Today, May 31, is the feast day of St. Petronilla, an early Christian saint, who died in Rome at the end of 1st century.
“She lived when Christians were more solicitous
to live well than to write much”
Among the disciples of the apostles in the primitive age of saints, this young women shone as a bright star in the church. She lived when Christians were more solicitous to live well than to write much: they knew how to die for Christ; but did not compile long books or disputations, in which vanity has often a greater share than charity. Hence no particular account of her actions hath been transmitted down to us. But how eminent her sanctity was we may judge from the lustre by which it was distinguished among the apostles, prophets, and martyrs.
Her name is the feminine and diminutive of Peter, and she is said to have been a daughter of the apostle St. Peter, which tradition is confirmed by certain writings quoted by the Manichees in the time of St. Augustine, which affirm that St. Peter had a daughter whom he cured of a palsy. But it seems uncertain whether St. Petronilla was more than the spiritual daughter of that apostle. She flourished at Rome, and was buried on the way to Ardea, where anciently a cemetery and a church bore her name; so famous that in it a station or place for the assembly of the city in public prayer, was established by Gregory III. She is commemorated in the true Martyrology of Bede.
One legend about St. Petronilla that has been passed down, recounts that that a pagan king named Flaccus, wishing to marry her, led her to go on a hunger strike, from which she died.
The saints, whether in sickness or in health, in public or in private life, devoted all their thoughts and actions to God, and thus sanctified all their employments. The great end for which they lived was always present to their minds, and they thought every moment lost in which they did not make some advances towards eternal bliss. How will their example condemn at the last day the trifling fooleries, and the greater part of the conversation and employments of the world, which aim at nothing but present amusements, as if it were the business of a rational creature to divert his mind from thought and reflection, and forget the only affair—the business of eternity.
Text adapted from Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Public Domain) and Wikipedia (Creative Commons License)
IMAGE CREDIT: Fictional Portrait of St. Petronilla via Wikimedia Commons.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com