The Martyrs’ Rose: Félicité-Perpétue

The Martyrs’ Rose: Félicité-Perpétue March 7, 2014

From a terrace on the River Seine, to a prison wall at Alcatraz, the fragrance of a martyrs’ rose.

Antoine A. Jacques was head gardener to the Duc d’Orleans, the future Louis-Philippe I, in Château de Neuilly.  The castle, built in 1751, was burned and destroyed during the Revolution of 1848.  In the 1820s, though, when Monsieur Jacques was gardener, the Château overlooked a series of terraces on the River Seine.

Jacques experimented with plants, in particular roses, and developed a number of new hybrids of climbing roses.  The Félicité-Perpétue, developed in 1827, was a sempervirens (everblooming) hybrid with a delicate primrose fragrance.  It’s reported that Jacques named it after Saints Felicity and Perpetua, martyrs whose feast is celebrated on March 7, when there was an unexpected birth of twins in his own family; and the newborns were given the saints’ names.

Gardeners describe the Félicité-Perpétue rose as a vigorous rambler bearing large clusters of white globular blooms.  It’s still popular because of its vigor and disease resistance.   From early  to mid-July, the bush is in full bloom; growing up to 12 feet, it’s sometimes placed where it can climb a tree.  It was recently discovered climbing old walls at Alcatraz prison, still strong years after it was planted.

Felicity and Perpetua, the young second-century martyrs for whom the rose is named, are honored on their feastday, March 7.  Perpetua was a 22-year-old married noble and a nursing mother.  Felicity was her slave, and was pregnant.  Both were martyred for refusing to renounce their Christian faith—attacked by a wild cow at the military games in celebration of the Emperor Geta’s birthday, and then, when they didn’t die from the vicious animal attack, by having their throats slit.

Their story is told in The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions, an ancient text which survives in both Latin and Greek.  According to the writer, the women were “wounded by the wild animals, they gave each other the kiss of peace and were then put to the sword.”  The text describes Perpetua’s death as follows:

“But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman’s hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain (being feared of the unclean spirit) had she not herself so willed it.”

Prayer for the Day:

Saints Perpetua and Felicity, watch over all mothers and children who are separated from each other because of war or persecution. Show a special care to mothers who are imprisoned and guide them to follow your example of faith and courage.  Amen.

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