Cornelia Comes to the Defense of St. Philomena: Just as Warren H. Carroll relied on the "Canonization" of Josemaria Escriva by JPII to justify his endorsement of Opus Dei, he justified his Denial of St. Philomena' s existence on the basis of one Citation in the Catholic Encyclopedia
For those confused or concerned by the late Dr. Warren Carroll's denial of the existence of St. Philomena, here is an article by Cornelia Ferreira giving the facts behind devotion to the Saint. Much better proof than the one single quotation from the Catholic Encyclopedia, which Dr. Warren Carroll uses to deny her existence and reject her cult. Thank you, Cornelia for this.
St. Philomena: a Saint for Saints
Cornelia R. Ferreira
On February 14, 1961, to the great confusion and consternation of Catholics worldwide, the feast of St. Philomena was removed from the liturgical calendar by the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Supposedly, there was no historical evidence for the Saint’s existence, an argument based principally on the previously-discredited conclusions of an early twentieth-century Italian archaeologist.
But the facts underlying the authentic and magisterially-approved devotion to this glorious Saint will show that the removal smacks of irreverence, naturalism, disobedience, and even ecumenism. In 1927, António Mendes Bello, Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, said the facts about St. Philomena are based on the “categorical and repeated decisions of the Roman Congregations and the Declarations of the Sovereign Pontiffs,” as well as “on the authority of distinguished writers and scientists.” Indeed, because the Saint’s constant miracles attracted universal attention, they also suffered skeptical criticism. Hence, great ecclesiastical vigilance was exercised in examining the facts, giving us an “absolute guarantee” of the “genuineness of all that had been recounted of the Saint,” wrote one of her biographers, Father Paul O’Sullivan, O.P., in his book, Saint Philomena, the Wonder-Worker.
There is actually no known historical account of the life of St. Philomena, who lay undisturbed for about seventeen centuries in the Roman catacombs. Her historical record began when she burst into view in the nineteenth century with the finding of her remains, and with her immediate and unending stupendous miracles and favors. It seems she was revealed to the world at that time to counter the powers of the forces of darkness that were gaining in strength during a period rife with revolutions against Monarchs and Church. Indeed, the great St. John Vianney, Curé of Ars, who played a major part in presenting her to the world, called her the “New Light of the Church Militant.”
It does seem that God reserved St. Philomena as a remedy for our corrupt times, having given her the name that means “daughter of light.” Because of her heroic purity, obedience and humility (as made known to us through nineteenth-century revelations), 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.
A Saint is Found
On May 24, 1802, official excavators discovered a perfectly preserved tomb in the catacomb of St. Priscilla, sealed with three terracotta tiles. The type of tomb and its location indicated a person of high position. Its discovery after centuries of vandalism and abandonment of the Roman catacombs was considered remarkable.
Church procedure is that when a new discovery is made, the tomb can only be opened by appointed clerics and specialists, with prescribed prayers. A diligent examination is done, with all observations carefully recorded.
And so the next day, May 25, Father Filippo Ludovici, Vatican overseer of the excavation, along with other clergy, surgeons, doctors, and civil and legal officials assembled at the vault. They noticed that the three tiles closing it had written across them in red paint the words LUMENA, PAX TE, and CUM FI, respectively. When the LUMENA tile was put last, they read PAX TE, CUM FI, LUMENA, i.e., Pax tecum Filumena — “Peace be with you, Philomena.” This was a very valuable find as it was rare to have the name of the enclosed martyr inscribed on the tomb. Perhaps from haste or unfamiliarity with Latin, the slabs were in the wrong order. On the other hand, the ancient custom was to read the inscriptions beginning from the second tile (PAX TE), then complete the epitaph logically. So Monsignor Hyacinthus Ponzetti, Custodian of the Sacred Relics, officially named the remains of the Christian Martyr “Filumena”.
Also inscribed on the slabs were various symbols: a palm, denoting martyrdom; a lily, emblem of virginity; two anchors, one with a curved line on it, perhaps signifying fire; two arrows pointing in opposite directions; and a lance or sword — all indicating martyrdom. Several saints had been drowned with an anchor around their neck, and arrows and lances were common instruments of death.
When the tomb was opened, it revealed the skeleton of a young girl, who physicians determined was about thirteen years old. She had been lanced, and her skull was fractured. Also in the tomb was a glass vial or vase whose half-broken sides were encrusted with a darkish red or black powder. It had been the custom of Christians to collect the blood of the martyrs and place it in their tombs. Scientific tests have shown the ash to be blood, but an immediate miracle gave supernatural proof that it was indeed the blood of a martyr.
As the dry particles adhering to the glass were carefully removed and placed in a clear crystal vase, they changed appearance and shone and glittered like precious gems — rubies, emeralds, diamonds, even gold and silver — in all colors of the rainbow. This astounding miracle immediately convinced the gathered experts and Church dignitaries that they had discovered a new saint. Luigi Cardinal Ruffo Scilla, who affixed the seals to the new reliquary, declared in his solemn deposition: “And we ourselves have seen her blood changed into several brilliant precious stones, into gold and silver likewise.”
In 1847, Father Victor Dechamps, later Cardinal Archbishop of Malines, witnessed the same miracle. Father Paul O’Sullivan studied the crystal reliquary thirty or forty times in 1909, and each time the blood was transformed. This extraordinary phenomenon continues to this day. Sometimes, supposedly presaging impending misfortune, small black particles are seen. Foreshadowing his coming sorrows, this occurred when Pope Pius IX venerated the blood. It has also been observed that when some unworthy person venerates the relic, the blood takes on the appearance of black earth.
After the final examination of St. Philomena’s relics, they were carefully placed in a wooden case along with the testimony of theologians and surgeons, and the sealed case was sent to the Treasury of Sacred Relics.
Three years later, in 1805, the Bishop-elect of Potenza, Bartolomeo De Cesare, went to Rome for his consecration. He travelled with a devout and scholarly priest from Mugnano del Cardinale, a village near Naples in the diocese of Nola. The priest, Don Francesco di Lucia, was well-regarded in education circles, having opened a school of philosophy and literature in Naples. Now, note that his surname — di Lucia — means “of light”. He would devote the rest of his life to spreading the New Light of the Church Militant to the world.
Don Francesco secretly wanted for his private oratory the relics of a named Virgin Martyr to help him convert his parish that was infected with immorality and revolutionary ideas against the Church, stemming from the Masonic upheavals of the time. He was allowed to visit the Treasury, which contained the relics of three named martyrs. When he stood in front of St. Philomena’s case, he immediately felt this was his Saint; but his request for her was refused, as a martyr whose name was known could only be donated to a bishop. Don Francesco was offered the body of another Saint, which he reluctantly accepted. Then he fell seriously ill. On the point of death, he promised St. Philomena he would take her as his patroness and transport her relics to Mugnano. He was instantly cured, and his negotiations succeeded. On June 8, 1805, Pope Pius VII donated the precious remains to Bishop De Cesare and the diocese of Nola and the Bishop legally donated them to Don Francesco. The three tiles were kept in Rome.
A Journey Abounding in Graces
On July 1, 1805, the Bishop and Don Francesco set off for Mugnano. It was a journey full of blessings and prodigies of grace, which were just the beginning of the daily wonders wrought through St. Philomena’s powers of intercession.
First, the Little Saint showed that she takes seriously promises made to her. In gratitude for his miraculous cure, Don Francesco and the Bishop had promised her the place of honor in their carriage, but then forgot their promise. The box of precious relics was securely fastened under the Bishop’s seat. Three times during the trip, he felt sharp blows on his legs. Each time the carriage was stopped and the box examined, and it was determined there was no way it could have moved. The third time the Bishop was so severely hurt that he refused to have the box under him and it was transferred to the front of the carriage, the place of honor. Immediately the trouble ceased, and the two men remembered their promise and realized that Philomena was reminding them to respect it. They knelt in veneration of the Saint for most of the way afterwards.
The next day they arrived in Naples and stayed with the Bishop’s friend, book publisher Antonio Terres. The relics were encased in a specially-made papier-maché statue of the Saint, which was then placed in a wooden casket. Antonio’s wife Angela, with some helpers, robed the statue in precious garments. During this process, the face of the statue repeatedly changed expression, and the relics exuded delightful perfumes. As a further reward for her veneration, Donna Angela, who had suffered for twelve years from an incurable disease, was restored to perfect health.
Bishop Vincenzo Torrusio of Nola authorized placing the relics in the Torres family’s private chapel. But once the news spread, there was a massive rush of the faithful. So the relics were transferred to Bishop De Cesare’s former parish church, where for three days they were displayed for public veneration for the first time. Other cures took place after the relics were reinstated in the Torres chapel.
On August 9, the travelers set off at night on foot for Mugnano. Once again, wonders accompanied the trip, beginning with the cure of one of the bearers of the casket from severe pain he had been suffering. Because of the full moon they took no lanterns with them; but heavy clouds obscured their path. They invoked the Martyr and immediately the clouds parted, and a column of light descended and rested upon the casket, like a column of fire in the pitch darkness, illuminating their way until dawn. Also on the 9th, the citizens of Mugnano received their first gift from Philomena. At their prayers, a long drought was relieved by plentiful rain that fell only in their district.
As the travelers entered Mugnano on August 10, they found the roads decorated and thronged with crowds. Bells rang out amid manifestations of joy. But then a terrible shrieking whirlwind with clouds of black dust bore down upon the terrified people. It stopped at the relics, disappeared, then several times returned furiously. But it harmed no one, neither did it extinguish the candles on the sides of the casket. One of the priests bade the throng not to be afraid. The storm, he said, was caused by
the princes of darkness who well know this holy Martyr and her victories over them. Now this Martyr is made known to the faithful as a shining star coming forth from the darkness of the catacombs.… her victorious soul shall continue to give battle against these apostate and condemned spirits. She will obtain untold graces for the Christians of this district…. Hence these … bitter enemies manifest by such extraordinary signs that they are afflicted, humiliated, and despairing.
For two days this wind howled over the favored neighborhood as Satan vented his rage because of the graces that would be showered upon it.
Indeed, from that day on, blessings and miracles poured down upon Mugnano, greatly increasing the faith of the people, which had been the holy aim of Don Francesco. And from Mugnano, the restoration of the Faith, thanks to St. Philomena, spread throughout Italy and the rest of the world.
During the octave of Philomena’s arrival, which was celebrated liturgically with great splendor and attended by vast crowds, striking miracles occurred. These included the cure of a poor widow’s crippled son, who could not even stand, and the restoration of the sight of a little girl with a drop of oil from the lamp burning before the relics. A freethinker who witnessed the second miracle was converted and gave a large donation for the building of a chapel in the Saint’s honor. Right until today many miracles have been wrought through St. Philomena’s oil, obtained from the lamp that burns continuously before her.
Because of the many miracles and increasing crowds, Don Francesco had to relinquish his desire of keeping the Saint in his private oratory. On September 29, the relics were enshrined under a new wooden altar in a chapel prepared in the Church of Our Lady of Grace. Don Francesco was the first Rector of the Sanctuary and is buried within it.
St. Philomena’s Story
Now, we do have a biography of St. Philomena, which she disclosed to three devout persons unknown to each other and living far apart. The narratives are identical and tally with the symbols and writing found on the sarcophagus. A book relating them was given the Imprimatur of the Holy Office in 1833. This does not guarantee their authenticity, but means we can give human belief to them. Also, note that the Saint’s canonization was not based on private revelation (as her detractors claim), but on her countless miracles which show God’s approval and love of her.
The revelation usually cited was given in 1833 to a holy Neapolitan nun, Venerable Mother Mary Luisa, Superior General of the Congregation of Our Lady of Dolours and St. Philomena. The Cause of her beatification is proceeding.
Philomena said she was born into pagan royalty. Her father was king of a small Greek state. Seeing her parents’ grief at having no children, a Christian doctor assured them that their desire would be granted if they became Christians. They converted and had a daughter on January 10 of the following year. They called her Lumena or “light,” to signify the light of Faith of her parents of which she was, so to speak, the fruit. At her Baptism, she was named Filumena, meaning “daughter of light” (filia luminis), because that day she was born to the Faith. Notice how the two names were incorporated into the tiles on her sarcophagus: “Lumena,” her first given name, was on the first tile, and “Fi” was at the end of the third tile. When the tiles were re-arranged and the third tile put first, the name became Filumena.
Philomena made a vow of chastity at eleven. At thirteen, she accompanied her parents to Rome because her father wanted to make peace with the Emperor Diocletian, who was threatening to wage an unjust war against him. The married tyrant was captivated by the beautiful young princess and promised her parents his protection if they would bestow her hand upon him. They willingly consented, but Philomena refused as she had made herself the spouse of Jesus Christ. Neither promises nor threats could move her.
The Emperor had her loaded with chains and thrown into a dungeon. He visited her daily to press his cause and continue his torments. On the thirty-seventh day, Our Lady, carrying Jesus, appeared to her and said she would leave the prison after three more days, but would suffer terribly. Seeing her anguish, Mary strengthened her with the following words:
Have courage, my child … are you unaware of the love of predilection that I bear for you? The name which you received in Baptism is the pledge of it, by the resemblance which it has to that of my Son and to mine. You are called Lumena, as your Spouse is called Light, Star, Sun; as I myself am called Aurora, Star, the Moon …, and Sun. Fear not, I will aid you…. your Angel, who was also mine, Gabriel, whose name expresses force, will come to your succor: I will recommend you especially to his care, as the well-beloved among my children.
The Emperor next had Philomena mercilessly scourged until she was “one single wound,” then returned her to prison to die; but she was miraculously healed by two angels. The next morning, the astounded Diocletian commanded that she be drowned in the Tiber with an anchor around her neck. Again she was helped by two angels, who cut off the anchor and brought her back to the bank in view of an immense multitude. This miracle converted many of the spectators.
Diocletian now considered Philomena a magician, and ordered her to be shot with arrows. The dying Saint was thrown back into prison, but fell into a peaceful sleep and awoke perfectly cured. The enraged Emperor ordered the torture to be repeated, but the arrows would not leave the bows. Convinced this was magic that would be unavailing against fire, he ordered the arrows to be heated red hot. But God caused the arrows to be turned back against the archers, killing six of them. Others renounced paganism, and they were followed by many of the onlookers.
Then Diocletian ordered Philomena’s neck to be pierced with a lance. The soul of the glorious Martyr ascended to her Divine Spouse at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, August 10. That is why God willed the translation of her body to Mugnano on August 10, and why He marked the occasion by so many miracles.
Extraordinary Transformations and Miraculous Multiplications
Interestingly, many of St. Philomena’s miracles involve her portrayal. Almost as one might expect of a teenage girl, she’s quite particular about her looks! Once, she tore to shreds a scarf adorning her figurine. Another time, an Irish artist who was painting the scene of her imprisonment heard a girl’s voice correcting his rendition, but saw no one when he turned around.
In 1925, a famous artist, Louis De Luca, was commissioned to make a papier-mâché statue for a church in Naples. The completed statue was brought to the church on September 30. On October 1 it was viewed in the sacristy by several priests, nuns and laity who admired it, except for its face, which was pale and “cadaverous,” with purple lips, in order “to represent an agonizing young girl”. De Luca was asked to color it, but that needed more time, so the idea was abandoned. The next day another priest saw the statue, which was stored in a back room. He too found it deathly pale. Shortly after, De Luca went in and came out very agitated — the face had been re-painted in the most delicate and artistic tones! Furthermore, it was completely dry, as though painted more than two weeks earlier.
Careful artistic and scientific experiments were carried out with his left-over paints. But the subtle new coloration could not be duplicated, and members of the Artistic Club of Naples reported this to Church authorities. An ecclesiastical tribunal under the Cardinal concluded that the phenomenon was supernatural and miraculous. Similar changes in other statues worldwide have also been observed, often harbingers of some grace.
Philomena is especially concerned about her relics in Mugnano. The papier-mâché statue in which they were placed in Naples was quite ugly, and the wooden case too short for her frame, causing it to lie in an awkward position. Miraculously, the statue has undergone many transformations witnessed by large numbers of visitors and thoroughly authenticated. It has several times improved its posture and expression. This was first observed on September 29, 1805, when it was placed in the altar of Our Lady of Grace. Although the case was sealed and the key kept in Naples, the statue had a more graceful position and the face was beautiful, with a pleasing smile. When a larger case was built, the figure elongated itself to fit it. The artificial hair grew and changed colour from chestnut to black; the eyes have been observed opening and closing; the robes have been re-arranged, as also the lily and arrow she holds. Most of these marvels took place before witnesses in a sealed and locked case whose keys were held by three different authorities, including the bishop of Nola.
In 1806, Cardinal Ruffo Scilla of Naples donated a magnificent wooden statue containing a small relic of the Saint to the Sanctuary in Mugnano. To celebrate Philomena’s feast, the statue is taken in procession each year. During the procession of 1823, the statue became heavier and the color of its face brighter. When returned to the church, the face and neck sweated oily drops termed “manna” for three days. The rest of the statue and everything else in the church was absolutely dry. This prodigy was witnessed by large crowds and authenticated by both civil and ecclesiastical authorities.
An amazing two-part wonder occurred in 1814. A Neapolitan lawyer and great devotee of St. Philomena, Alessandro Serio, went to Mugnano to beg a cure for a serious internal illness he had suffered for years. He suddenly worsened and sank into unconsciousness. It looked like he would die without the Sacraments. His wife placed a picture of St. Philomena on his body, praying that he might be able to make his confession. She promised a marble altar to the Saint for this favor. Immediately Serio rallied enough to make his confession, during which he was perfectly healed.
Now came the second part. As the altar made of the finest marble was being put in place, the mason accidentally cracked it, leaving a fissure the width of a finger. As he prepared to cement the break in front of a throng of disturbed visitors, the Little Saint joined the two parts together. To mark the miracle, she left a fine dark line resembling a natural marble vein, which is still visible today.
In 1824, Don Francesco wrote a book on the principal events connected with the Saint. He kept 221 copies for private distribution. He made four piles of forty-five each, which he kept covered. A fifth pile, with the remaining forty-one books was uncovered, and from this pile he distributed books freely for about six months. One day he found seventy-two books scattered on the floor of his locked room. The four covered piles were untouched, and the uncovered one contained nineteen books. Checking his accounts, he found he had given away more than five hundred from the uncovered pile. Scattering the books was St. Philomena’s way of drawing his attention to their multiplication. Other multiplications have taken place, as we shall see.
After nearly thirty years of unceasing miracles, the laity and practically the whole episcopate of Italy were strongly seeking Papal authorization of liturgical devotion to the Little Saint. In 1826, Leo XII allowed the Mass of the Common of a Virgin Martyr to be said in honor of St. Philomena on August 10 in Mugnano, except on a Sunday. Under Pope Gregory XVI, the Congregation of Rites (now the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) carefully scrutinized all the facts and gave its approbation in September 1834 for the Mass to be said even on Sunday, and for an Office with its own fourth lesson. Yet Pope Gregory XVI, although personally devoted to St. Philomena, spent more than two further years in prayerful consideration before making a pronouncement.
Meanwhile, the Holy See itself experienced first-hand a multiplication which helped St. Philomena’s Cause. In 1835, Bishop Anselmo Basilici of Nepi and Sutri received a pinch of dust from her bones to distribute as relics. In front of various ecclesiastics and lay people, he prepared 130 reliquaries, but the pinch of dust did not decrease, implying a miraculous multiplication. He did another distribution, with the same result. A third time, he convoked more witnesses, including another Bishop. He parceled out St. Philomena’s bone dust, and at the same time an equal quantity of dust from the remains of other martyrs. When the dust from the other martyrs had run out, that from St. Philomena remained unchanged.
As news of the wonder spread, Bishop Basilici received requests from all around the world for a speck of this marvelous dust and he had no trouble satisfying them. He personally reported this to Pope Gregory XVI, who ordered the Vatican Congregation of Rites to conduct its own experiment. The result was the same, as testified by witnesses under oath.
The Miracles Presented for Canonization
Then followed the two miracles that were used for Philomena’s canonization. The first was the healing of a young Venetian woman, Giovanna Cescutti, of various incurable illnesses and extreme pain that often left her at death’s door. On July 6, 1835, the end was imminent. The parish priest and the family said a prayer to St. Philomena, which Giovanna was too weak to recite herself. Later, thinking she had expired, the priest asked those present to recite three Our Fathers in honor of St. Philomena. At its completion, proclaiming, “A miracle!”, the young woman got up, instantly cured of every illness.
One of the witnesses was a knight of the King of Naples. (The king was an important benefactor of the Sanctuary.) This nobleman took the official ecclesiastical report of the miracle to Don Francesco in Mugnano. On the same day, he encountered Monsignor Giovanni Mastai-Ferretti, Apostolic Nuncio to Naples and the future Pope Pius IX, who was bringing precious gifts from Pope Gregory XVI for the Shrine. Monsignor Ferretti read the document and requested a copy so that he could publicize the event. He was probably highly interested because a year earlier, his own assistant was healed on his deathbed upon invoking St. Philomena.
A month later occurred what is called “the great miracle of Mugnano”: the astonishing healing of a pious young woman, Pauline Marie Jaricot of Lyon, France. It was the final impetus for Philomena’s canonization as Pope Gregory himself was a witness to what he declared a first-class miracle.
Pauline’s strong missionary spirit had led her to establish the Association of the Living Rosary, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and other good works. A priest friend gave her a relic of St. Philomena and Pauline determined to pray for her canonization. But she was stricken with an extremely painful heart disease that required her to lie still in bed and often brought her close to death. She also had a liver ailment that left her whole body so swollen that she could not even feed herself. The doctors of Lyon considered her case hopeless.
During what she called her “years of torture,” she and others prayed to Philomena, and this brought small moments of relief, allowing Pauline to leave her bed and be carried about in a chair. But unable to walk for fifteen months, and near death in 1835, she decided to go to Mugnano. This was to pay homage to her benefactress, but not to seek healing. She said she didn’t know if that would be advantageous for her — what an heroic example of Christian fortitude and detachment for today’s euthanizing society!
She first ventured to Paray-le-Monial, which was near Lyon. Having survived that trip, she set off for Rome to get the blessing of Pope Gregory. At a high pass in the Alps, a beautiful boy approached and gave her a fragrant white rose, then disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. The mountain guides did not know who he was and the flower could not have grown in that area. It was seen as an emblem of the Living Rosary, the present she was about to give the Holy Father.
Exhausted by the difficult journey over the snow-covered Alps and the hot Italian plains, Pauline arrived in Rome almost unconscious. She could not possibly visit the Pope. So Gregory XVI, who was very pleased with her great work for the Church, came to see her in the convent where she was lodged. She asked him if he would proceed with the cult of Philomena if she returned cured from Mugnano. Gregory said he would, as that would be a miracle of the first class. He thoroughly believed he would never see her again.
Pauline arrived in Mugnano on Saturday, August 8, in time for the celebration of the translation of Philomena’s body. When the people learnt who she was, and saw her unable to speak and looking “more like a corpse than a living person,” they assumed she was there for healing. They were determined to see that happen. They actually pounded on the tomb of the Saint, threatening that they would stop praying to her if she did not cure Pauline! Carried into the church in her chair, Pauline prayed for two days in front of the miraculous altar with the reliquary of St. Philomena until the feast day, Monday the 10th.
That evening, at the moment of Benediction, she was completely cured. She gave a long written testimony to the ecclesiastical and civil authorities of Mugnano.
After she returned to Rome, the astounded Gregory XVI recognized the cure as a definite sign that God wanted the sanctity of the Virgin Martyr known to the world. At his request, Pauline stayed a year in Rome so that her cure could be observed and authenticated. On January 13, 1837, Pope Gregory solemnly confirmed the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of September 6, 1834.
Philomena was now a canonized Saint, with a feast day on August 11, a Mass, and an Office in her honor. This papal approval of public liturgical devotion was given first to the diocese of Nola in which Mugnano is situated, then extended to other dioceses. Furthermore, Pope Gregory named St. Philomena the “Great Wonder-Worker of the Nineteenth Century” and the “Patroness of the Living Rosary.”
A Holy Curé
Pauline Jaricot and her great friend, St. John Vianney, were the chief instruments chosen by God to spread devotion to St. Philomena. When she returned to France, Pauline visited the holy Curé of Ars and gave him a relic of St. Philomena whilst recounting the story of her miraculous cure. The Curé was moved to immediately erect a chapel in his church to honor the Martyr and enshrine her relic in it. This sanctuary became the scene of innumerable miracles.
The Curé attributed all the documented miracles at Ars, including his own deathbed cure, to St. Philomena’s intercession. She appeared several times to him and delighted in working miracles through the hands of this humble priest who spoke continuously about his “dear little Saint.” He called her the “New Light of the Church Militant.” His greatest cross, however, was that the wonders in Ars were attributed to his holiness and prayers. “I wish she would work her miracles away from here!” he said. But this was one prayer of his she did not answer. It was probably because thousands flocked to Ars, learned about devotion to her from him, and then took it back to their own cities and countries.
St. Philomena’s biographer, Fr. O’Sullivan, observed and himself experienced that wherever a statue of the Saint is placed in a church, favors and graces in abundance flow on the priest and his flock. “If only priests could be induced to place a statue of the Saint in their churches,” and spread her devotion from the pulpit and confessional, he said, “their churches would soon become centers of devotion.” “Many of her great sanctuaries have had this simple beginning.” Homes in which her picture or statue is venerated will also experience her wonderful help.
Here is another example of how a sanctuary was set up and what benefits flowed from it. A man who had received a favour from the Saint offered her image to the Church of St. Gervais in Paris. Paris was in the midst of revolutionary ferment, but veneration of the image produced so many cures, conversions and other favors that multitudes attended devotions and novenas. As the Faith was being strengthened, the church was assailed by the Communist hordes of the Paris Commune in 1871, but St. Philomena miraculously protected it.
The Communists unsuccessfully tried several times to destroy the church. Finally, one night, under cover of darkness, a large band of revolutionaries started to sack the building. But suddenly one of their number repented and spread the alarm, and they were driven out. They set fire to the neighborhood, but St. Gervais alone stood intact amidst the conflagration.
What a treasury of graces has been lost by the suppression of 1961! This has led to the closing of several shrines, including Ars; St. Philomena’s disparagement as a “legend,” or her omission in books on the lives of the Saints; and the consequent discontinuance of her veneration by many — all this after a long line of Popes venerated St. Philomena and approved public devotion to her!
Ever since the finding of her remains, every Pope of an entire century has loved and cherished her. Furthermore, nineteen acts of the Holy See in the course of five successive pontificates were issued, promoting devotion to St. Philomena through several elevations in rank of her liturgical cult, the erection of Confraternities and Archconfraternities, and the granting of indulgences. They are too numerous to list here. Although she was not inserted into the Roman Martyrology, these magisterial actions officially recognized her as a Saint, Virgin and Martyr of the universal Church.
Papal and Saintly Devotees
We begin with Pope Pius VII. St. Philomena was discovered in the second year of his pontificate. He donated her body to Mugnano. Interestingly, he was taken prisoner and held outside Rome by Napoleonic forces for several years, finally returning on May 24, 1814, the anniversary of the finding of St. Philomena’s tomb. He later established this day as the feast of Mary, Help of Christians. God’s Providence thus showed St. Philomena is an important part of Our Blessed Mother’s help for the Church in our times as they were linked together on this day.
Pope Leo XII many times expressed his admiration for the powers bestowed on Philomena by God. He considered the facts relating to her irrefutable and granted permission for the erection of altars and churches in her honor. In 1827 he donated the three tiles found on her tomb to the Sanctuary in Mugnano.
Don Francesco had founded an order of women called The Little Sisters of St. Philomena. Under a strict rule, they devoted themselves to good works and lived a life of chastity within their own families. Pope Leo was amazed at the great number of women devoted to this holy life and to their good example. Blessing them, he exclaimed:
This miracle is greater than any other miracle worked by the Saint. What! In an age of universal corruption, in a kingdom so lately subjected to so many vicissitudes of religion, these pure souls have arisen to tread publicly underfoot the world and the flesh!
We have seen how Pope Gregory XVI raised St. Philomena to the altar. He also named her “Patroness of the Living Rosary,” saying, “Pray to St. Philomena. Whatever you ask of her, she will obtain for you.” By declaring her “the Great Wonder-Worker of the Nineteenth Century,” and further elevating the rank of her feast, he effectively silenced the critics who had been ridiculing her cult in spite of overwhelming evidence of her favor with God. Through the hands of the future Pius IX, he donated a large gold and silver lamp to the Sanctuary of Mugnano.
Blessed Pope Pius IX approved a proper Office and Mass dedicated to St. Philomena. In the lections of her Office she is named a Virgin, a Martyr and a Wonder-Worker. Whilst Archbishop, he was devoted to the Saint and credited her with curing him when he was dangerously ill. During his exile from Rome after becoming Pope, he made a pilgrimage to Mugnano and celebrated Mass at the miraculous altar that St. Philomena repaired, and he publicly venerated her relics. He granted many indulgences to those who visit the Shrine. He named her “Patroness of the Children of Mary” and the second “Patron of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.” He sent her his chalice, and on his deathbed he bequeathed his pectoral cross to her reliquary.
As Cardinal, Pope Leo XIII made two pilgrimages to the Shrine. When he was Pope, he gave it a valuable cross. He approved the Confraternity of Saint Philomena, enriched it with indulgences, and raised it to an Archconfraternity. He also approved the Cord of St. Philomena and granted this devotion both plenary and partial indulgences. This was the Pope who fought Freemasonry and wrote of its plan to corrupt society, especially youth, through “a boundless licence of vice.” The Cord of St. Philomena protects against all dangers and is known to cure the sick; but it is especially worn to safeguard the virtue of chastity. St. Philomena is regarded as a powerful protectress of this virtue. She bound herself by vow to it at the age of eleven and preserved her innocence at the sensuous Greek court and under the temptations and torture of the Roman Emperor. The Curé of Ars himself blessed and distributed the Cord.
Pope St. Pius X was a great devotee of St. Philomena. He raised the Archconfraternity to a Universal Archconfraternity and named St. John Vianney its patron. He beatified the Curé of Ars in the centenary year of the translation of St. Philomena’s body to Mugnano. To celebrate the centenary he sent a magnificent gold ring, which was placed on St. Philomena’s finger. It was one of many costly gifts he gave the Shrine. He advocated wearing St. Philomena’s Cord. He verbally rebuked the Modernist attacks on her, which we will see later.
Pope Benedict XV sent the Sanctuary the gift of a “silver lamb for peace.”
Pope Pius XI donated a golden chalice.
Besides Blessed Pius IX , St. Pius X, St. John Vianney and the Venerable Pauline Marie Jaricot, there is a long list of saints who were her “fervent clients.”
Here are just a few names:
Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini, who carried a small statue of the Saint on her travels;
Saint John Neumann, who completed the Church of St. Philomena in Pittsburgh. He and Mother Cabrini were the two people most instrumental in promoting the Virgin Martyr in America;
Saint Peter Chanel, first martyr of Oceania, whose devotion stemmed from the Curé of Ars;
Saint Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Most Blessed Sacrament, who was cured by St. Philomena and was “a very close friend” of the Curé of Ars;
Saint Madeline Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart, who healed a surgery patient after invoking St. Philomena;
Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, who obtained the healing of a granddaughter through the oil of St. Philomena;
Saint Damien of Molokai, who was preceded in the leper colony by St. Philomena in the form of a small wooden chapel built earlier under her name by a visiting religious brother. Damien rebuilt and enlarged the structure, and with the help of his patroness turned the colony into a model of Christian civilization.
Saint Pio, for whom St. Philomena was “the Princess of Heaven.”
The New Diocletians
Clearly, St. Philomena is a Saint for Saints, whose cult was promoted by the magisterial authority of the Supreme Pontiffs for a century. The removal of her feast from the calendar on February 14, 1961 (AAS 53, 30 January 1961, “Instructio,” p. 168, no. 33) was done by the very same Congregation that approved her liturgical cult in the first place! A footnote in the French translation by La Documention Catholique (http://www.introibo.fr/Instruction-De-calendariis, note 9) suggests spurious historical doubts regarding St. Philomena’s existence led to this action.
Seemingly to correct “confusion” in “the mainstream press,” it recounts the discovery of St. Philomena and the tiles naming her. However, it notes, she does not appear in the Roman Martyrology, but another three Philomenas do. It states the red-stained vase in her tomb was “too quickly” assumed to have contained the blood of a martyr, though it might actually have been wine. It cites the declaration by archaeologist Marucchi in 1904 that the three slabs were deliberately placed in the wrong order, to warn that the person buried there was not Philomena, but some “obscure” Christian (in other words, the tiles had been lifted from another tomb). Finally, the note implies that St. Philomena was thrown out of the liturgical calendar to make the Protestants happy. It quoted the world’s leading Anglican weekly, the Church Times, which wrote: “The decision to prefer historical science to superstitious credulity is a typical sign of the change in the Vatican’s mind. This is a cause of satisfaction for the Churches who have been separated for a long time”.
“Superstitious credulity”? On the cusp of Vatican II’s ecumenical agenda, the Catholic Church evinced no disapproval of this blasphemous Protestant sneer that defamed six Popes, as well as high-ranking prelates, great saints, learned theologians, eminent archaeologists, doctors and scientists, and multitudes of Catholics of every rank and level of education worldwide. It basically accused the pre-Vatican II Church of idolatry; whilst the Church’s silence was a harbinger of the Modernists’ iconoclastic attack on Tradition that would shortly follow.
The erroneous theories recounted in the footnote go back to the early 1900s, when Catholic detractors, including Marucchi and a Jesuit priest, claimed St. Philomena was “neither a Saint, nor a Virgin, nor a Martyr, nor a Philomena.” These claims were thoroughly refuted in 1906 by the erudite Fr. Giuseppe Bonavenia, a Jesuit archaeologist of the Pontifical Gregorian University. “He examined the question as an archaeologist, historian and theologian,” said Fr. Paul O’Sullivan. Marucchi’s contention that the tiles sealing the sarcophagus came from another tomb has also been refuted by modern science. Using the most up-to-date procedures, a study in 1963 and another published in 2005 completely debunked his theory, thus proving that St. Philomena did indeed exist. It turns out Marucchi had never examined the gravesite or tiles, but based his opinion on his own prejudice.
In 1907, Pope St. Pius X called it “incredible” that the detractors did not consider “the great argument in favor of the Saint,” namely, the Curé of Ars. “… [T]hrough her intercession, he obtained innumerable graces and continual prodigies…. he recommended her constantly….” Regarding Marucchi’s false theory about the name, he said,
On the tomb is read the name Filumena. If this is her name, or whether she had a different name, is of little importance. What is important is that the soul which once vivified these holy remains was the pure and holy soul which the Church has declared to be the soul of a Virgin Martyr. This soul was so loved by God, so pleasing to the Holy Spirit, that it has obtained the most magnificent graces for those who have recourse to her intercession. (Emphasis added.)
Nevertheless, ignoring Pius X, the facts, and the solemn decrees of his predecessors, the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 threw its weight behind the Modernist camp. Its entry on St. Philomena supported the eminent nineteenth-century Catholic archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi (1822-1894), who cast doubt on the presence of a martyr’s blood in the glass ampoule. It agreed with his disciple Horatius (Orazio) Marucchi (1852-1931) that the tiles were from another grave (i.e., Philomena did not exist). It concluded that the ampoule and the symbols on the tiles do not prove martyrdom.
Pius X went to her defence again. He definitively affirmed her existence and cult in 1912, in the brief raising the Archconfraternity to a Universal Archconfraternity. Referring to the devotion it promotes, he said,
... to discredit the present decisions and declarations concerning St. 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. (Emphases added.)
As for the contents of the ampoule, the most modern scientific methods of testing in 2003 confirmed it as blood.
The Catholic Encyclopedia also viciously attacked Don Francesco for a “purely fictitious and romantic account of the supposed martyrdom of St. Philomena,” based on private revelations to a nun and on “an entirely fanciful and indefensible explanation of the allegorical paintings … found on the [three] slabs.” But Don Francesco’s book, which described the translation of the relics and the authenticated miracles and facts (the private revelations took place later and were given an Imprimatur), was highly sought after, even by bishops, and translated into many languages. It was the one that was miraculously multiplied. It was highly regarded by Pope Leo XII, as was the holy priest himself by the Pope, clergy, royalty, and his own people. This zealous guardian of St. Philomena’s relics was awarded the high honor of being buried in the Sanctuary of Mugnano, near the chapel of his “little Saint.” At his funeral, the church bells rang by themselves.
Perhaps a contributing reason for the venom directed against the man who spread St. Philomena’s light to the world was his earlier book that commended the small band of locals and nearby patriots who, defending their Monarch and Church, defeated the Masonic forces of the Neapolitan Republic of 1799 in a battle for Mugnano on May 28, 1799.
So, the pseudo-historical and -archaeological reasons for suppressing the Saint’s feastday have been thoroughly discredited. That leaves what is possibly the actual reason — it helps the heresy of ecumenism by pleasing the Protestants. But in any case, the 1961 directive of the Congregation of Rites is, by decree of St. Pius X, null and void and without merit or authority.
Note that it did not forbid public devotion to the Saint, and in fact, Paul VI told an Indian Bishop not to let the decree disturb him. “… [L]et devotion to St. Philomena continue as before,” said Paul VI, thus also confirming the existence of the Saint. But he didn’t overturn the directive; so the Modernists went to town. New influential hagiographic accounts either relegate her to legend, disparage Don Francesco’s book, or omit her mention altogether. This is seen even in the 1981 edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints and the 2002 edition of The Book of Saints. The latter also falsely claims that the Shrine in Mugnano has been dismantled, the cultus forbidden in 1961, and only private veneration continues! Another example: A canon lawyer’s article, posted on “Canon Law Made Easy” in 2013, states Philomena was never a Saint, even if she existed. All such writing is null and void and lacks authority.
Nevertheless, several shrines closed or dropped public veneration, including St. Gervais and Ars. Naturally, devotion to St. Philomena declined. But to those who doubted her existence after 1961, St. Pio would reply: “It might well be that her name is not Philomena, but this Saint has performed many miracles and it is not the name that did them.”
Honoring St. Philomena
Mother Mary Louisa, who received the revelation about St. Philomena’s life, once had a vision in which the Saint asked Our Lady to grant favors for several persons. Our Lady complied, saying, “To Philomena nothing is refused.” As mentioned earlier, this vision was given an Imprimatur by the Holy Office. One does not have to believe it, but the vast multitudes of people who have been helped by the Saint verify Our Lady’s words: “To Philomena nothing is refused.” Indeed, this alleged “legendary” person still works her wonders for those who honor her.
And how can we honor her? First, by imitating her virtues of purity, humility and obedience, following in her path to holiness (to martyrdom, if need be). We can wear her Cord, say her Chaplet, use her blessed oil and medals, pray her Novena and other prayers, venerate her pictures and statues even in our own homes, and spread devotion to her. One very good way to honor her is to join the Universal Living Rosary Association, headquartered in Texas. Its members pray one assigned decade daily for the triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, the honor of St. Philomena, and the intentions of all the members. With sixteen million members at present, each gets the graces of all their Rosaries every day! You can also join the Universal Archconfraternity. Both the Living Rosary and the Archconfraternity are associated with the official Sanctuary of Mugnano.
“Honoring Saint Philomena we proclaim the power of God in the strength of His Martyrs, and His infinite goodness in the favors He concedes to the prayers of His Saints. This was the theology of the holy Curé of Ars...,” said Father Luis Petit, founder of the Universal Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena.
God rewards even the slightest devotion towards His dear Virgin Martyr. Here’s an example which shows the efficacy of wearing any object in her honor. One day a beautiful statue of the Saint arrived in a town in Italy. Amongst those who gathered around it was a ragged little boy. He snatched a bit of paper used to wrap the statue and hid it in his breast as a relic. He later fell into a deep well. He called on St. Philomena, who appeared, pulled him out of the water, and held him above it. She then fastened around his waist a rope that was let down an hour later. His rescuers knew he could not have done it himself. He described the Saint minutely and said she was like a thirteen-year-old girl he saw in the crowd. He was drenched, but the paper in his breast was perfectly dry.
Equally well, there are cases on record of God punishing those who dishonored the Saint or derided her miracles.
It is Mary, Help of Christians, who restored to safety on May 24, 1814 the Pope during whose Pontificate St. Philomena was brought to light exactly twelve years earlier. Our Lady thus confirmed St. Philomena as God’s powerful aid to salvation in an impious age already descending into diabolical disorientation and the occult. As the people were told during the terrifying whirlwind which threatened the translation of her relics, she is terrible to the devils.
Saint Philomena is a Saint for Saints. So in the words of her great devotee, the holy Curé of Ars, let us pray, “St. Philomena, whose name is glorified in Heaven and feared in Hell, pray for us.”
Father Paul O’Sullivan, O.P., St. Philomena, the Wonder-Worker (n.p., 1927; reprint ed., Lisbon: The Catholic Printing Press, 1954; re-pub. Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1993); Saint Philomena’s Roses (Dickinson, Texas: The Universal Living Rosary Association, 1988); Sister Marie Helene Mohr, S.C., Saint Philomena, Powerful with God (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1953; 2d ed., n.p.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1988; reprint ed., Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2010); Saint Philomena: New Light in an Age of Darkness (The Universal Living Rosary Association, n.d.); Universal Living Rosary Association, www.philomena.com/patroness.asp; Saint Philomena (Dickinson, Texas: The Angelus Press, Spring 1987); Sanctuary of Saint Philomena, Mugnano del Cardinale, Avellino, Italy, http://philomena.us/; The Life and Miracles of St. Philomena, Virgin and Martyr, trans. from French ([Fribourg, Switzerland], n.p., 1834; reprint ed., New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 1865), online at http://www.todayscatholicworld.com/life-miracles-of-st-philomena.pdf; Rick Medina, I Ask St. Philomena (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2003); The Miracles Used for the Canonisation [sic] of Saint Philomena …, http://philomena.it/2015August13.html; Mark Miravalle, “It is Time to Meet St. Philomena,” http://www.motherofallpeoples.com/2007/08/it-is-time-to-meet-st-philomena/; Mark Alessio, “St. Philomena…,” http://www.traditio.com/tradlib/philomen.txt.
Copyright © Cornelia R. Ferreira
May 24, 2017