Saint Philomena is discovered
Now it is important, we set the stage for this discovery. The world and the Church were in dire straits; it was time for God! The world looked like it was destined to be under the total domination of a new conqueror – Napoleon! He had ransacked churches, even placed his horses in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. It looked dark for the Church, what did God do? God raised up a gentle but strong Pope – Pius VII. Napoleon, feeling omnipotent and puffed up by his importance, raised his heel against the Pope. The Pope, seeing the complacency and apathy of Nineteenth Century Europe, the hopeless resignation to slavery under Napoleon, decided only a renewal would halt the ever-moving onslaught of terror. It was time to change men’s hearts!
But how? Go back to our roots, to the time of Christians ready to die for their Faith; go to the Catacombs. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Pope commissioned archaeologists to make some digs in the Catacombs of Rome.
A light shines in the darkness!
What day should Jesus choose to help His vicar on earth? The Feast Day of Our Lady Help of Christians! May 24th, 1802, the remains of an early Christian Virgin-Martyr were unearthed! Archaeologists were digging in the Catacombs of the family
Priscilla, when they discovered a tomb which obviously had not been disturbed from the time the body of the Martyr had been entombed there. Carefully excavating the enclosure, they discovered the walls lined with red tiles (symbolizing a Martyr was buried there) with the Latin wording:
LUMENA – PAX TE – CUM FI
In the rush of closing the crypt, out of fear they would be discovered, the early Christians must have erred when they positioned the tiles; they did not make any sense! But in repositioning them, they discovered that they read:
PAX TE – CUM – FI – LUMENA
PEACE BE WITH YOU, PHILOMENA
When they opened the crypt area, they discovered not only the red tiles signifying a Martyr was buried there, but a rare sarcophagus of marble. As this was used only to bury a prominent member of the nobility or a Martyr, there was much excitement! The fact that she had been interred in the cemetery of Priscilla, Aquila’s wife, contemporary of the Apostles and close friend of St. Paul, further affirmed this. They stopped excavating, and informed the Guardianof the Catacomb, who immediately ordered the area sealed.
The next day, when the tomb area was opened, they discovered symbols indicating a Virgin-Martyr. The burial stones surrounding the sarcophagus, bore several signs which clearly pointed to the Virginity and Martyrdom of the deceased person within! There was a lily signifying a Virgin; there were two arrows, one pointing upward and the other downward, conveying she had been pierced with arrows; there was an anchor suggesting she had been tied to an anchor and thrown into the river; there was a lance, signifying a means of Martyrdom. Through the symbols and tiles, it is plain to see the Hand of God pointing to the relationship of the anchor with the Church, the anchor always having been a symbol of the Cross.The Church and world was suffering; it was time for a Saint and Martyr to be discovered! Is this why Philomena is coming to you, today? Have you been digging for some truth in your life?
There is not much written in the annals of the Church about this Virgin-Martyr whose name was obviously Philomena or in Latin Filumena, therefore the symbols were the only clue to who she may have been and what had happened to her.
When they opened the tomb, they found the relics of the Saint and a glass vessel containing dry blood, by her head. As with other finds, the relics and the blood were tested. It is said that these relics gave clearer evidence of who and how this Martyr died, than when archaeologists have examined any of the other Martyrs interred in the Catacombs. The relics and blood were carefully placed in a wooden box, and then later investigated.
They discovered that the skeleton was that of a slight girl with small bones, all intact with not a bone broken. Scientists were able to discern that the skull had been fractured, the bones were those of a girl around twelve or thirteen; and when the dry blood was tested they found it was human blood. Also when they were transferring the blood from the original vase (which was cracked) to a new clear glass vial, a strange chemical reaction came about; “…glorious shining gems appeared. Precious stones with the luster of purest silver and gold!”
This further affirmed the fact that this was truly the remains of a Martyr. The chemical changes of the blood did not occur only once, but over and over again, as the blood was examined, right up to and including the Twentieth Century. With this and subsequent examinations over the years, highly respected Church dignitaries, Popes after Popes, Cardinals after Cardinals, agreed with the scientific community’s findings and declared that God had truly revealed a Virgin-Martyr, Philomena!
The Congregation of Sacred Rites accepted the symbols and the vial of blood as positive proof that the blood and relics were of a Martyr. The relics – the skull, the skeleton, and the ashes were placed in a special ebony box, lined with silk, and the precious blood in another. Then they were reverently interred in the Relic Office, the Custodia Generale, for the faithful to venerate, as they do other relics of Martyrs, each year, Holy Thursday of Passion Week.