eyes upon Him alone, and upon eternity, as Saint Philomena did, because it is in this way that we too will emerge from this life victorious.
Feast Days of St. Philomena
January 10th: Birthday of the Saint Philomena
Sunday after January 10th: Patronage day of Saint Philomena
May 25th: Celebration of the finding of the Holy Body of Saint Philomena
August 10th: Celebration of the Translation of the Holy Body and the martyrdom of Saint Philomena
August 11th: Liturgical feast day in honor of Saint Philomena
August 13th: Celebration of the name of Santa Filumena (Saint Philomena)
Second Sunday of August: Solemn festivities in honor of Saint Philomena