Are you looking for a pretty, original and Christian name for a little girl? Consider the names of the first Christian women — most of whom died as martyrs marked by their unfailing faith and their heroism during the persecutions of the first centuries of Christianity. They thus offer a beautiful connection to the Christian faith, and a most venerable patron saint.
St. Blandina of Lyon was a young Christian slave, who was martyred along with 47 other Christians, including the bishop of Lyon, St. Pothinus, during the persecutions of July 177 under the emperor Marcus Aurelius. They were handed over to the hatred of the mob and tortured for refusing to deny their faith. The martyrdom of Blandina struck all those who saw it.
“After the whips, the beasts, and the grill, she was put in a net and thrown before a bull. Several times thrown into the air by the animal, she had no sense of what was happening, so caught up was she in her hope and her conversation with Christ,” relates a letter attributed to St. Irenaeus, successor of St. Pothinus. She is celebrated on June 2 and is the patron St. of the city of Lyon, France.
St. Perpetua was a young patrician, inseparable from St. Felicity, a young enslaved woman. They had both requested baptism from the bishop of Carthage. The emperor Septimius Severus had forbidden Christianity, so the group of catechumens of which they were a part was arrested and imprisoned. Perpetua, a young bride, nursed her child in prison. Perpetua and Felicity were finally mauled by a wild animal and then had their throats slit.
According to the witnesses of their martyrdom, “their faces were radiant and of great beauty. It was marked not by fear but by joy.” Devotion to the two young women soon became very popular: their youth, their situation as mothers, their courage, and the fact that they were catechumens made them the first martyrs mentioned in the first Eucharistic prayer. They are celebrated on March 7.
St. Felicity, as mentioned above, was a companion of St. Perpetua in the catechumenate, in prison, and in martyrdom. Felicity was pregnant and gave birth to her child in prison before her martyrdom at St. Perpetua’s side. Her child was adopted by a Christian.
Sts. Priscilla and her husband Aquila were disciples of St. Paul. In his letters, Paul greets them: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila for me, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom 16:3). Aquila and Priscilla were originally Jews living in Rome, but had been expelled from there by the edict of the emperor Claudius. They settled in Corinth, and it was there that they met St. Paul, who worked with them as weavers. They risked their lives to save the life of the Apostle. They are celebrated on July 8.
St. Flavia Domitilla was related to the Emperor Domitian, one of the cruelest persecutors of Christians. She was deported to the island of Pandateria, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea where the empresses Agrippina and Octavia had already been exiled. There she bore witness to Christ with other martyrs. She is celebrated on May 7.
St. Lucy of Syracuse was a victim of the persecution of Diocletian in 304. Devotion to her dates back to the first centuries and spread to Scandinavia. The ordeals of her martyrdom are legendary: locked up in a place of prostitution, she was able to resist all assaults. They tied her to two oxen to tear her apart, but the beasts refused to move. When she was placed on a pyre, the flames moved away from her. She is celebrated on December 13.
Roman virgin and martyr St. Petronilla belonged to the Christian branch of the Flavia Domitilla family in Rome. According to tradition, which may well be based on fact, she was baptized by St. Peter himself. From then on she was considered his spiritual daughter. She is celebrated on May 31.
During the persecutions of Diocletian, Agnes was martyred for having chosen to consecrate her life to Christ. As her name was not known with certainty until after her death, she was called “Agnes,” which means “pure, honest.” The connection is sometimes made between her name and “agnus,” “lamb” in Latin, because she gave her life as a lamb of God. This explains why she is often represented with a lamb. St. Ambrose speaks of Agnes in these terms: “Here, then, in a single victim, is a double martyrdom of purity and religion.” She is celebrated on January 21.
St. Anastasia died a martyr in the 1st century along with her friend St. Basilissa. They were condemned to death for having buried, according to tradition, the holy apostles Peter and Paul. They suffered the usual cruel torments at the hands of the emperor Nero. They are celebrated on April 15.