Infallible ? The precedent set by Saint Philomena.

EVER since the Second Vatican Council, a shadow of doubt, calumny and even rejection has hovered over St. Philomena. Nevertheless, nothing is more certain and more attested than the existence and the holiness of this Roman martyr, based on archaeological and scientific evidence, and attested by revelations that are absolutely worthy of belief. The way in which the Church accepted and promoted her cult is diametrically opposed to that which she has adopted since 2005 for John Paul II.

Her cult was long in coming. On May 24, 1802, during a series of excavations in the Catacombs of St. Priscilla, on the Via Salaria Nuova in Rome, one of the workers struck a gravestone. The first reaction was to stop work and inform the authorities, in this case, the prelate appointed by Pius VII to identify and open tombs. The ceremony of the examination was set for the following day. Everything was carried out in accordance with the decrees of the Holy See, established by Clement IX and confirmed later on by Pius IX. A special Commission composed of cardinals and prelates was made responsible for deciding and judging the identity of the relics. The opening of the tomb took place 50 feet underground in the presence of Msgr. Ponzetti, the officiating prelate, of numerous priests and laymen, and a few excavators.

The gravestone of the loculus was composed of three terra cotta tiles that bore an inscription in red letters and other revealing symbols that drew the attention of the witnesses. The epitaph was spread over the three tiles :

Lumena + Pax + tecum Fi.

To obtain a meaning, it suffices to place the first tile after the two others to be able to read :

Pax tecum Filumena.

Filumena is a poor Latin transcription of the Greek name Philomena, the very name that the saint called herself later on in her revelations.

Before opening the tomb, the prelate had a search made for a vial containing blood. Christians always used to place such a vial at the exterior of a tomb incrusted in the plaster coating, when the deceased was a martyr. This important search presented no difficulty. A worker armed with a pointed tool poked at the plaster at one end of the loculus and succeeded in freeing a vial coated with dried blood that was collected. The first miracle related in the report, and which would repeat itself several times, was this : when these blood particles were detached from the vial, they changed into various resplendent bodies, reproducing together all the colours of the rainbow. After this blood was venerated, the tomb was opened : a fractured skull of small dimensions and bones of delicate proportions led to the presumption that the saint, at the time of her death, could have been twelve or thirteen years old.

Thus they were in the presence of a child, a virgin and a martyr. They closed the tomb, put three seals on it and brought it up into the daylight. Outside a crowd of people was waiting. The seals were removed to reopen the tomb and they made a record of what had taken place. This document was read aloud, signed by the witnesses, appended with the bishop’s seal and placed in the box that once again received the canonical seals authenticating the holy relics. These were divided into five parts : the viol of blood, the skull of the saint, and three packages containing bone fragments and the dust of the flesh. This box was taken to the Relics Treasury while awaiting orders from the Pope.

Three years later, the parish priest of a small village, Mugnano del Cardinale, situated in the north of the Campania region of Italy near Nole, obtained permission to acquire the relics. On the occasion of the translation, which was carried out in the presence of numerous witnesses and which took place from July 1 to 10, 1805, many miracles occurred : a woman was cured of an incurable illness from which she had suffered for twelve years, as was a lawyer who had been suffering from sciatica for six months and a highborn lady who had a gangrenous hand. There was even a wonder in the heavens : although the sky was overcast, the moon appeared surrounded by a bright circle that shone, in the midst of the dimness, an unusual light on the reliquary and its procession.

Finally, it arrived at Mugnano, in the parish church of Our Lady of Grace, its final destination, where the saint was welcomed with delirious joy, accompanied by further miracles, such as that of a two-year-old child who had been blinded by smallpox and who recovered his sight after his mother had rubbed his eyes with oil from the lamp that was burning in honour of the holy relics.

The power that St. Philomena had to work miracles was so prodigious that she was called ‘ the Miracle-Worker of the 19th century. ’ Unlike the procedure adopted later on for John XXIII, who had been exempted from working miracles, the Church was obliged to recognise the existence of St. Philomena in Heaven because of the profusion and the illustriousness of her miracles… even though absolutely nothing was known about her life. The immense influence of St. Philomena’s cult is only the result of the power of intercession with which the good God favoured her.

Who was this saint ? The parish priest of Mugnano, Don Francesco di Lucia, exhorted the faithful devotees to beseech her to enlighten them about her life, which she deigned to do by personally relating her story in revelations. These were received by three different people, all three of whom are irreproachable and worthy of belief, unknown to one another. The book that contains the accounts received the imprimatur of the tribunal of the Holy Office on December 21, 1833. The most important and detailed of these revelations was made to Mother Maria Louise of Jesus, foundress and superior of the convent of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Naples. Her cause for beatification was opened in the court of Rome in 1875. St. Philomena appeared to her in 1832 to reveal to her all the details of her life and martyrdom.

A princess from a Greek city, she had been promised to Emperor Diocletian by her father in order to maintain the peace that the Roman emperor wanted to break. Since she was a Christian who had vowed her virginity to Christ, Philomena refused. Furious, the emperor tried to make her deny her faith and her vow by several forms of torture, and finally had her beheaded.

In 1835, Marie-Pauline Jaricot was already well known for her works of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and the Living Rosary. She had been suffering for several years from an incurable illness. Throwing caution to the winds, she decided to go to Mugnano, because the renown of the miracles wrought by the saint had reached Lyon.

While she was making a stopover in Rome, Pope Gregory XVI went to visit the young woman burning up with fever in order to thank her for what she had done for the Church. Judging that she was already almost dead, the Holy Father asked her to pray for him and for the Church as soon as she arrived in Heaven. “ Yes, Most Holy Father, ” the dying woman replied, “ I promise you ; but if, upon my return from Mugnano, I walk to the Vatican, will Your Holiness deign to proceed with the authorisation of the cult of dear St. Philomena ? ”

“ Certainly, ” the Holy Father replied, “ for it would be a miracle of the first order. ”

Marie-Pauline left for Mugnano, went to the sanctuary in a wheelchair, and almost passed away, as she was at the last extremity. Contrary to all expectations, however, “ she stood up completely cured, ” remained there for several days of thanksgiving, left her wheelchair as an ex-voto and as a testimonial that can still be seen today, and took a relic back with her.

Upon her return to Rome, she was received by the Pope who acceded to all her requests, but not without keeping her there for a year so that the miracle worked in her favour could be verified and studied. In Lyon, Marie-Pauline Jaricot had a chapel built on the slope of Fourvière and dedicated to the virgin martyr. It was enriched by a relic given by the Pope and became a much frequented pilgrimage, France’s centre of devotion to this saint.

On November 7, 1849, Blessed Pius IX went on pilgrimage to Mugnano, proclaimed the miracle-worker the secondary patron saint of the Kingdom of Naples and, two years later, granted a proper Office in honour of St. Philomena to the clergy of Mugnano. In 1857, this favour was extended to the diocese and to several others.

In France, it is a well-known fact that the cult of St. Philomena was spread by the holy Curé of Ars, who received his devotion from Marie-Pauline Jaricot. When giving a relic to him she said : “ Have great confidence in this saint : she will obtain for you all that you ask of her. ” The Curé of Ars, in fact, had St. Philomena work so many miracles that he addressed to her this pious reproach : “ Take a little less care of bodies and cure more souls. ” He also used to say sometimes, laughingly : “ If only she could go do her miracles elsewhere. ” He owed his own miraculous cure to his dear saint.

The miracles, wonders and supernatural graces obtained through her intercession did not cease throughout the 20th century. Until the Council, no Pope showed distain for this saint and her sanctuary. St. Pius X offered her a magnificent gold ring and other inestimable presents despite the Modernists, who were already opposed to this devotion, and who incurred this comment from the holy Pope : “ How can they fail to see that the greatest argument in favour of St. Philomena is the Curé of Ars ? ”

In 1961, when the Roman martyrology was being revised, Pope John XXIII signed a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites that struck from the calendar the feast of St. Philomena, which in the past was set on August 11. Having refused to include her in the martyrology, he did away with her proper Office and Mass. In Ars, the sanctuary followed instructions and ever since have no longer organised public celebrations in her honour. In Lyon, the relics and the statue of St. Philomena have been removed from the chapel that Marie-Pauline Jaricot had had erected. To admit, however, that Blessed Pius IX “ erred ” in establishing the cult of St. Philomena amounts to recognising that the cause of saints is not covered by infallibility, and it prepares the way for a rehabilitation of St. Philomena, rectifying Pope John XXIII’s “ error ” as well as that of Pope Francis in canonising him along with John Paul II !

Brother Michael of the Triumphant Immaculate and of the Divine Heart