On May 25, 1802, an excavation in the ancient Catacomb of St Priscilla in Rome came upon a well-preserved shelf tomb sealed with terra-cotta slabs in the manner usually reserved for nobility or great martyrs. The tomb was marked with three red tiles on which was written Peace be with you, Philomena and on which were etched a lily, a lance, an anchor and arrows to indicate she was a virgin and martyr. Inside the coffin were the remains of a girl of about twelve or thirteen years of age, along with a vial of her dried blood.
The relics were taken to the Treasury of the Rare Collection of Christian Antiquity in the Vatican and were soon nearly forgotten, especially since no record existed of a virgin martyr named Philomena. But three years later, at the request of the parish priest, the relics were brought to a shrine in Mugano (near Naples, Italy).
With the official donation of St Philomena's sacred remains for the shrine, favors began to be granted through her intercession and unusual events began to occur. As a result, she soon earned the title Philomena, Powerful with God. Pope Gregory XVI called her the wonder worker and named her Patroness of the Living Rosary. The Curé of Ars, who was devoted to St Philomena, credited her with the many miraculous events in his village. Later, Pope Pius IX named her Patroness of the Children of Mary. Other saints who were devoted to her included St Peter Julian Eymard and St Frances Xavier Cabrini.
In 1837, only 35 years after her exhumation, Pope Gregory XVI elevated Philomena to sainthood. Her elevation was highly unusual. In an act unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church, she became the only person recognized by the Church as a saint solely on the basis of her powerful intercessions, since nothing was known of her life except her name and the evidence of her martyrdom.
St Philomena has been successfully invoked in every sort of need, so that she has become another patron saint of "hopeless" and "impossible" cases, like St Jude or St Rita. Her devotees have discovered that no case is either too trivial or too important to concern her. She has shown herself to be a powerful intercessor, seemingly held quietly in reserve by God during these many centuries to provide especially strong help in our times when that help is so badly needed.
The principal feast day for St Philomena is August 11.
(Information from the National Center of the Confraternity of St Philomena for the United States and Canada, Dickinson, TX)
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Last updated March 16, 2002